I have grown to appreciate and respect Al Mohler more and more these past few years. Mohler is a pastor-theologian, currently serving as president of the Southern Baptist Convention's flagship school, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mohler has written extensively, keeps a regular blog, and can be heard on the radio (The Al Mohler Program) all over the country. I enjoyed his contribution to R.C. Sproul's National Ligonier Conference last Spring and look forward to hearing him again in April at the "Together for the Gospel" conference I am attending in Louisville, Kentucky. The loss of D. James Kennedy as a national conscience-type pastor is certainly significant, however the Lord has raised up a new one in Al Mohler at just the right time.
Mohler is a key leader in the highly diverse Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The SBC is massive (17 million members) as compared to my denomination, the PCA (400,000 members). At virtually every annual meeting of the SBC, a group of people will challenge the entire convention to pull their kids from government schools. It never comes close to passing. To be fair, the same thing happens at our General Assembly every year.
I don't think much of "conventions" as they carry little, if any, authority over the practices and teachings of the various individual churches as evidenced by the presence of rank Arminians right alongside Calvinists in the SBC. Heck, Bill Clinton is a Southern Baptist. Nevertheless, as an entity, the SBC is basically evangelical and holds quite a bit of cultural sway by its sheer number of churches (over 40,000 !)and members. If the SBC were to collectively pull their children from government schools, it would be a ginormous statement to the rest of evangelicalism.
Two years ago Al Mohler addressed the issue in an excellent blog post (here). I want to provide two quotes from that post, I encourage you to read the whole article for yourself. Reading it made my appreciation for Mohler go up a couple notches. It's one thing for small-time, nobody pastor to call Christians to pull their children from government schools (who listens to loud-mouthed, Northeastern, Sicilians, anyways? Well, I guess those who don't want to sleep with the fish), but it's quite another when a evangelical heavyweight like Al Mohler says it-
With control over the public school system increasingly in the hands of the courts, educational bureaucrats, the university-based education schools, and the powerful teachers' unions, little hope for correction appears. Federal mandates, accreditation requirements, union demands, and the influence of the educational elite represent a combined force that is far greater than the localized influence of many school boards, not to mention parents. Those who doubt the radical commitments of groups such as the National Education Association should simply look at the organization's public statements, policy positions, and initiatives.
The breakdown of the public school system is a national tragedy. An honest assessment of the history of public education in America must acknowledge the success of the common school vision in breaking down ethnic, economic, and racial barriers. The schools have brought hundreds of millions of American children into a democracy of common citizenship. Tragically, that vision was displaced by an ideologically-driven attempt to force a radically secular worldview.
I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools. This strategy would affirm the basic and ultimate responsibility of Christian parents to take charge of the education of their own children. The strategy would also affirm the responsibility of churches to equip parents, support families, and offer alternatives. At the same time, this strategy must acknowledge that Southern Baptist churches, families, and parents do not yet see the same realities, the same threats, and the same challenges in every context. Sadly, this is almost certainly just a matter of time.
- Al Mohler (blog post 2005)