DAWNINGS: Pulpit politics

By Rev. Dr. Dawn Darwin Weaks

Pastor, Connection Christian Church

Governor Abbott recently called for Texas churches to make Sunday, Oct. 15, “School Choice Sunday.” He charged clergy to preach about the importance of parents being given “choice” to use public dollars to put their children into private, religious schools if they wish.

Our state has many problems for which I pray our governor will lead. But telling preachers what to preach is not the right step. And choosing this particular homiletical topic is especially wrong.

First, Governor Abbott should not be directing the content of the pulpit. A government official telling preachers what to preach violates the God-given religious liberty we hold dear in this free country. Using a political position to enforce a particular religious perspective violates our first amendment which prohibits the government from establishing or promoting a religion. Thank God we are not a land of majority-rules faith. Just look at many other countries around the world if you want to see how a theocracy works out.

Second, the Texas House has repeatedly blocked voucher legislation. Our representatives understand the blow to education that vouchers would bring to rural areas who especially depend on public schools.

Vouchers are touted as especially helpful for poor children, but actually, parents would not be able to use a voucher unless they could afford to pay the difference between the voucher check and the actual tuition, in addition to the cost of transportation. Not many families can do that! Certainly families who can afford to send kids to private schools have the right to do so. But private schools who receive vouchers have no obligation to educate all children who wish to enroll there. That means not only poor kids but also kids with special needs and behavioral issues will be left behind. By the way, did you know that ECISD offers options to families? Parents can choose to send their children to 14 “choice schools.” We already have school choice options for ALL children.

Besides being practically untenable, even more importantly, vouchers violate our national principles. Vouchers provide a direct payment from the state to private, often religious, schools. But public money should not be used to establish a religion or catechize its followers. If you are a Protestant Christian, you might not mind your tax dollars going to support a Protestant Christian school. But how do you feel about your tax dollars going to support a school of a religion different from yours? Public money is for public good, and the separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our republic. Messengers to the 2022 Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting approved a resolution stating that Texas Baptists “will not seek to use government to coerce the worship of Christ” in private schools and “will not support any attempt by government to commandeer the church for political ends or any attempt by government to favor one religion over another.”

Governor Abbott is a Catholic, but I do hope he’ll heed the words of the Baptists on this. Meanwhile, our pulpit at Connection will be dedicated to preach the word of God as best we can. And not the word of Abbott.