Faith leaders sound off on role of church in public education
October 2nd, 2012
04:21 AM ET

Faith leaders sound off on role of church in public education

By Tomeka Jones, CNN

(CNN) – Dozens of faith leaders from across the country recently gathered to attend The Stand Up Education Policy Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, to talk education reform. The daylong conference was hosted by education organzations StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee and Stand Up, led by her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. The purpose of the event was a call for action for clergy to take part in the national movement to transform public education.

CNN spoke with some prominent religious leaders in the African-American community to find out their views on the role faith institutions should play in public education.

Rev. DeForest Soaries, Jr., a senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, laid out what he believes are three roles of the church in education.

"One is programs. Some churches have their own schools that would be on the programmatic level, after school programs and literacy programs. The second is political dealings with the various political forces that impact and control public schools: Making sure people run for school board, making sure people vote for school board, and monitor what's happening. And, the third is policy: Advocating for policies that enhance the likelihood of success."

According to Rev. Soaries, who was featured in CNN’s "Black in America: Almighty Debt", not every church will engage in all three roles but there’s a common theme for each religious institution and that is “to do something.”

Bishop Charles Blake, presiding bishop and pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, said “I think churches should become acquainted [with] the schools that are in their community.”

He believes a church should recruit its congregation to volunteer at educational facilities while at the same time evaluate the overall health and well-being of schools.

“I think that if churches work holistically into the lives of the people in the community, then the community will produce better children more capable and able to excel educationally,” said Blake.

Rev. Renita Weems, ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal church and vice president of academic affairs at American Baptist College in Nashville, said educational forums are essential to the church, which can make a bigger impact in addressing issues in the African-American community.

“We still get the largest number of black people gathering every week so that becomes an easy way to disseminate information. Television is wonderful, radio is wonderful but when a pastor is able to stand in front and mobilize his or her congregation there's no comparison.”

Charlie Stallworth, pastor of East Tabernacle Baptist Church and a Connecticut state representative, feels churches and schools should come together as one.

“The basis of Christianity or even that of the black church, or any religion that is concerned about humanity. There is no dichotomy between spirituality and education, or liberation,” said Stallworth.

What are your thoughts? Should faith-based institutions play a role in public education? Share your opinion in our Comments section below.

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Filed under: education • Policy • Practice • Religion
soundoff (475 Responses)
  1. Catherine

    I currently attend a catholic school right now and all I can say is that the idea of bringing religion into public education is preposterous. My parents are Catholics and decided to bring up their daughter in an environment where she could learn about her faith as she grew up. I understand some parents don't want to do that because they are non-religious or don't wish to teach their children in the ways of the faith that young. Catholic school students' parents pay for their religious education because they want to be taught in their faith while learning mandatory subjects such as math and reading and that's fine, I thought we already established the separation of Church and State a long time ago. My parents are completely content with having me and my brother go to a Catholic school with tuition, and public school parents are content with the public education. Do not try and mix the two! It never turns out well.
    Not all Catholics try and shove religion down everybody's throats, but people like this have lead to a stereotype. Just leave public education alone, we'll all appreciate it.

    October 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  2. destiny

    Church should be in all schools certain princaples of schools do not wish to celebrate religion but!..i am a religous human being , and i say that God is all we need for life. We need school for eligability to work,and education,we need jobs to help us gain money for our children and to provide foood and buy animals too ")

    October 8, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  3. A Reasoner

    A much better idea would be to insert evidence-based education into churches, though that does tend to hurt attendance.

    October 8, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  4. bob

    The church should NOT HAVE A ROLE in public education. Public education = my tax dollars. I don't want religious involvement in my child's education. If he wants to go to church, I'll take him to one. The church has NO right to be involved in public education.

    October 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • leo costa

      I am +100 percent with you. Education is about knowledge; religion is about ignorance and fears

      October 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Carol Morgan

      Amen Bob!!! The church shouldn't have ANY role in public education; if one desires to have that, then attend a private religious school. This is called Separation of Church and State; established over 200 years ago. Why do we keep having to debate issues we thought were solved years ago? These sorts of movements frighten me because it means we are going backward, rather than forward... We have bigger problems than this...why not think about educating children FIRST then leave the religion instruction to parents???

      October 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  5. joe

    "will produce better children more capable and able to excel educationally"

    what if they want to be a paleontologist

    October 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      You hit the nail on the head! Besides, how would one keep the proselytizing away? Some of us non-Christians (or non-any named religion) would find it completely atrocious to have religion brought into our education.

      October 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  6. liz

    In response to comments concerning the theory of evolution-Those that believe in God cannot seem to accept that Humans and other living creatures evolve(and are continuing to).Why are they so certain that God did not create the process of evolution?As it is a proven continuing process- it does exist-Why can't they believe God-if they must-that God is the orchestrator?My Mother was a very religous person and she believed in both-We had discussions about it and her belief did not exclude God from the process-She believed in the process of evolution but she had such faith that she felt that it was Gods' plan for His creation.We cannot discount evolution, that should not be the question-The only mystery is the engine driving it-Those that believe in God should be allowed to believe it is His hand -Those that do not, believe it is an inevitable natural course.This is my opinion as to how evolution should be taught.Evolution is a fact -how it came about is the mystery, if you choose to include a supernatural reason.The reasons for evolution are what should be taught in the home-church according to ones' beliefs.To argue that it does not exist is to lose the battle and prevents us from moving forward.True faith accepts what is before our eyes,yet does not exclude "The hand of God"in all things if you believe.Including the greatest creation whether through an evolution with or without God of the Human mind and its' ability to reason.If one truly believes in God then anything science discovers can have the hand of God in it-it does not invalidate the scientific discovery-if one chooses to include God as any believer should.I am an Atheist.

    October 5, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  7. Arvoasitis

    The difference between religion and science may not be as great as some think. When St. Augustine enquired into the nature of time, he began with a question: "What was God doing before He created the heaven and earth?" The first answer: He was preparing Hell for the people who ask such questions. But then he proffered that God created time when He created the universe. Therefore, it is pointless to ask what God was doing before the creation because there was no 'then,' as time did not exist. The Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe takes a similar view: It is pointless to ask what came before the Big Bang because there was no 'before.'

    October 5, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Arvoasitis

      Sorry about the multiple comments. I thought I was being blocked.

      October 5, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • joe

      "It is pointless to ask what came before the Big Bang because there was no 'before.'"

      relative to you

      October 6, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
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