Charles Foster Johnson is the pastor of the small, interracial Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth, Texas. Much of his time is spent preaching behind the pulpit, but lately he has a different audience and a different message.
Johnson is also the executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, an independent ministry and outreach group of 2,000 pastors and church leaders across Texas. According to the website, the mission is:
To provide “wrap-around” care and ministry to local schools, principals, teachers, staff and schoolchildren, and to advocate for children by supporting our free, public education system, to promote social justice for children, and to advance legislation that enriches Texas children, families, and communities (Pastors for Texas Children).
Johnson and Pastors for Texas Children are leading what is now a nationwide charge against state legislators to stop the growth of vouchers and charters.
In a message to Texas legislators, Johnson said, “You have the right to home-school your children. You have the right to ‘private school’ your children. You don’t have the right to ask the people of Texas to pay for it…” “When you take public dollars through vouchers and charters that are connected to religious schools, you are violating the First Amendment. You are violating the religious liberty, a gift from God – James Madison didn’t make it up – that government should not be involved in religion” (Pastors for Texas Children).
Last week Johnson took his message to the state house in Indiana, where the voucher system is deeply embedded in the state’s public education system. Since 2011, more than $520 million has been dedicated to Choice Scholarships, which is the state voucher program. More than 90% of schools accepting vouchers in Indiana are faith based– primarily Catholic or Lutheran (Pastors for Texas Children).
Johnson’s platform is simple. He supports the separation of church and state. He advocates for supporting public schools, and teachers. He recognizes teachers for accepting ALL students. “Christians have an obligation to embrace public schools as a social good, especially for poor children”(Dallas News).
Johnson haters are trying to destroy him and his message. It was reported in one Texas newspaper that Johnson “was kicked out of his denomination for his liberal views” and runs a “fake ‘pastor’ group” that’s a “radical leftist organization.” Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland wrote to Johnson on Twitter, “You don’t care one bit about children. You care only about $$$ and perpetuating a broken system. Fraud” (Pastors for Texas Children).
Pastors for Texas Children support a simple model whereby members talk to ministers, youth ministers and children’s ministry leaders about the “moral message of public education for all children” and urge them to connect with their local schools as supporters and volunteers, but without proselytizing (Journal Gazette).
The group urges faith communities such as churches to adopt public schools. Many groups across Texas are providing food-filled backpacks, school supplies and clothing, school facility maintenance, tutoring, mentoring and after school programs (Dallas News).
According to the US Census Bureau, in 2014, Texas ranked 43rd in per-student spending on public education, spending $8,593, about $3,000 below the national average.
In Waco public schools, more than 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. As such, the district has come to rely on school-community partnerships like the ones Pastors for Texas Children facilitates.
While Johnson critics say he is a failed preacher, he insists he’s just going deeper into the socially provocative teachings of Jesus (Pastors for Texas Children). He advocates for public education and the separation of church and state. “Dozens of churches are involved in Waco schools, but they don’t preach or proselytize” (Reporting Texas).
Johnson said, “Legislators may not listen to the poor, but they sure listen to pastors” (Reporting Texas). His message is simple, and support for his message is growing exponentially.
These are my reflections for today.
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