Church “Adopts” A Public School With Aims Of Converting Students And Their Families

Completely devoid of any principled conscience that would object to mixing church and state, a principal and a church partner to proselytize a public school, using a budget crisis as an excuse:

When his budget for pencils, paper, and other essential supplies was cut by a third this school year, the principal of Combee Elementary School worried children would suffer.

Then, a local church stepped in and “adopted” the school. The First Baptist Church at the Mall stocked a resource room with $5,000 worth of supplies. It now caters spaghetti dinners at evening school events, buys sneakers for poor students, and sends in math and English tutors.

The principal is delighted. So are church pastors. “We have inroads into public schools that we had not had before,” says Pastor Dave McClamma. “By befriending the students, we have the opportunity to visit homes to talk to parents about Jesus Christ.”


Last fall, a school staffer who worships at the church told pastors about the school’s plight. In a visit to Combee shortly thereafter, Mr. McClamma, the church’s senior associate pastor of evangelism and missions, offered to start by opening a “resource room” stocked with supplies.

“I said, ‘Amen,’” recalls Mr. Comparato. “This was like a prayer answered.”

While Combee gained resources, the church gained access to families. At Christmas, the school connected the church with parents who said they wouldn’t mind being visited at home by First Baptist. The church brought gifts, food and the gospel. Of about 30 families visited over two weekends in December, 13 “came to the Lord,” says Mr. McClamma, a 58-year-old motorcycle buff who drives a black sports-utility vehicle with the bumper sticker “Christ First.”

Mr. McClamma says adopting Combee goes far beyond providing resources like school supplies. “The purpose is to show them the church cares, and that there is hope, and hope is found in Jesus Christ.”

“If they want to come in and help, who am I to say no?” says Mr. Comparato, the principal.

He says he would welcome congregations of any faith as sponsors, but adds of his students, “My personal conviction is that I hope through this they’ll know Jesus and they’ll get saved.”

Asked if the principal’s comments indicated he was promoting one particular religion, Ms. McKinzie, the Polk County superintendent, says, “He personally can hope anything he wants, as long as he offers programs at the school for parents who don’t believe in the Baptist faith or anything at all.”

As Hemant Mehta pointed out when he drew attention to this story, this is classic Christian strings-attached charity.  This is not about school children learning in school, it’s about getting school children “learning” in church.  This is about buying influence in whatever exploitative way it can.

And this is what conservative Christians want, public services defunded so that the poor and the sick and the uneducated, etc. are all at the mercy of churches for whatever resources they cannot afford.  Privatization of charity, to their minds, means dependence on religion, a Jesus tax on all good will.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • theologigal

    Two things to point out:
    1 – They only visited people who said they’d be open to it. They don’t appear to be shoving this down anyone’s throat.
    2 – They’re offering the supplies to the whole school unconditionally, not just to the people who let them visit and talk about Jesus.

    I don’t think this has strings attached as you say. To be sure that are some people who operate that way, but we cannot make that our first assumption.

    As a public school teacher, I wouldn’t mind anyone of any faith (or no faith) who is willing to help children with something as important as education.

    • Daniel Fincke

      The strings attached are informal, but they are still strings. The motive is purely proselytization. The agreement not to demand people convert or hear them out at church is just a concession to the realities of the law, otherwise, there would be nothing stopping them from taking advantage of the school’s dependence on them for that too.

      The point is these people will do whatever it possibly takes to weasel their way into influence over the kids of a public school. They will exploit their apparent charity as an opening to get into people’s homes. (It would be rude to reject a visit from an apparently generous benefactor who just saved your teacher’s job, right? And even though they haven’t said it, maybe they will just decide to stop being generous and keep you in a job, teacher, if you decide to refuse their offer to come by for tea.)

      This is informal power over the school, that’s why it is able to go on at all (at least so far), but make no mistake that it is a power play.

      The church’s ultimate (and stated) motives here are advertising their church, Christianizing a public school, and leveraging their connection to the school into opportunities to convert people.

      If you are fine with this as a public school teacher because you want the money, you are selling out the integrity of secular institutions for a paycheck. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take money from explicitly religious institutions. You can go work for a private, religious school just like I do. But you and this school district should not be complicit in putting public schools meant to be a recourse for education for all citizens alike at the mercy of religious funders with explicit aims of converting people.

  • Oblio

    I call BULLSHIT on these stupid, stupid school officials. Our insane knack of defunding schools will result in American Madrassas… stupid, dogmatic kids turn into ignorant, venal adults. WTF are we doing?!?!?! Strings? Hell yes there are strings, and they are candy-coated with God juice and highly addictive. This sickens me to the point of exasperation.