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The assault on non-sectarian public education in Florida continues. In Polk County, for example, schools have sought money from the community to make up for funding deficits. That’s all well and good on the surface, I suppose, but when churches are stepping up to give money and the principal sees it as a great way to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, well, that becomes a problem. A BIG problem.
At Combee Elementary [in Lakeland], funding for basic school supplies is down 33%, says principal Steve Comparato. In recent months, he’s received donations from a local fertilizer company and a grocery chain. But Combee’s most active sponsor is First Baptist Church at the Mall, a 9,000-member congregation that uses golf carts to shuttle worshippers from its palm-tree-filled parking lot to its main chapel, which used to be a Sam’s Club.
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. [Dave] 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 [again, this is the principal -- ed.]. “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.”
On a recent muggy afternoon at the school, the lanky, 57-year-old principal strode down outdoor walkways painted with cougar paws (for the Combee mascot) with two pastors from First Baptist.
“Can I have a word of prayer with you?” asked Pastor McClamma. The principal, his assistant and the two pastors from First Baptist stood in a circle outdoors, outside the main office. Pastor McClamma asked for “Combee Elementary, Lord, just to excel.”
To her credit, Polk County schools superintendent Gail McKinzie responded to questions about Comparato’s on-the-job proselytizing by making it clear he could hope for anything he wants, but he can’t push the Christian faith in the public schools. It would seem from the apparently routine organized prayers on school property, though, that Comparato either isn’t getting the message, or he doesn’t care. And the pastor pulls no punches, admitting that the purpose of his church’s sponsorship of Combee is specifically to bring students to Jesus Christ.
If this doesn’t bother you, then you’re not paying attention. And moreover, if the church’s involvement doesn’t worry you, then how about this one (from the same article):
Frostproof Elementary [also in Polk County] asks local businesses to sponsor classrooms, in return for promotion on the school marquee. Among those that stepped in is Rogers & Walker Gun Shop, which earned billing for donations totaling $300 to two classes.
That’s right, folks — a gun shop essentially bought advertising on a public school marquee. Pretty much my only response is, “WTF?!?” You can argue all you want that so-called “Christian values” are A-OK in the classroom (and I will vehemently disagree), but all people should be shocked and dismayed that a school is promoting firearms. Seriously — am I missing something here?
Now, to be fair, not every state is as batshit crazy as Florida in this regard. In California’s San Diego Unified School District, the chief district relations officer says, “We wouldn’t put tobacco or anything objectionable to young minds.” Does this include guns? I certainly hope so….I only wish certain districts in Florida were as committed to avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. But when it comes to God and guns, I guess anything goes in our public schools.