Two Baptist ministers have waded into the hyper-combative arena of public education by seeking school board seats in an era of unprecedented hostility, in some places bordering on violence, aimed at district leaders and educators.
Both men — Jonathan Grant in Waco, Texas, and Alan Sherouse in Greensboro, N.C. — have acknowledged the seriousness of the challenges before them. But both also say their Christian faith, plus the vital role public schools have played in their own lives and those of their children, keeps them focused on the need for compassionate concern for stressed-out teachers and administrators, as well as on struggling students.
“I believe God cares deeply for folks who are easily forgotten, who need to scratch and claw to make a way. I want to help those folks find a way,” said Grant, executive director of World Hunger Relief Inc. and a former youth minister and associate pastor, including at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco.
“I believe God cares deeply for folks who are easily forgotten, who need to scratch and claw to make a way. I want to help those folks find a way,”
Grant faces one opponent in the May 7 election for a seat on the Waco Independent School District board of trustees. But it has been mainly people outside the jurisdiction who have pressed to know his views on the sanctity of life, LGBTQ rights and Critical Race Theory.
“I remind them that I am running for school board, not for the Supreme Court or for governor of Texas,” he said.
However, Grant revealed in a recent Facebook post that fending off those critics has been a grind. “Campaigns are brutal. I’m not accustomed to having my integrity or character brought into question. I’m not accustomed to needing to defend myself. I’ve decided to take each shot and continue on without firing back. Without asking my friends to fire back.”
Sherouse, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Greensboro, has made it clear on social media and on his campaign website that he is ready to take on challenging issues facing the 70,000-student Guilford County Schools. That even includes responding to Florida’s new law banning classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The prevalence of such legislation is growing. It won’t stop in Florida. I’m committed to the purposeful inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ+ students in our schools, and I’ll work against any limitations on that,” he said in a March 9 Facebook post.
Sherouse, whose four children currently attend public schools, said his childhood experience growing up in Florida helped shape his stance on the topic.
“My public school education opened me more fully to the beauty and diversity of the world in ways I did not always experience in other parts of my life, including through the influence of LGBTQ peers and teachers who found in schools the space to live fully as themselves.”
In the same post, Sherouse expressed empathy for educators in Florida who must contend with the restrictive law. “The prohibition is focused on K-3 but is felt far beyond that. It would limit the language and instruction of trained teachers, and with it their tools to acknowledge, affirm and guide their students. It has already made LGBTQ+ students feel marginal and institutionally bullied. It will decrease the public space for them to live into the fullness of who they are. And we know that such public limitations at any level make LGBTQ+ children and youth more vulnerable to harm, whether from others or even from themselves.”
Sherouse, who stands for election in November, expressed gratitude to his wife, Jenny Sherouse, a PTA president, and his congregation for supporting his run. “Even the possibility of this reflects the health of the church and the commitments to education and community impact core to who First Baptist Greensboro has been,” he said in the Facebook post announcing his candidacy.
On his campaign website, he added that the greatest opportunity a community has to treat children compassionately and justly is through its public schools.
“The great school experience I want for my four students is what I want for every other student in Guilford County Schools.”
“The great school experience I want for my four students is what I want for every other student in Guilford County Schools. Join us as we work to equip students, empower teachers, invest in schools, listen to the community, and lead with resolve and conscience, seeking the equity and opportunity to which all our children are entitled.”
In Texas, Grant said his motivation for running also included his two children, one of whom is currently a high school student. Another reason is a desire to contribute to a district that challenges and supports students.
“I believe leading a school board is like putting together a puzzle and the job of the board and the administration is to put all the pieces together so we can care for kids and make sure they have a safe and welcoming place to be. That also means providing high academic expectations so they can thrive and provide opportunities for alternative education for folks who don’t see college as their route.”
Grant said he also wants to be an ally for educators at a very challenging time for public education. “We need to create and maintain an atmosphere where teachers are not anxious, where they are given support and feel welcomed. Let’s face it: teachers are on edge and many are ready to quit.”
But Grant said ultimately it is his faith that motivates him to run and sustains him through the challenges of public service.
“My desire in all things is to be an advocate for bringing the kingdom of God to ‘earth as it is in heaven.’ That looks like working for restoration, justice and equality in all things I set my heart to.”
It’s time to stop the insanity that is killing public education | Opinion by Mark Wingfield