Voucher Opposition Article of Faith for Pastor

By Karen Francisco February 11,2018 – THE JOURNAL GAZETTE

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson

The founder of the 2,000-member Pastors for Texas Children is coming to Indiana, and he has a message for the state’s lawmakers:

“Voucher schools and charter schools are being established in states to be parallel systems of education supported by the public,” said Charles Foster Johnson. “We think that’s wrong. We think it’s wrong basically for religious- liberty reasons.”

The Fort Worth Baptist minister spoke via Skype to about three dozen educators and clergy last month in an information session hosted by Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. His remarks were a warm-up to a visit Monday, where Johnson will meet with advocates in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis interested in establishing an Indiana counterpart to his Texas group. That group successfully blocked repeated efforts to pass voucher legislation, including an attempt last year to tie school funding to such a bill. That’s no small accomplishment in a state with strong Republican majorities and a governor intent on establishing school choice.

“We’ve become somewhat the tip of the spear in public education advocacy here in Texas,” Johnson said. “What we have learned is when the local minister comes alongside the local educators – the superintendents, principal, classroom teacher – whoa! The legislator listens. Because we are preachers, and we stand before congregations. And congregations vote. We’re influence brokers in the society. … We are forming partnerships with these other servants of God – who serve our children through the public schools.”

Pastors for Texas Children has a simple model. Its 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, according to Johnson. Some then take the additional step of becoming involved in public advocacy: “This is what a voucher is. This is what proper funding for public schools is all about. This is why vouchers are bad for society.”

The message is catching on. Pastors for Oklahoma Children is now in place, and there are efforts to establish groups not only in Indiana, but also in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arizona, Nebraska, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Johnson, whose pastorates have included the 6,000-member Trinity Baptist Church of San Antonio, speaks with a frankness unusual in education conversations in Indiana.

“I am a Baptist Christian. I have certain convictions that have shaped my experience of God, faith, church and – frankly – I don’t want my tax dollars supporting religious programs that I don’t agree with, any more than my friends of other faith traditions don’t want their tax dollars supporting religious programs that might adhere to my own beliefs,” he said.

“I don’t agree with my tax dollars supporting Muslim charter schools – the Gulen movement, that believes in male superiority over females. And that’s what’s happening here in Texas through Harmony Charter Schools,” Johnson said. “I love my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters – they have a wonderful faith tradition – but I don’t believe in the infallibility of the pope. I don’t believe in the veneration of Mary, any more than my Catholic friends want their tax dollars supporting Baptist church-schools that teach the priesthood of all believers, a concept they don’t believe in. This is the reason why – for 240 years – we have had church-state separation. We don’t need to go soft on that conviction now.”

Johnson said Indiana doesn’t need 2,000 faith leaders to influence its lawmakers.

“If you had 25 conversant, well-informed pastors that made visits at the Statehouse, you probably could block some bad policy and promote some good policy,” he said,. “A little bit goes a long way. You know the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed – it’s really true.”

But Indiana’s voucher system, now in its seventh year, is well entrenched in the state’s education system, with more than $520 million spent on Choice Scholarships since 2011. More than 90 percent of schools accepting voucher students are faith-based – primarily Catholic or Lutheran. Many Hoosiers seem to equate support for vouchers as the faith-based position, even though about 90 percent of Indiana families choose public schools.

The powerful case offered by Johnson and Pastors for Texas Children, however, could have many rethinking the blurring line between government and Indiana’s church-based schools.

“It’s called church-state separation,” he said. “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.”

Baptist Preacher’s Crusade Against ‘Sinful’ School Vouchers Steps on Texas GOP Leaders’ Toes

By Robert T. Garrett January 12,2018 – DALLAS NEWS

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director of PTC

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director of PTC

Quoting Bible verses and calling the school vouchers propos​al ​by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other lawmakers “sinful,”​ Fort Worth minister Charlie​ Johnson has been driving ​feverishly ​around the state before the March 6 primary.

At rallies and impromptu meetings arranged by friendly school superintendents with local ministers, the longtime Southern Baptist preacher delivers a fiery message​ on behalf of public schools. His get-out-the-vote crusade has irritated GOP state leaders and staunchly conservative activists who favor using tax dollars ​to help parents of children enrolled in public schools pay to attend private schools.

Johnson, pastor of the small, interracial Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth, does not mince words. Christians have an obligation to embrace public schools as a social good, especially for poor children, he says.

As he said in a sharp exchange with a leading House voucher proponent at a legislative hearing just over a year ago, “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.”

While critics have accused Johnson of defending tone-deaf school district administrators and teacher unions, which they say are indifferent about low-performing schools, his group Pastors for Texas Children offers an alternative. Beginning in inner-city Dallas schools, the group has begun matching churches with troubled campuses. Church members will try to help each “adopted” school’s leaders make improvements, through volunteer tutoring and other support.

Just as urgently, Johnson is rallying Texas teachers and other school employees who haven’t been voting. He wants them to turn out in March and defend House Republicans who’ve squelched Senate-passed “school choice” bills.

Speaker Joe Straus and a top lieutenant, Corsicana Republican Rep. Byron Cook, have stoutly defended public schools’ interests but are retiring. In GOP primary contests for theirs and other selected seats in the Legislature, Johnson is urging educators, church members and other voters to back candidates who support traditional public schools and oppose vouchers.

In the protracted, eight-year battle over the Texas House, Johnson and his group are a new and largely untested force. They’re clearly — and unabashedly — on the side of Straus’ leadership team. At stake in the fight is control of the House, the last bastion of moderation in state politics.

Although it’s unclear how much influence Johnson and his group will wield, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said their get-out-the-vote push is desperately needed if moderate-conservative Republicans are to survive in Texas.

“It’s definitely the type of thing that the centrist-conservative wing needs, because one thing that they’ve been lacking over the past few cycles is enthusiasm and mobilization efforts by their supporters,” he said. “We’ve seen a rise of the movement conservatives, based in part on this enthusiasm gap.” Greater fervor among their backers has helped tea party adherents overcome financial disadvantage, Jones noted.

In March 2016, according to some political experts, Johnson and Pastors for Texas Children were pivotal in helping to rescue a key Straus ally from defeat. By helping ramp up teacher turnout in Palestine, they assisted Cook, who heads the powerful State Affairs Committee, in his 225-vote squeaker over a candidate backed by anti-Straus forces leader Michael Quinn Sullivan.

Rallying voters

Johnson, an Alabama native who for 37 years has led Southern Baptist churches in Kentucky and Texas, is expanding his efforts this cycle.

Though he declined to discuss specifics, he said in an interview that he’ll try to rally pastors, their parishioners and educators in about “a half-dozen” House GOP primaries and perhaps in three Republican nominating battles for Senate seats.

He’s attracting attention — not all of it welcome.

The Texas Freedom Caucus, a dozen Straus-bashing, Patrick-admiring House conservatives, has mocked and sharply criticized Johnson in social media. In email blasts and through his coterie of movement conservative activists, so has Sullivan, head of Empower Texans, a group largely funded by Midland oilman Tim Dunn.

Determined to not have another speaker in the Straus mold, they and key Patrick allies in the Senate have protested election-related activities in recent weeks by several groups resisting vouchers, not just Johnson’s. The conservative lawmakers and Empower Texans have suggested some superintendents are misusing district resources.

In an interview, Sullivan said some of the groups such as Johnson’s may be misusing their ability to generate tax-deductible donations with impermissible political activity.

Johnson, though, said, “We’re well within the boundaries of our nonprofit status.”

In October, Empower Texans did a 13-minute video “exposé” about two public meetings Johnson conducted in Granbury. Since then, it’s been deer season — and he, the targeted buck.

Pastors for Texas Children “is a pro-abortion heretic and a fraud,” tweeted Deer Park GOP Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Freedom Caucus member. On Facebook, Sullivan called Johnson “Pastor Creepo.”

In two more recent email blasts, he said Johnson “was kicked out of his denomination for his liberal views” and runs a “fake ‘pastor’ group” that’s a “radical leftist organization.” Bedford Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland, another Freedom Caucus member, replied to Johnson on Twitter, “You don’t care one bit about children. You care only about $$$ and perpetuating a broken system. Fraud.”

Johnson said his group takes no position on abortion. Because Baptist congregations are autonomous, Sullivan’s assertion that he was “kicked out” of the denomination “is not theologically possible,” he said

“These [Empower Texans] folks … have moved so far to the extreme right, that all the rest of the traditional Texas church folk appear ‘liberal’ to them,” he said. “They throw this word around indiscriminately because it fires up the sliver of the citizenry that comprises their support.”

Johnson said he and like-minded clergy members will keep pointing out that the Legislature is financially starving the schools. It’s continually lowering the state’s share of the tab for the broad dissemination of knowledge to the masses of citizens that the state Constitution requires, he said.

Funding sources

A few years ago, Johnson received $25,000 in startup funding for his group from an adamant opponent of school vouchers, Charles Butt of the San Antonio-based H-E-B grocery empire.

Since then, Johnson said, Pastors for Texas Children has grown into a self-supporting movement of concerned citizens and clergy who are eager to argue for the embattled school district employees whom Sullivan and Freedom Caucus members have dismissed as “educrats.”

“What that classroom teacher is doing is inherently spiritual,” he said. “In accepting a child unconditionally [and] going the extra mile in pedagogy, they are performing a spiritual act.”

According to Johnson and statements filed with the IRS, Pastors for Texas Children has an annual budget of about $300,000. Johnson took a $61,000 salary in 2014 but none the following year. The group received a filing extension for 2016.

Major contributors include the Meadows Foundation of Dallas, $60,000; Fort Worth school architect Christopher Huckabee, $50,000; former Eanes school district board president Beau Ross of Austin, who died last year, and wife Kathryn, $40,000; Butt’s policy group Raise Your Hand Texas, $35,000; and the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation of San Antonio, $30,000.

Late last year, Meadows awarded the group $70,000 to connect 100 Dallas churches to 20 of the Dallas school district’s highest-needs campuses.

First United Methodist Church Dallas is a leading participant in the “One+One” project.

“Charlie is a mentor of mine and a cheerleader,” said senior pastor Andy Stoker. While Stoker’s Methodist congregation already had adopted the J.J. Rhoads Learning Center, Johnson’s appearance at a summer speaker series at the church last summer helped galvanize members, Stoker recounted.

“It was kind of a watershed moment for our lay people to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, we are making a difference,’” he said.

Though it’s unusual for a Texas Southern Baptist leader to jump into controversies such as vouchers, Johnson does it with relish. While some critics imply he’s a failed preacher, he insisted he’s just going deeper into the socially provocative teachings of Jesus.

Johnson’s background

Though Johnson earlier was pastor of 6,000-member Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio and 2,000-member Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, the Bread Fellowship he launched in 2010 is different. Starting with six people in a Bible study, it has grown to 100 “partners.” Modeling itself after the early Christian church described in the New Testament, it doesn’t own property. In three separate groups, it meets in small, borrowed spaces in various Fort Worth neighborhoods.

Bread Fellowship has ties to more theologically moderate groups that were spun off the Southern Baptist Convention, as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination was swayed in recent decades by pastors and churches who argued that the Bible is “inerrant” — that is, literally true. Johnson’s flock has formed partnerships with the Fort Worth school district’s De Zavala Elementary and Metro Opportunity High.

Johnson, 60, considers his induction a decade ago into the Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers at Atlanta’s Morehouse College the high point of his career. He said his pastoral mentor was the late John Claypool, who served at Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist in the 1970s.

Johnson, who enjoys hunting on his Eastland County ranch, isn’t shy about talking of sin and personal salvation, as well as social betterment.

That may help explain why in the past five years, his run-ins at the Texas Capitol with top vouchers proponents have become the stuff of legend. Both involved fellow Baptists — Lt. Gov. Patrick, then a Houston senator, and Houston GOP Rep. Dwayne Bohac. Both boosted Johnson’s visibility, according to longtime education lobbyists.

At a 2016 legislative hearing, Johnson lit into a voucher-type, tax credit scholarship proposal. Bohac struck back. He ridiculed Johnson’s tendency to pause dramatically as he speaks in a deep bass. Bohac complained that Johnson ignored his frustration as a father of children who, if he lacked money, would be trapped in “a failing public school.” Johnson urged him to have his church help turn that school around. Bohac declined to comment this week about Johnson.

At a similar hearing three years earlier, Patrick rebuked Johnson for calling the envisioned private-school scholarships “a tax loophole.” They were to be donated by businesses in return for a write-off on state taxes. The bill didn’t pass — and remains blocked by Straus’ House.

This week, Patrick spokesmen declined to discuss Johnson. As Patrick and Johnson concluded their exchange in 2013, Patrick said many Baptists agree with him about the private-school subsidies.

“I think God would consider it tithing, which we’re required to do,” he said.

Johnson shot back, “I’m not trying to speak on behalf of God, just the Baptists.”

Put Down Party and Take Up Jesus

 January 10, 2018 – Knox TN Today

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director of PTC

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director of PTC

Here in the Bible Belt we know there is power in the word. And Charles Foster Johnson is the kind of preacher who can make you want to holler.

The guest speaker at last week’s organizational meeting of Pastors for Tennessee Children, he’s an anomaly in an era where education reform is big business and conservative politicians are trying to channel taxpayer dollars away from public education, often with the blessing of pastors looking to start their own schools.

“We are in this strange season of making commodities of our children,” Johnson said.

This longtime Baptist minister is the executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a pro-public education non-profit that has grown powerful enough to defeat school voucher bills in the Texas Legislature for two successive years. Johnson’s Knoxville visit was sponsored by SOCM and the Tennessee Public Education Coalition, supported by SPEAK (Students, Parents and Educators Across Knox County) and hosted by the Church of the Savior.

He came to Knoxville to share his message with a group of local ministers and faith workers – Baptist, United Methodist, Episcopalian, United Church Christ, Unitarian, Metropolitan Community Church – and convince them that they can become more effective advocates for children by working to strengthen public education.

“Pastors stand before congregations and congregations vote,” he said. “There’s a power in the moral message … we make social justice warriors out of fundamentalist Baptist preachers – we’re constitutional conservatives – and the constitution of the state of Texas requires the funding of public schools.”

But he warned that these organizations, if they are to be successful, must be inclusive, because privatization isn’t a partisan issue. “If the privatizers were only Republicans, we’d be in better shape. Let’s put down party and take up Jesus.”

Johnson said the first step in his own journey was to visit the school closest to the church he was pastoring in Fort Worth, and to ask the principal what he could do for her.

“Make an appointment with a principal and ask, ‘How can I help you?’”

He convinced her of his sincerity when he drove up to the schoolhouse door with a truckload of supplies.

SPEAK facilitator Dave Gorman, a longtime teacher in Knox County Schools, said he started hearing about Johnson a year or so ago, and immediately got interested in learning more.

“He’s doing great work and having great success, spreading the word that vouchers are an assault on public education,” Gorman said. “There’s a constitutional provision to provide free public education, and he believes that to do anything other than that is sinful. He’s had great success with a crowd you’d think might have been clamoring for vouchers. Travis Donoho (with SOCM) had the idea of bringing him here, and Pastor Johnson is interested in exporting his ideas.”

Pro-privatization leaders in Nashville have announced that they won’t be sponsoring a voucher bill this session, although several attendees at last week’s meeting expressed skepticism.

Hear his message here.

Raising Their Voices for Public Education

Meredith Shamburger for LONGVIEW NEWS-JOURNAL – December 27, 2017

Teachers Protesting at Gregg County Courthouse

Teachers Protesting at Gregg County Courthouse

This was the year I witnessed people reclaiming their voices.

How else would you describe hundreds and hundreds of East Texas teachers at the Gregg County Courthouse on a sweltering July day to rally against what they see as a fundamental lack of respect from state lawmakers for educators and public education?

Or the handful of Carthage ISD residents who spent the morning on the first day of school to protest districtwide budget and personnel cuts? Or how about the group of parents and educators who attended a community meeting featuring public education advocate Charles Foster Johnson and Texas Pastors for Children?

This seems like the year that people of all stripes decided it was time to come together and make some noise — and hopefully bring about meaningful change. I would say it worked.

Retired Gladewater teacher Suzanne Bardwell’s July protest at the courthouse focused on rising health care costs, jeopardized pension plans, a push for school vouchers and decreases in school funding at the state level, especially after this year’s general legislative session.

“We’ve got to begin using our teacher voices, people,” Bardwell told the crowd. “We’ve got to stand together for ourselves. We’ve got to stand for the retirees, and we’ve got to stand for teachers and the public school employees in the system right now.”

If you don’t think the sight of hundreds of angry teachers had an impact on the issues they were talking about, just ask state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston. He told a group of superintendents and administrators in September that the rally had an effect in Austin.

“July 12, we had that rally (in Longview),” VanDeaver said. “You want to know what happened on July 13? The lieutenant governor announced in a press conference that school funding, retired teachers would be a priority in the special session. The governor placed those items on call for the special session.”

I’m always glad when I get to cover a protest. It means people are getting involved in their community, and they’re (usually) trying to make things better. Seeing hundreds of people taking an active interest in government this year has been inspiring.

But VanDeaver, Bardwell and I share the same concern: People have to vote, too. Regardless of the political issue at hand or which side of the aisle you’re on, too many people don’t bother to cast ballots.

Voting is the other way you let your elected officials know how you feel. It’s how you make sure your representatives do, in fact, represent you. And there are too many people in East Texas who are not voting in any election, whether it’s a presidential election or to decide a school board representative.

Next year, I hope, is the year people reclaim their vote.

Read the entire article here…

A Christmas Message from Rev. Charles F. Johnson

As we enter this most holy season of the year, we turn our hearts in humble gratitude to God for the mission and ministry God is giving us through Pastors for Texas Children.  It is remarkable what God has allowed us to accomplish together in four short years.

Because of you and your witness, faith leaders and educators are banding together all over Texas to stand firm for public education as a provision of God’s Common Good.

Not only do we have 2000 pastors and congregational leaders here in Texas, but we are also expanding our mission to other states. Pastors for Oklahoma Kids is up and running and conducting a successful mission on behalf of public schools there. We have organizational meetings happening now in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, and robust conversations with leaders in Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The most significant part of our witness is the actual compassionate assistance and help we are able to provide for neighborhood and community public schools. Countless thousands of churches are now joining in creative partnership in school improvement projects and one-on-one child mentoring and tutoring. Children are growing and learning. Teachers are empowered and encouraged. Lives are being touched and changed.

In short, God’s Word of Love is becoming fleshed out.

We were able to bring our witness to bear in grassroots communities all over Texas to block private school vouchers once again in the Texas Legislature. We have become a trusted moral voice in Austin.

Influential media such as the Dallas Morning News, Washington Post, Austin American Statesmen, NPR, Texas Tribune, Houston Chronicle, and Baptist Standard are taking note of our work.

Our own social media messaging has gained a large following this past year, mobilizing and encouraging a strong pro-public education message, as well as underscoring our bedrock conviction for religious liberty and church/state separation.

Many education advocacy groups are recognizing our work and witness together. We spoke at the annual meetings of Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Association of Community Schools, and many other gatherings of influential educators. On your behalf, we were privileged to accept the “Friend of the Year” award from Friends of Texas Public Schools.

Denominational groups such as the Baptist General Convention of Texas that birthed us, the United Methodist Church, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are initiating mission partnerships with PTC.

Furthermore, national organizations such as the wonderful Network for Public Education and the Center for American Progress have recognized our work and created platforms for our message. National public education advocates such as Carol Burris, Diane Ravitch, and Randi Weingarten have become good friends and colleagues to us.

There is much work yet to do. But, for now, as we slow down and enjoy our families and congregations this Christmas, we pause and give thanks.

And we remember that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”

God’s peace to you all!

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director, Pastors for Texas Children

Rev. Charles F. Johnson receives Friend of the Year Award

Charles Johnson and Charlotte Moore-1On December 6, 2017 the Executive Director of Pastors for Texas Children, Rev. Charles Foster Johnson was awarded the Friend of the Year Award from Friends of Texas Public Schools (FOTPS). FOTPS is a statewide organization that points out and promotes the value of our Texas public schools. The Friend of the Year Award is their highest honor. Johnson received the award for his diligent and unwavering support of our Texas neighborhood public schools and over 5.3 million schoolchildren.

You can see a video about the award and about Rev. Johnson’s work by clicking here…

Churches offer entry point for Waco ISD community support

Shelly Conlon for WACO TRIBUNE – December 16, 2017

Each Tuesday, Pastor Bob Rainey, “Mr. Bob” to Kendrick Elementary School kindergartners and teachers, spends about an hour and a half pulling a few students out of class, one by one.

He sits beside them in a small chair in the middle of a long school hallway and turns page after page, mentoring the students as they sift through story after story together.

“My favorite part is just getting to talk to them. Some have more personality than others, and some just talk and talk and talk. Some don’t want to go back in for whatever reason, but it’s fun to talk to them,” said Rainey, who leads the Central United Methodist Church down the road from the campus. “But it’s all about relationships anyway. Quite frankly, that’s what Christianity is at its heart, at its base. We believe that and we’re glad to have a relationship with the school when they need something.”

The moment is fleeting with children’s books taking only a few minutes to finish, but Rainey’s brief reading sessions are part of a wider effort.

In the Bible Belt of Texas, churches are providing an entry point for community support for public schools.

Read entire article by clicking here . . .

John Kuhn Video

2Pastors for Texas Children invites you to view and share via social media and email this powerful video featuring Mineral Wells ISD Superintendent John Kuhn about the need for adequate funding for public schools.

See the video at https://vimeo.com/223637669

We are trying to get 1,000,000 views of this video so please share with everyone you know!

Pastors for Texas Children receives challenge grant from the Meadows Foundation

The Meadows Foundation of Dallas has awarded Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) a $37,500 grant for our work in advancing and promoting public education.

The Meadows Foundation will award PTC an additional $37,500 if we raise $37,500 over the next few months!  This “challenge grant” recognizes that PTC has unusual potential to cultivate grassroots advocacy for public education.

We have asked every PTC friend to give a gift of $50/$100/$200 to help us raise this challenge grant of $37,500.

We can easily make this goal if we all pitch in.   If you haven’t yet given, you can give to PTC easily online at http://pastorsfortexaschildren.com/donate or by mail at Pastors for Texas Children – PO Box 471155 – Fort Worth, Texas 76147.

This is what former TEA Commissioners Mike Moses and Jim Nelson say about PTC:   “We sincerely believe that this is a unique and independent movement that has the potential to turn the tide back in favor of public education.”

 Won’t you give to help make this a reality?  Working together, we all can make the local church and the local school a “dynamic duo” for God’s common good in every community in Texas!

God bless you, your family, your ministry, your school, and your district, and thank you for standing strong for our schoolchildren.

Charles Foster Johnson, Executive Director – Pastors for Texas Children

Meet the Texas pastor who opposes public funding of religious education — and fights the Koch agenda

 November 17 – WASHINGTON POST

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson - Executive Director of Pastors for Texas Children

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director of Pastors for Texas Children

If you don’t know who Charles Foster Johnson is, here’s your chance to get acquainted. Johnson is the executive director of the nonprofit organization called Pastors for Texas Children, an independent ministry and outreach group that comprises nearly 2,000 pastors and church leaders from across Texas. Its mission, according to its website:

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.

Johnson and his organization come at their mission in a way that is very different from  that of other Christian faith leaders who support the use of public funds for private and religious education through voucher and similar programs. He doesn’t, and he has been a powerful voice in support of traditional public education in Texas. And that has made him a target for people who oppose his views, which Johnson addressed in a post this month on the organization’s website:

We believe public education is a provision of God’s common good. Our faith leads us to this conviction. All children, regardless of race, religion, or economics, deserves a quality education. It is the great democratic equalizer in American life. . . .

We are pastors and congregational leaders trying to make Texas a better place for everyone.

So, we must confess that we are taken aback by the acrimony and bitterness on the part of some public policy stakeholders toward our mission. We have been accused of being “in the pocket of the teacher unions” (we do not have unions in Texas), a “front organization for the Democratic Party” (most of our pastors are from rural communities well associated with the Republican Party), and “fake pastors” by a sitting member of the House of Representatives (overworked pastors know all too well how “real” our calling is.)

Now we are being labeled as “corrupt pastors” and a “fraud” by a group active in Texas policy debates.

We have not responded to these attacks. We are seasoned pastors not unaccustomed to criticism. Our Lord counseled his disciples, “Beware when all speak well of you.” Last we checked, our 8500 public schools, 5.4 million Texas schoolchildren, and 750,000 plus public school teachers and employees need us focused on them — not on a few naysayers.

But, we are compelled by the truth of God and the integrity of God’s mission for us now to confront what is a ludicrous lie. Can we not have a debate about school funding, vouchers, our social contract, and the public trust without this sophomoric name-calling?

We are simply congregational leaders trying to protect and preserve public education for all Texas children, as the Texas Constitution in Article 7, Section 1 clearly spells out: “It shall be the duty of the Legislature of this State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” It is to this constitutional conservatism that we as faith leaders are committed.

Here is an interview with Johnson conducted by Jennifer Berkshire, the education editor at AlterNet and the co-host of a biweekly podcast on education in the time of President Trump. Berkshire worked for six years editing a newspaper for the American Federation of Teachers in Massachusetts. This piece first appeared on AlterNet and Berkshire gave The Washington Post permission to publish it.

Click here to read the full article….