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.

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