Last week, Biltmore Baptist Church in North Carolina did something that’s genuinely awesome for the elementary school students in Macon County: They gave new pairs of Nike shoes to 1400 kids:
“I’m unbelievably proud of the people of Biltmore Franklin,” said [Pastor Patrick] Trawick. “A lot of them took the day off work, sacrificing pay so they could serve their community. I’m thankful that Dr. Baldwin and all of the principals allowed us to serve them this way. We’re looking forward to more opportunities to serve Franklin in the future. That’s why we’re here.”
Again, that’s a great project, helping out students whose families might not be able to afford shoes like that.
But… the whole thing just makes me feel uncomfortable.
I’m not questioning the generosity of the church members and I’m not saying they all have an ulterior motive. What I am questioning is the wisdom of school officials opening the doors to local church members regardless of the reason. I have to think the name of the church was made evident during each shoe fitting and giveaway. Were pamphlets given out, too? Invitations to visit the church? Did anyone even question the church’s motivation for coming into the schools? Would a non-Christian organization have been given the same kind of access? What’s the school board’s policy on all of this?
And if the church only wanted to donate shoes to the kids, why couldn’t they simply deliver the boxes and leave? Or did they also need the photo op and free advertising?
At the very least, the phrase on the volunteers’ shirts, “Love Loud,” is the name of an explicitly Christian program.
Very little information about the giveaway has been made public. According to one (long) Facebook thread made by someone questioning the nature of the giveaway, parents had to sign forms in order for their kids to get the shoes, but what the forms said is unclear.
That should concern all of us who support church/state separation, even if we think the church did something wonderful. My questions are aimed at school officials, not church members. If local organizations are allowed to give handouts/donations to students, then I’m sure there are Humanist groups that would love to do a book giveaway. Will that be allowed, too?