At least two Alabama Baptist churches are taking up a fellow Baptist's challenge to help schools after churches played a key role in defeating an education lottery last year. But some think the idea is inappropriate.Wayne Flynt, an Auburn University historian, issued the challenge this summer in a column published on several Alabama newspaper editorial pages.Flynt, a longtime critic of what he contends is a dysfunctional state government, said that evangelicals who opposed Gov. Don Siegelman's proposed lottery should "put their money where their mouths were."Flynt asked all 5,000 churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions in Alabama to "voluntarily give up your tax exemption" to provide money for public schools.Flynt's own church, Auburn First Baptist, has voted to give Auburn schools the equivalent of the church's property-tax assessment."In the ensuing six months since the lottery was defeated, I concluded that evangelicals were not going to do anything," Flynt said. "I got tired of all the pious talking and no acting."Ours is a traditional, mainline Baptist church with money problems like most Baptist churches," he said. "I figured if we can do it, anybody can do it."Some other Alabama churches agree. Dennis Wiles, pastor of Huntsville First Baptist, said his congregation has responded positively to the plan."Both personally and as a Christian leader in Alabama, I opposed the lottery, but this gives us a chance to help the state of Alabama improve education," Wiles said. "This is one opportunity for the church to invest itself in the lives of children."Flynt said that "every tax assessor assesses religious property. They just don't send the church a [tax] bill. You call your county tax assessor to find out the amount your church would pay to schools instead of taxes." In Auburn's case, the total came to $4,662. Birmingham attorney Lenora Pate, one of the most vocal opponents of Siegelman's lottery campaign last fall, said the plan is being discussed in her church. She belongs to Dawson Memorial Baptist in Birmingham, one of the largest congregations in the state. Pate has reserved praise for the idea.Dan Ireland, head of Alabama Citizens Action Program, a moral-issues group based in Birmingham, warned against churches becoming involved in a state function. Churches are to "deal with the spiritual and ethical condition of people," Ireland said. "It is the function of government to come up with a fair and equitable and prudent tax structure to meet the needs. … Let the two roles remain separate."Flynt said the religious community's response will be telling. "If only four or five respond positively," he warned, "it will send a real message of cynicism to people in Alabama that churches care more about their tax breaks than they do the education of 3- and 4-year-old children."

Related Elsewhere

Read a biography of Wayne Flynt 's agitating for social reform from the Auburn University.Read Flynt's call for churches to voluntarily pay taxes to benefit schools.Both First Baptist Church of Huntsville and Dawson Memorial Baptist in Birmingham can be contacted through their Web sites.Previous Christianity Today stories about gambling include:An Education Gamble | After defeating an Alabama lottery-for-schools plan, Christians ponder how to improve public education. (December 10, 1999) Will Gambling Limit Be Heeded? | The National Gambling Impact Study Commission made 76 recommendations to curtail betting. (Aug. 9, 1999) Gambling Away the Golden Years | Casinos are seducing an alarming number of seniors. Where is the church? (May 21, 1999) Spurning Lady Luck | Churches reject funds tainted by gambling. (Oct. 5, 1998) Voters Reject Betting Measures | (Dec. 9, 1996)

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