“There is a ‘holy war’ going on in Macon County because of a mega-church being allowed to send their missionaries in orange T-shirts into the schools to give away 1,400 pairs of shoes,” Wallace wrote in an email to The Smoky Mountain News.
The “holy war” involved Biltmore Baptist Church’s recent LoveLoud event, during which nearly 1,400 pairs of Nikes were given out to Macon County elementary students. Church members visited schools in April as part of their outreach efforts.
“We’re a little bit outside the box when it comes to the concept of a traditional Baptist church,” explained Patrick Trawick, pastor of the church’s Franklin campus. “Something that we stress all the time is for our people to serve.”
This is the second year Biltmore Baptist has given away shoes in schools. In addition to Macon schools, members also visit schools in Buncombe County, where the church’s main campus is based.
“We just want to come in and give shoes to kids,” Trawick explained.
In her letter, Wallace, who could not be reached for further comment, staked out a different position. She raised questions about the appropriateness of a religious group being allowed into public schools.
“Wowzers! When was it that the Macon County Board of Education began to allow churches and businesses to go into all our schools and proselytize by advertising their products?” Wallace asked. “Certainly great free advertisement for churches and businesses, but this kind of thing used to be really avoided, for obvious reasons. So when did this change in policy become OK in Macon County Schools?”
According to Macon County Schools Superintendent Chris Baldwin, there is no policy prohibiting such activity. “Proselytization,” however, is not allowed.
“Our policies do not prevent groups or businesses from donating needed items to our schools,” Baldwin explained. “Our policies do not permit proselytization by these, or any groups, on our campuses.”
The superintendent also said that any outside organizations would first need to meet with a district representative to discuss their activities prior to being allowed into the schools. Some activities — such as the shoe giveaway — also require permission from parents in order for a student to participate.
Pastor Trawick said that he had not heard any negative feedback about Biltmore’s LoveLoud outreach event.
“No, not at all,” he said.
Trawick also stressed that the event was agenda-free. He said church members were instructed not to wrap religion into the occasion. The pastor described the shoe giveaway as “our no-strings-attached approach to love on the community.”
“We’re not in the schools to hawk our church, or even hawk our beliefs,” Trawick said. “We’re in there to show these kids that someone cares.”
The pastor did say that there were similar concerns initially expressed during last year’s shoe giveaways in the schools.
“They were waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, ‘Hey, where’s the catch, are you going to preach to us or not?’” Trawick said. “After a while they realized, hey, there’s no catch.”