Missouri Baptists face the public policy issue of cloning
1st Belton’s Bakers offer tips on grassroots political activity
BELTON – Two of the more politically active pastors in the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) are David Baker, 25-year senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Belton, and his son, Brian, a Missouri state representative who serves the church as assistant pastor and ministry director.
The Bakers admit that their activism on candidates and issues down through the years has drawn the attention of the Internal Revenue Service, but they emphasize that their involvement has always been legal. Their desire is for Missouri Baptist pastors to be bold within the confines of the law during the current campaign to defeat a constitutional amendment promoting the spread of embryonic stem cell research, or cloning.
“I have people say, ‘Well, you’re way too politically involved,’” said David Baker, who also serves on the MBC Executive Board. “We’ve been repeatedly examined. During the Clinton administration, I was audited twice. Altogether I’ve been audited four times, and I don’t think there’s any question it’s because I have not been silent.
“I think pastors are afraid to speak up. I think there’s just a great fear I’m going to cross some line here and I’m going to create problems for my church. In reality, that’s not true. The thing that I think we have to be concerned about is, ‘Do we offend the Lord when we fail to teach our people how to engage this culture?’ I think political and civic involvement is part of the way we engage the culture, and it’s part of the way we legitimize our evangelism.”
Brian Baker, who was elected as a Republican to the state House of Representatives in 2002, remembered the 1996 Clinton-Dole presidential contest as a time when his family became more involved in politics. And now he is gearing up for it again. He said the current campaign against Amendment 2 (cloning) presents an opportunity for Missouri Baptist churches who may be new to politics to overcome their fears and get involved.
“It’s real simple,” Brian Baker said. “The church can address any social issue it wants to address, and they can address legislative issues like the constitutional amendment, but it can’t take up more than 5 percent of its total ministry time, which is really not hard to do.”
The Bakers have become skilled at various grassroots campaign tactics that they would like to pass along to other Missouri Baptist pastors. For example, they learned some valuable lessons four years ago when Brian spent only $35,000 to defeat an opponent who spent $100,000.
“We had 300 volunteers that year that went out and either knocked on doors or made phone calls for me, and we won,” the younger Baker said. “The power of grassroots works. So I think churches should schedule two to four dates to just go out and hand out flyers and ask them to vote no on Amendment 2.”
Canvass your city like you would a mission field, Brian Baker said. Head out after church on a Sunday with the goal of putting flyers on doors.
“If you get 100 people—that’s 50 teams of 2 people—you can go out and hit an entire city relatively in a short afternoon,” he said.
Another idea is to put up a sign at the church urging citizens to vote no on Amendment 2.
“During the gay marriage issue (in 2004), we put banning gay marriage signs up on our church property,” Brian Baker said. “We checked with our lawyer. We can do that.”
The election is Nov. 7. The Bakers plan on asking their church members to man every poll in Cass County with signs that communicate “Vote No on Amendment 2.” Some undecided voters will respond, he said.
“We are going to ask our people to stand out in front of the polls in shifts at all 47 precincts and hold signs,” Brian Baker said. “We’re going to make sure we follow the rules of the polling places. You can’t be within 25 feet of them. But we’re going to make sure that we’re there, as a presence, and we’re going to really emphasize that they pray for people as they vote, that they’ll make the right decision.”
The wisdom and the power of that tactic, Brian Baker said, stems from simply taking a stand and praying for an opening to speak. “It opens up the door for an opportunity to share truth, (and) it does move votes.”
He recommends the sign-holding strategy as a great way for Missouri Baptists to jump in and make a difference.
“Be at the polls Election Day,” he said. “Ask your people to volunteer, just to stand at the polls with a sign that says, ‘Please vote no on Amendment 2.’ I think one of the things we’re going to do is come up with a sign that says, ‘Ask me about Amendment 2 before you vote.’ You may have 20 people walk right by you and never speak to you, but you may have two that do come, and those two votes do count. It’s just important that you be there and be available.”
One of the statewide keys to the “defeat Amendment 2” strategy is for pastors to become educated on the issue and preach effectively so that church members will vote in a manner that reflects the sanctity of human life. David Baker, a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board, noted that he has developed a type of speaker’s bureau at First Belton that includes Trey Dimsdale, who holds a juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and teaches a Sunday School class at the church, Brian Baker, and youth pastor Eric Jones.
“All of them are doing somatic cell nuclear transfer messages, and what we ask them to do is develop messages that are appropriate for worship,” David Baker said.
The senior pastor has already had 16 invitations from around the state to preach on cloning. He has accepted two—at Calvary Baptist in Hannibal and Highview Baptist in Chillicothe. The other three speakers at First Belton have been filling the other requests, and David Baker said he is available at (816) 331-1000 for more speaking dates right up until the election.
“I’m still looking to get into some strategic areas,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is to get into some regions where I can speak and have (a larger group) of people turn out.”
On Sept. 10, he plans to deliver a major message at First Belton.
“This is a message on the responsibility of the individual believer in dealing with this kind of situation,” he said. “What do we see in Scripture? We’re going to use several examples.
“I’m going to use Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Those are great illustrations. I’m also going to use the prophets. I’m going to talk about Jeremiah and his responsibility to speak to the court of Israel even though it ultimately meant his death. And then I’m going to talk about some New Testament examples—what Paul said in Romans and what Peter says in 1 Peter on how we deal with government.”
When State Sen. Matt Bartle, an outspoken Christian opponent of cloning from Lee’s Summit, recently won a Republican primary battle with a well-financed, pro-cloning challenger by working a grassroots type of strategy through the churches, it may have been a precursor to what will happen with Amendment 2 in the general election, the Bakers said. Bartle defeated Bob Johnson 60 percent to 37.3 percent.
“I think it is a statement that for those who are opposed to this, our strength and our resolve is there,” Brian Baker said. “For those who are for it, they just don’t seem that engaged. I think that’s important for us.
“If churches will get out and vote this election cycle, we will decide the future of Missouri. But they have to vote. They have to vote their convictions. They need to really read Scripture. It’s really important for our people over the next two months to read Scripture and vote a God-honoring vote, and in order for us to really change the culture, we have to keep preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“Our pulpits need to thunder,” David Baker said. “If the pulpits thunder, we’re going to win this thing, because God’s people need to turn out.”