JEFFERSON CITY — As the battle over the religious liberty provisions of Senate Bill 749 shifted from the State Capitol to the courtroom, Kerry Messer, legislative liaison for the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), reflected on what is known.“We have a culture of life and a culture of respect for religious liberty in Missouri that is probably higher than any other state in the union,” Messer said.
Evidence came Sept. 12 during the veto session of the Missouri General Assembly when the Senate voted 26-6 and the House of Representatives voted 109-45 to override the veto of Gov. Jay Nixon. Though the new law was quickly challenged in Cole County Circuit Court, Messer did note its significance.
“Today’s vote is the result of hundreds of thousands of Christians living the kind of life that they’re supposed to be living,” he said. “Missouri is saying we do not want to have our people and our institutions forced by the federal government to have to pay for abortions, contraception, and sterilization.”
The federal Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) is being enacted, and national news outlets are reporting that Missouri is the first state to oppose its principles.
It is hoped that the new state law, if upheld in court, will prevent three MBC institutions from having to buy insurance for abortions, contraception or sterilizations for their employees. Southwest Baptist University, Hannibal-LaGrange University, and the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home are all at risk if the law is struck down. Attempting to do just that is a Kansas City coalition of labor union women, which in its lawsuit claims the federal law takes precedent over the new state law. Other current lawsuits, including one Sept. 17 by The College of the Ozarks near Branson, defend the religious rights of people of conviction and stand against the federal law.
“The attack is on people of faith and religious institutions,” Messer said.
Protecting the religious freedom of Missouri Baptists in the current secular age requires diligence. Government is being promoted as the so-called source of rights such as access to birth control. Executing the Sept. 12 override was hard.
“Being salt and light in the culture is more than just standing up on the day of reckoning,” Messer said. “It’s standing up day after day and living out your Christian responsibilities in a godly way to create an environment and a culture that’s conducive to a vote like (Sept. 12). To me that’s much more important than just the satisfaction of (this) vote.
As satisfying as (this) is, I realize this would not have happened had it not been for the efforts over the generations of serious Christians living serious lives and impacting their culture.”
It almost did not happen. Votes in the House chamber vanished due to “personalities, politics, and mismanagement of how some people handle themselves in public life,” Messer said. Seven members disappeared into the dark category known as “absent.”
Messer was asked at the last minute to intervene in one of these cases only to come up empty. In the end the minimum number of 109 votes was cobbled together for what barely constituted an override.
“We lost four who should have been with us,” Messer said. “For a variety of complicated reasons, we did not get them. You cannot win these battles at the state legislature unless local churches are engaged back home in the district promoting the gospel, doing discipleship, and being involved in the culture, in the community. That’s how we get these votes. The people we lost did not have churches supporting them, and rallying to them, and helping them in their hour of pain.”
Messer did cite the Aug. 7 outcome at the ballot box of 83 percent support for Amendment 2, a right-to-pray measure, and the override vote of 2/3 of lawmakers in both the House and Senate for SB 749 as proof that Christians in Missouri are maintaining a high degree of involvement right now.
“Through the process, we change the culture,” he said. “Our goal is to foster that culture that’s conducive, not just for righteousness but ultimately for the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”