A clear division of responsibilities between the government and the church was a needed principle that emerged out of the Protestant Reformation. The duty of the church is to pray for the government and to be supportive as long as it does not require the church to do something that contradicts God’s Word. The government is responsible for guaranteeing the freedom of the church and to protect the church from those that would seek to destroy it – and it does so without favoring any particular denomination or religion.
For the past 11 years the Missouri Baptist Convention has fulfilled the duty of praying for our government leaders with a special Legislative Prayer Service on the first day of the new legislative year (1 Tim. 2:1-4). I do not know of any other state convention that does such a thing. It is a powerful, public testimony to the world that Southern Baptists faithfully pray for our government leaders. We make of point of telling them that we love them and we encourage them to seek God’s wisdom in all they do.
One of the privileges I have is being able to host many of them. During an election year like 2016 the candidates seeking public office often stop by as well to chat and discuss issues of importance to Southern Baptists. This is proper. They want you and me to know of their interest in us and to share their views.
Our conversations generally focus on what I call “The Big Three” issues: religious liberty, the family and life. While we may discuss other issues, I never let them leave without sharing their views on “The Big Three.” I know these three issues are of importance to Southern Baptists because of the large number of resolutions passed by messengers on all three at our annual meetings through the years.
In recent weeks at least a dozen candidates have stopped by and we happily receive them. While polite, I try to find out as much about them as possible – including to what extent they walk with the Lord daily. I think it is important for them – and for me as your advocate – to articulate how important their faith is to them in their daily walk. I also ask them to explain how their faith influences their decision-making when it comes to lawmaking.
On occasion I have been asked to endorse candidates. As editor of The Pathway and public policy advisor to the Convention, I have declined – with one exception – and will continue to do so. I will endorse as a personal citizen just like each of you, but that is different from doing it in my official capacity as editor and public policy advisor. In that capacity I endorse only one: King Jesus.
The only exception I have made in endorsing a candidate was in 2014 when I endorsed then Congressman Todd Akin for the U.S. Senate. I did so for three reasons: I wanted the liberal Americans for Separation of Church and State, which was threatening churches and pastors about their political activities, to know they were not going to bully me or silence me. Secondly, I wanted to demonstrate the freedom that pastors have, though I doubt many would endorse any candidate from the pulpit. I certainly hope that as they preach the entire counsel of God’s Word that they address the issues of the day from a biblical worldview. Thirdly, Akin convinced me that he was a committed follower of Christ and was qualified to hold the office.
Every election is important, but I believe the 2016 election will determine the direction of our nation for at least the next two generations. The next president will likely get a minimum of two, perhaps three, new appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. With the right appointments we could see abortion curtailed, religious freedom strengthened and the Constitution as written by the Founders upheld.
Let us be good citizens by praying and by being full participants in the election process. Do not be afraid to campaign for God-loving candidates, help your church conduct voter registration drives and even invite the candidates to your churches for a forum so that you are informed. The Proverbial parable of the sluggard and the vineyard warns that unless the God-fearing contend for righteousness against the wicked, the wicked will prevail (Prov. 24:30-34).
If you have questions, call me. Your Christian Life Commission is preparing voter registration packets for every pastor to reproduce and use. They will be mailed shortly. Do these things and demonstrate your faithfulness to God and a desire to see our government honor Him in all they do.