Missouri Southern Baptists are the largest non-Catholic denomination in the state. We have always rallied around a commitment to carry the gospel to the world. We are also known for our fierce defense of religious freedom, or freedom of conscience. The Baptist Faith & Message affirms only God – not man or government – is Lord of the conscience. This aligns us with a biblical worldview of reality, one that demands our involvement in God’s created order.
Such a worldview includes engagement in the marketplace of ideas, or in the realm of public policy. Missouri Southern Baptist influence in this area has grown because we advance the truth that God’s way is the best way. That commitment results in influence, and influence can help change a culture.
A Southern Baptist serves as governor, a Southern Baptist recently served as chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, and there is a large contingent of Southern Baptists serving in the Missouri General Assembly. There are Bible studies and prayer meetings held at the State Capitol with heavy Southern Baptist participation and support.
When at the State Capitol, I am sometimes asked: What is the public policy strategy of Missouri Baptists? The answer is John 3:16. I believe God is blessing our public policy efforts because we seek to honor Him. Your influence through prayers and voting are having an impact.
Word broke April 7 that Republican State Rep. Doug Richey, pastor, Pisgah Baptist Church, Excelsior Springs, is likely to become the next vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, signaling that Republican leadership holds Richey in high regard. Richey was selected by his peers as the “Freshman Lawmaker of the Year” in the House in 2019. A leader in the state GOP told me a year ago he could see Richie ascending to leadership. This latest development puts him on the path toward possible Speaker of the House.
Richey is not the only Southern Baptist pastor serving in the Missouri General Assembly. There are several, like Dirk Deaton, a lay pastor and member of Buffalo Creek Baptist Church, Tiff City, and Ken Wilson, pastor, New Hope Baptist Church, Princeton. More are running in the November election to join them.
Then there was another development Missouri Baptists should recognize as having an impact. President Donald Trump signed into law March 27 the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act is the largest relief bill in American history. It authorizes the disbursement of two trillion dollars in federal financial relief to people, businesses, churches and faith-based organizations to help fight COVID-19 and the economic fallout from it.
The decision by the Trump administration to allow churches to participate in the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program was made possible due, in part, to the work of two Missouri Baptist lawyers: Michael Whitehead, general legal counsel for the Missouri Baptist Convention and his son, Jonathan. Both are members of Fellowship Greenwood, a Missouri Southern Baptist congregation in suburban Kansas City.
It was the Whiteheads who were on the legal team that won the Trinity Lutheran v State of Missouri case at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017. That decision held that religious groups that are otherwise eligible may not be excluded from competing for government benefits because of their status as churches or as religions. It clarified that eligibility did not hinge on whether an entity provides secular social services. The Trinity Lutheran decision gave the Trump administration the legal muscle to include churches in the CARES Act.
But there is more.
Some legal observers believe liberals will mount a legal case, challenging church participation. Because of Trinity Lutheran, some believe the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the pernicious 1971 Lemon v Kurtzman ruling. Chief Justice Warren Burger, writing the Lemon opinion stated, “the Constitution decrees that religion must be a private matter for the individual, the family and the institutions of private choice, and that, while some involvement and entanglement are inevitable, lines must be drawn.” The Lemon decision wrongly privatized religion because it required that every public act have a “secular” purpose and that no such act have the primary effect of “advancing” a religion.
The Lemon decision secularized America. Liberals and atheists have used it to support the bogus “wall of separation” misrepresentation they have perpetrated for five decades. This Lemon is overripe.
Trinity Lutheran laid the groundwork for the Supreme Court to overturn Lemon. If it happens, Missouri Southern Baptists will have played a significant role in what could become a landmark religious freedom case. Thank you, Missouri Baptists.