While I was in Orlando, Fla., during the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting earlier this month, I was interviewed by Dr. Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, for the denomination's "For Faith and Family" radio broadcast. During that interview, I told Dr. Land that religious conservatives are today the "most energized" they have been since they helped elect Ronald Reagan president in 1980. And I truly believe this to be true. "The American people, I think, sense something right now -- that we are about to lose America," I told him. "Ronald Reagan would not have been president unless, in 1979 and 1980, millions of Bible-believing Christians said, 'We've had enough,' and threw Jimmy Carter out and put Ronald Reagan in, to put it bluntly." I continued, "If we don't do the same thing November 7 with Mr. Gore, and get somebody else in there to rebuild the moral values and fabric of this nation, we're going to be in the same mess -- or worse -- than we were in 1980." (Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh apparently agrees, saying on his Thursday broadcast, "The conservative wing of this party is so fed up, they can't wait to get out and vote in November.") I made this statement fully aware of the fact that civil libertarians have accused me of endorsing specific candidates and calling for the defeat of certain candidates. I have been expressly targeted by civil libertarians because of my campaign, "People of Faith 2000," that is designed to enlist 10 million new registered voters and scores of millions more presently registered voters to participate in the November elections. (If I were an activist liberal pastor, like Jesse Jackson, I would no doubt be declared a hero by the same civil libertarians.) The strategy of People of Faith 2000 is not to tell religious Americans for whom they should vote. This program primarily teaches evangelical pastors how to utilize the motor voter registration law to ensure that their congregations are prepared to follow the godly mandate to participate in political elections. It's that simple. People of Faith 2000 does not suggest to anyone how to vote! I do, however, maintain a right -- as an American -- to state my own political beliefs. Every religious leader in America -- from James Dobson to Billy Graham -- has the right to speak out publicly on political and social issues. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, apparently disagrees (at least in regard to conservatives speaking out). Mr. Lynn is attempting to silence religious conservatives at the voting booth this fall and has enacted a misinformation campaign designed to thwart the People of Faith 2000 effort. Mr. Lynn, whose organization has filed several lawsuits against faith-based organizations, recently filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, saying that my appeal for donations through People of Faith 2000 defies bans on partisan politicking by tax-exempt groups. However, these donation appeals have been to raise funds to mail out voter-registration information packets (containing absolutely no endorsements or candidate information) to hundreds of thousands of American pastors. "Jerry Falwell is clearly playing fast and loose with the federal tax law," he accused. "It's time for the IRS to take action." Mr. Lynn understands that if religious conservatives (who cross ethnic and racial lines and represent the largest minority voting bloc in America) once again become organized, we pose a legitimate threat to a host of leftist politicians. I am confident that his group's IRS complaint against me is motivated by this solemn fear. Following my interview with Dr. Lamb at the SBC meeting, Mr. Lynn read an Associated Baptist Press account of my statements. He immediately fired off a letter to Dr. Lamb in which he charged that SBC members listening to the program "would certainly conclude" that my "agenda" has the "official endorsement of the Southern Baptist Convention." Furthermore, Mr. Lynn smugly threatened "to file more complaints with the IRS if necessary" -- a clear effort to intimidate Dr. Land and the SBC. (Such acts of attempted coercion are nothing new for Mr. Lynn, who bills himself as a "reverend," but -- by admission -- is ordained by an extremely liberal denomination and has never served any local church in a conventional pastoral role.) Richard Land, however, is not a man who is easily bullied. Without delay, he returned a well-reasoned response letter to Mr. Lynn, in which he refused to "self-impose censorship on our guests as a result of the threats of an organization to file a complaint with the IRS, particularly when that complaint would have absolutely no merit." Dr. Land added, "Your letter demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the way the Southern Baptist Convention operates. You believe that many listeners would conclude that Rev. Falwell's agenda has the official endorsement of the Southern Baptist Convention because he is 'a Southern Baptist pastor and prominent leader in [the] denomination.' That view is not consistent with Southern Baptist polity, which emphasizes the autonomy of the local church and the priesthood of the believer. Southern Baptists are well aware that every local Southern Baptist church is an autonomous entity, and the pastor of a local church speaks only for that church and not for the entire denomination, even if he is a 'prominent' Southern Baptist. Both Al Gore and Clinton are well-known Southern Baptists, but nobody would presume that they speak on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention." In other words, these thinly-veiled threats by Barry Lynn are not only empty, they are ineffective because the SBC will continue to take biblical stands on political and social issues. And I will continue to encourage pastors across this nation to make sure their congregations are registered to vote. As I have stated before, if these pastors preach from a biblical perspective, there is no question as to how the vast majority of their congregations will vote. (I wonder if that means Barry Lynn will soon attempt to outlaw the Bible?) As long as we -- as religious conservatives -- continue to join forces in an effort to protect the Judeo-Christian values on which our nation was founded, we can expect that similar blatant intimidation efforts by leftist religious leaders and civil libertarians will continue against us. However, we have nothing to fear...but much to lose if our nation continues its calamitous moral breakdown.
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