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
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.