Month: March 2004

Lewisville pastor leads on local issues

LEWISVILLE?Over three decades as pastor of Lakeland Baptist Church in Lewisville, Ben Smith has waged a battle or two for righteousness in his city on the fringe of northwest Dallas.

The first one?an election 25 years ago over local liquor options, got on the ballot but was voted down in the election, 2-1. Since then, the liquor issue has come up several times but has never taken hold, something Smith accounts to all-night prayer vigils and committed church members taking responsibility for their community.

He recalled once a local pastor showing up at his church at 2 a.m. to pray. “The Lord’s been so gracious to us. I attribute a great deal of that to prayer,” he said.

“God has ways of doing things if you let him work,” Smith said.

There was the sexually-oriented “warehouse” off Highway 121 that left Denton County, thanks to Christians such as those at Lakeland taking a stand; the owners promised not to relocate in Denton County. The massage parlors are also gone, thanks in part to Smith and his congregation.

Smith noted that when a petition, such as is used in liquor option issues, is circulated in hopes of making the ballot, the church gets a public record list of the petition authors and begins praying for them by name. They even contact them personally, telling them they are being prayed for and expressing the church’s views.

Lakeland has regularly printed fact sheets when moral concerns arise, “telling the truth about what alcohol does, what pornography does, sexually-oriented businesses. We get facts and data and we publish that information in a factoid, and we distribute it to the preachers so they can use it in their sermons and put them in the newspaper?just telling people the truth.”

In an election, a useful tool is the yard sign, which is effective if the message is clear and issue focused, Smith said.

Also, “I believe it’s every pastor’s responsibility to have the businesses of his city and key leaders of his city on his e-mail address list,” Smith noted. “It’s better to work with these guys than to have to fight them. I share information with them. I never, ever attack their person. It’s always an issue, never a person.

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and rulers of darkness in high places. That’s where you have to fight the battle.”

Fifty year old law limits political activity,

Christian laymen and church leaders are more aware of what they cannot do than what they can do regarding political issues. Consequently, critics say, such ignorance stymies those who are most intimately associated with the truth regarding moral issues and bear the greatest responsibility for seeing it propagated.

What has silenced many pastors in the pulpit over the past 40 years regarding issues political was a last-minute amendment to the 1954 Internal Revenue Service Tax Code revision. Lyndon B. Johnson, then a U.S. Senator from Texas, tacked on the rider barring 501(c)(3) organizations from campaigning for or against candidates vying for political office.

The amendment was passed with no debate on a voice vote. It was later speculated Johnson made the move to silence two non-profit organizations that threatened to campaign against him. It is not known if Johnson realized how far-reaching his measure would be and whom it would ultimately silence.

Regardless of intent, the code regulates speech for 501(c)(3) organizations, barring them from endorsing candidates under threat of losing their tax-exempt status. Few churches have been taken to task in the past four decades by the IRS, but the fear of big government?not the fear of God?has had a significant impact on what is preached from America’s pulpits.

There are exceptions. For example, a Buddhist temple was the site of politicking and fund-raising for Al Gore during the 2000 president election. In 1980, Ronald Reagan joined several prominent evangelical leaders on the platform at Dallas’ Reunion Arena during a political rally.

Mostly, however, mere discussion of moral and ethical issues is sometimes averted in the pulpit so as not to be seen as endorsing one candidate and rejecting the other based on the views they hold.


“In days gone by the pulpit and God’s prophets have voiced concerns. ? We don’t hear these voices anymore,” said Jim Bolton, retired investment banker and First Baptist Church of Dallas member. Bolton served on the SBTC’s Texas Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee (TERLC). The role of the committee has been to relay information regarding issues of concern to SBTC churches.

Bolton noted, “When the pastor doesn’t lead, the people aren’t interested. If doing the right thing politically is not going to be proclaimed, then why should we be interested?”

There remains much that pastors and lay people can address in church without violating IRS codes. Although the code precludes endorsing candidates, the church may address issues. The church can, and should, take a stand on moral and social issues explicitly addressed in the Bible, said Keet Lewis, a representative of Heritage Alliance, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping grassroots conservative movements.

One project Lewis has nurtured is the Christian Citizenship Committee, traveling the state helping churches organize such committees which then act as conduits of information from the state and national levels to their congregations. Being politically involved, Lewis said, is part of being a good citizen. And being an informed voter “is the beginning of taking citizenship seriously.”

These committees keep congregations informed of social and cultural issues within their own communities also, Lewis said.

“We need to be salt and light. We need to clearly articulate biblical issues,” he added.

William Nix concurred, using salt and light to illustrate how Christians can preserve society. Salt, he explained is a curative while light acts to shed light on the blemish that needs treating. Voting with biblical principles in mind is only a small part of the duties of a responsible Christian citizen.

Nix, who has taught in several universities and seminaries across the country, earned a doctor of philosophy in intellectual history. Such a degree, he explained, is a study of the history of ideas within their cultural, social, and economic environment. Nix is a member and 30-year deacon at First Baptist Dallas and a former member of the TERLC.

Nix said it was only 10-12 years ago that many churches within the Dallas metroplex did exactly what Lewis is encouraging congregations to do, coordinating efforts to assemble and disseminate information of a social and political nature. “A lot of people on the basis of fear are avoiding those things,” Nix said.


Aside from losing their tax-exempt status, churches and individual members use the excuse of “separation of church and state” as a reason for not being politically involved.

The oft-recited statement was discovered in a letter from Thomas Je

Young adults encouraged

PLANO?In less than eight months American voters will go to the polls to elect a president. A few questions worth asking might be:

• Why is electing a president such a big deal?

• Why would anyone want to be a part of politics?

• If politics is a dirty game, should Christians aspire to hold political office?

• Should Christians even vote?

On the last one, political strategist Ralph Reed says yes.

Reed, speaking in January at an Elevate 2004 Conference sponsored by Southern Baptists and hosted by Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, told the group of young Christians in attendance they have a responsibility to be involved.

“A lot of people ask, ‘How can you be involved in a business as dirty as politics?'”

Reed answered using the analogy of a house with broken water pipes. Our government is not completely corrupt, Reed contended, it just has some malfunctioning parts.

“That broken water pipe is threatening the foundation of that house,” Reed said. “If you don’t do something about it, it’s going to flood the foundation. It’s going to weaken the soil around it. And the whole house is going to come crumbling down.”

Believers have two options, Reed said. They can choose to stay in the house and not fix the pipes because they might get dirty under the house. Or, they can get under the house, repair the pipes and save the house.

“Don’t think for one minute as a Christian that you can stay cloistered in your own safe churches and schools and homes and not engage the broader culture, that you can be protected from the broken water pipe that is threatening the survival of our culture,” Reed said. “Eventually, it will find you.”

For Reed, politics is a calling.

He became involved in politics before he was a Christian. So, Reed said, he has played the game from both sides. As a political strategist before his salvation, Reed said he played to win at all costs. But since his conversion, he has had a chance to see and be a part of elections where people stood by their convictions.

“I have had the privilege and the honor ? to see people who got in touch with the talents and abilities they had been given and combined it with their faith in God and made a real difference in touching every life that they came in contact with through the love and grace and mercy of Jesus Christ,” Reed said.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Reed and radio talk show host Janet Parshall explained to the audience the importance of getting involved in the “culture war” and how to become involved in the battle.

Huckabee, a former pastor, said Christians today should be “thermostats instead of thermometers.” Thermometers only check the temperature around them, Huckabee said, adding, “A lot of people?particularly in politics?are nothing more than thermometers.” These “thermometers” take an opinion poll to get the “pulse of the public” and based on the poll state the position they’re going to take, he explained.

Huckabee said God is calling more people to be thermostats instead of thermometers. Thermostats were made not just to read the temperature, but to move the temperature and make it what it ought to be.

He offered two suggestions in becoming a thermostat and changing the climate of the culture. First, Huckabee said, a Christian should stand by his convictions no matter the consequences

“Convictions are not your preferences or your likes versus your dislikes.” Huckabee said. “These are things that you so genuinely believe in ? you’re willing to be left alone and have your friends walk away because these are things you’re simply not going to compromise.”

For Christians, these convictions should be based on the word of God, Huckabee said. Some absolutes are unchanging. Huckabee listed some of his unchangeable convictions?sanctity of life, helping the poor, and honesty.

Second, Huckabee said Christians should “serve compassionately” to get ahead in this culture war. “Jesus did not come to be served, but he came to serve,” Huckabee told the group.

Huckabee told of his 12 years of pastoring churches before he became involved in public life. When he first made the decision to go into politics, some of those in the church questioned his decision. According to Huckabee, some of these people believed the only ministry options were pastors, song leaders (they didn’t have music leaders) or foreign missions. Everything else was considered secular work?not a calling.

“Where did that nonsense come from?” Huckabee asked. “Folks, you don’t have to get a payche