NASHVILLE (BP) — Southern Baptists heard from two presidential candidates and considered how the Gospel of Jesus applies to politics in back-to-back events Tuesday and Wednesday (Aug. 4 and 5) in Nashville.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — both bidding for the Republican Party presidential nomination — answered questions Aug. 4 before more than 13,000 people gathered for the Send North America Conference in Bridgestone Arena. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, interviewed the candidates at the conference, which was jointly sponsored by the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.
The interviews of Bush and Rubio came a day before the ERLC’s 2015 National Conference on applying the Gospel to politics. The Aug. 5 event focused on how evangelical Christians should engage in the public square in a way that is formed by and faithful to the Gospel.
In the Aug. 4 question-and-answer sessions at the Send Conference, Moore asked the GOP candidates about such issues as religious liberty in the United States, the use of military force overseas to defend Christians and other religious adherents against Islamic extremists, the torture of detained enemy combatants, abortion, racial discrimination and overcoming public incivility.
Speaking in person at the conference, Bush promised to defund Planned Parenthood if elected to the White House. His comment came after the release of five undercover videos over the previous three weeks that showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of organs from aborted children for research. The organization received $528 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements in its most recent financial year.
Bush went on to say, “If you took dollar for dollar, though, I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” That comment drew strong rebukes from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and others.
Later, Bush said in a statement released through his campaign website he misspoke. “There are countless community health centers, rural clinics, and other women’s health organizations that need to be fully funded,” he said. “They provide critical services to all, but particularly low-income women who don’t have the access they need.
“I was referring to the hard-to-fathom $500 million in federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood — an organization that was callously participating in the unthinkable practice of selling fetal organs. Democrats and Republicans agree we absolutely must defund them and redirect those funds to other women’s health organizations.”
Speaking in a pre-recorded video, Rubio told Moore some abortion rights advocates are extremists.
“People that stand for the idea that you should be able to abort a child at any stage in the pregnancy — they’re the extremists,” Rubio said. “People who believe that a young child, a minor, should be able to get an abortion easier than a tattoo — they’re the extremists. And I think it’s important for us to point out those examples of extremism because every life we save, whether it’s by changing hearts or changing laws, is an important step forward in progress.”
Leading candidates from each major party were invited to the forum at the Send Conference, according to the ERLC. Each Republican candidate to poll at 10 percent or higher in the Real Clear Politics national average at some point between May 1 and a month before the Send Conference was invited, the ERLC reported. According to the Real Clear Politics website, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker both reached 10 percent during that time period along with Bush and Rubio.
Clinton also was invited, but she declined, Moore said, adding he looks forward to having conversations with candidates in both parties.
In the Aug. 5 morning session of the ERLC conference, Moore told the audience of more than 600 registrants the Gospel propels Christians to give up their rights. Yet, he said, it also propels Christians to stand up for their rights — especially when it comes to engaging politically on behalf of the vulnerable in society.
Basing his remarks on the account of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment from Acts 16, Moore said they were “unwilling to defend themselves and look after their own interests,” but Paul also asserted his rights as a Roman citizen. Paul showed boldness in not fearing death but also in defying the government, he said.
Many times, Moore said, Christians say they are facing persecution when it really is personal offense. “We are not driven by offense,” he said. “We are driven by the Gospel.”
He warned against claiming “politicians as spiritual mascots or leaders.”
“Politics is temporal, important but temporal,” Moore said, adding Christians should engage politically and socially but not forget who they are. They also should avoid a “siege mentality” as if the world were “our enemies rather than our mission,” he said.
“We are exiles in America not because we have lost America,” Moore said. “We are strangers and exiles in every culture and every place because the Gospel and the mission get us out of step with the culture.”
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, urged attendees to act graciously in communicating the truth in the public square.
“I don’t know why we are shocked when people don’t like what” Christians believe, Daly said.
Followers of Christ should be at the table to discuss policies in culture, he said. “When we do so, we can’t give up the character of Christ.”
Jennifer Marshall, vice president at the Heritage Foundation, said politics is about determining “who we are as a society and where we want to go.”
Marshall offered five recommendations for evangelical political engagement:
— “Don’t prognosticate; pray.
— “Don’t despair; do something.
— “Make sure conversations about life, marriage and religious liberty are directed towards action, not inaction.
— “Replace a sense of resignation with a sense of responsibility for the future.
— “Remember for the Christian, citizenship is about stewardship.”
Among other speakers at the ERLC conference, held at downtown Nashville’s Music City Center, were Ross Douthat, columnist for the The New York Times; Erick Erickson, editor of RedState.com; Michael Gerson, columnist for The Washington Post and former White House speech writer; J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; IMB President David Platt; and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
The ERLC’s inaugural national conference, held in October 2014, applied the Gospel to homosexuality and marriage.