NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Symbolically at least, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee follows in the footsteps of three high-profile politicians who identified themselves as Southern Baptists.
Unfortunately, once in office Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter rejected Southern Baptist values and beliefs. Jimmy Carter — following his departure from the White House — went so far as to renounce his membership in the Southern Baptist Convention … twice (in 1993 and again in 2000). [Carter remains a member of Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., which is a cooperating Southern Baptist church.]
Huckabee hopes to break this streak at three by winning national office and keeping the faith he has always professed. Indeed, Huckabee’s commitment and service are a matter of public witness, so defining him spiritually is not a matter of guesswork or taking him at his word:
— Huckabee is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., and studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
— He was an Arkansas pastor, serving Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff and Beech Street Baptist Church in Texarkana.
— He also served as president of the Arkansas State Baptist Convention.
As governor, he took some public moral stands that were heavily criticized by moderates and liberals:
— In 1998 he joined such notable evangelicals as Dennis Rainey, Elizabeth Elliot, Kay Arthur, Charles Colson, Bill McCartney and Bill and Vonette Bright in signing a declaration of support for the SBC’s article on the family that Southern Baptists voted to include in the Baptist Faith and Message. Despite wording from the Bible such as “The husband and wife are of equal worth before God,” and “A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church” (i.e. willing to die for her), critics and news media mischaracterized it as misogynist because it also stated from Ephesians that a wife is to submit graciously “to the servant leadership of her husband.”
— Huckabee was instrumental in passing the Covenant Marriage Act of 2001 in Arkansas, which demands a deeper commitment from those entering marriage. Couples entering into a covenant marriage are required to agree to premarital counseling and a two-year “cooling off” period before a divorce can be granted (exceptions are provided in cases of abuse, abandonment, or adultery). On Valentine’s Day in 2005, Huckabee and his wife, Janet, participated in a gathering of 8,000 Arkansans, who each reaffirmed their respective marriages by converting their regular marriage licenses to covenant marriage commitments. Critics opposed the initiative in particular because it affirms marriage as a union between one man and one woman for life.
Southern Baptists don’t need to be worried, Huckabee told Baptist Press, “Because I’ve had a consistency of my beliefs and my practice.”
“I’m an active member of my church,” he added. “For me, it’s not about going to the Christian community, it’s [about me] coming from them.”
In an interview with Baptist Press, Huckabee shared some additional insights into his spiritual life and makeup, and he did not hesitate in what he said.
BAPTIST PRESS: You’re on the road following an arduous schedule of campaigning. What are some of your faith practices that keep you healthy and growing spiritually? You’re an active member of a church. Are you involved in a ministry? What has been the most significant part of your spiritual life this past year?
HUCKABEE: Well, since I was 18, I’ve always had a daily quiet time in which I’ve read a chapter of Proverbs each day that corresponds with that day; that’s part of that. That’s been very helpful to me. Obviously, prayer is an important part of my life. So is worship.
I’m active in my own church when I’m there. When I’m not and I’m traveling, I try to be in a church. Often I speak in churches when I’m traveling, not politically, but you know, but to speak. And if I’m not invited to speak or don’t have a place to be, I go and I worship…. Sometimes it’s a Baptist church, but often it isn’t because there may not be one available or nearby. But, that’s been just a regular, very faithful practice of mine.
You know my church still gets my tithes. I think my pastor loves me. He doesn’t care if I show up. He just wants me to make sure that I continue to send my tithes [laughing]. So that’s always helpful.
But I maintain, also, a close fellowship with several Christian friends who kind of are an accountability group for me, and check up on me spiritually, and have unfettered access to me to kind of keep me pushed in the right direction. I think that’s important for all of us. We all need people to be accountable to.
BAPTIST PRESS: That’s a good point for follow up. For decades, numerous presidents have had the counsel of such men as Billy Graham to hold them accountable. If you should succeed in being elected to the office of president, who would you bring around you to continue to guide you and keep you focused spiritually?
HUCKABEE: Well, I do have several people who serve in the capacity and I most certainly would keep it as president, because you need that.
You live in a bubble anyway — I did as a governor to some degree. It would be even more so as a president. You need people who can get inside that bubble anytime without having to go through somebody. They’ve got to have access to you. They’ve got to be able to know that they can call you up and you can call them and it’s not filtered at all — not only what’s said, but when it’s said. I think if you don’t have that, you’re in a very vulnerable and dangerous position.
BAPTIST PRESS: Now that you’re not pastor but a member of the congregation, is there a particular ministry you are involved in?
HUCKABEE: Well, for the first seven years that we were at our church, I was the bass guitar player in the church praise band. I did that for quite a while, and then the church outgrew me by having so many services and a practice schedule that I couldn’t keep up with anymore. Plus the real reason is I think they found better bass players.
You know, because of my schedule never being anywhere the same consistent two weeks in a row, it’s hard for me to be a part of anything ongoing. I mean I’ve participated like in Angel Tree every year and, you know, my wife and I do things that come up that are activities in our church that we can go to. Like go to the men’s group every Thursday morning at 6; I’m never there. So that’s hard to make that work.
BAPTIST PRESS: What about personal evangelism? With your schedule and the range of duties that you’ve had over the years and now in your campaign, do you find time for personal evangelism?
HUCKABEE: I do. In fact, I think that I’ve had far more opportunities because of my position as a governor and now as a candidate for president to share my faith in a way that probably people wouldn’t have listened to if they said, “What do you do?” and if I say, “I’m a pastor,” it’s like, “Oh, you’re professionally paid to tell me about Jesus.”
When people now talk to me about faith, they give it a different listen because they know I don’t have to. Nobody’s paying me; nobody’s forcing me to talk about what Christ means to me, and when I’m able to share it, I think it has a, you know, a very dramatic and powerful impact and they know it’s what really drives me and what explains me, if you will.
BAPTIST PRESS: Governor, what would you like to say as a closing statement to help Southern Baptists and other evangelicals understand about your run for the presidency?
HUCKABEE: I believe most Southern Baptists want a president, not so much who’s Democrat or Republican, but who’s true to his own core convictions and values — somebody who’s not just going to come to them, but who really can come from them, who understands how important matters of faith are to the average person.
They want somebody who’s identified with life as most Americans have to live it. I think not only in my own personal life — I didn’t grow up a child of privilege, but in a family that struggled to get where it got — but also as a pastor, I saw life at a level that nobody else ever sees. Pastors see life, literally from the cradle to the grave. And there’s not a social pathology they couldn’t put a name and a face to.
I think it’s made me far better as a governor. I think it would make me far better as a president. You can’t say anything about a 14-year-old girl who is pregnant and hasn’t told her parents…. You know, I know girls like that because I talked to them. I talked to the young couples who were head-over-heels in debt and their marriages were struggling because of debt. I talked to the middle-aged couples who were having to become the parents to their parents because of aging issues. I’ve talked to the elderly who had to decide when it was time to sell their home and go into long-term care.
There’s no issue out there that I couldn’t put a name and a face on. I think that if a person is going to be president, he needs to understand how people actually live their lives. Otherwise, I’m not sure you’re making decisions that are based on the best interest of people. You may be making them on the best interest of political interest.
Will Hall is executive editor of Baptist Press.