ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–A four-part sermon series on “Why would Jesus vote?” reflected the conviction of Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, that Christians and even non-believers should be informed and “hopefully inspired” when they go to the polls Nov. 2.
Henry told the Florida Baptist Witness he believes his October sermon series –- along with the church’s voter registration drive and a visit by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s iVoteValues.com tractor-trailer voter awareness rig — were all imperative in light of the upcoming election.
“We consider this a very important election for the future of our country and for people who are going to be in public office, not only the presidency, but at all levels,” the former Southern Baptist Convention president said. “The best way is to have an informed and hopefully inspired congregation that will vote. So we really put every pressure I could to get out the vote. We didn’t endorse anybody, but we did endorse values because we feel like God does.”
Several months of pre-election preparation were lost when four hurricanes swept across the state — three of which affected central Florida.
“I think the hurricanes distracted people,” Henry said. “By the time we [would] get started, another hurricane was coming and so they were getting ready for that and getting their water and boarding up and by the time you get started [again], it was kind of like grabbing Jell-O.”
In spite of the delay, Henry said the people have responded positively to his focus on the election — and “a blessing through it all is that some people who wouldn’t have voted at all are going to vote.” Hundreds have registered to vote at the church’s registration site, the pastor said.
Henry’s four-part series, spanned five weeks with a break Oct. 17 to hear a testimony from deceased astronaut Rick Husband’s wife, Evelyn.
Topics included the separation of church and state, Christians’ involvement in the political process and character in political leadership.
In answering the question, “Why would Jesus vote?” Henry said Jesus acknowledged that government is important, but He also said not to forget to seek the Kingdom of God.
“Jesus would vote in order that this nation would stand by the biblical principles that have made her great,” Henry said. “But Jesus would also say, ‘Church, don’t forget your major agenda … that is [to] know Me, the Lord Jesus Christ.’”
Speaking from the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, Henry drew a parallel between the culture of that time and today. Underscoring America’s foundation of values brought about by adherence to the principles of the Word of God, Henry said God has “sovereignly blessed” the nation in a unique way. A Christian’s greatest contribution to the world is “grace and love,” he added.
Citing a recent column by Chuck Colson, Henry said the once-imprisoned former White House aide makes a good point about how Islamic militants are angry at the West because of moral depravity. Careful to not justify in any way their attacks on innocents, Henry said it is clear that an increase in decadence has brought about this onslaught.
“… [L]et’s acknowledge that America’s increasing decadence is giving aid and comfort to the enemy,” Henry said. “When we tolerate trash on television, permit pornography to invade our homes on the Internet and allow babies to be killed at the point of birth, we are inflaming radical Islam.”
The failure of the Marriage Protection Amendment to pass Congress this year, Henry said, is akin to “handing moral weapons of mass destruction to those who use America’s moral decadence to recruit more snipers and highjackers and suicide bombers.”
Comparing the decline in America to Rome’s fall, Henry said America’s vast oceans no longer protect her from enemies. “This makes reversing American decadence an urgent priority, not just for Christians, but for all Americans,” he said.
“If our cultural rot continues unabated, a Talabanized West may no longer be a joke, but a grim reality.”
Touting character as germane to the election process, Henry said the church has a specific responsibility in teaching about civic duty.
“Look to his character,” Henry counseled. “When a citizen gives his vote to a man of known immorality, he abuses his civic responsibility. He sacrifices not only his own interest but that of his neighbors. He betrays the interest of his country.”
Henry said there still will be Democrats and Republicans and independents after the election, but “not any party” is perfect. “Biblical Christianity demands that the church never allow the Gospel to be held hostage to any political agenda,” the pastor said. “As Christians, we should be free to advocate whatever political position best reflects biblical truth.”
Despite being the largest voting bloc in America, Christians often are maligned by fabrications and misinterpretations, which Henry said fall into four categories: Incorrect application of the separation of church and state; association of innocent believers with someone who has “failed morally;” inaccurate labels like “bigots,” “racists” and “homomophobics”; and assumptions of some kind of a “hidden agenda” on the part of believers.
Even in this climate, Christians still have an obligation to not be on the “fringe” of cultural happenings, Henry said.
“If you don’t engage this culture … then we have no one to blame but ourselves,” he said, noting that such involvement complements, rather than detracts from, the Great Commission.
“[Cultural engagement] is not an either/or,” Henry said. “It is a both/and. We are also called to fulfill our cultural commission. We are instruments of God’s grace, salt and light, but also agents of His common grace. Sustaining and renewing His creation, defending the created institutions of family and society and critiquing false worldviews. So that’s our call.”