NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Near the top of the iVoteValues.com homepage is the question: “Why bother?” Indeed, this is a question many evangelical Christians seem to ask before each election. According to Focus on the Family, three out of four evangelicals failed to vote in the last national election.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), sought to answer that question Sept. 23 as a part of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual church-state lecture on Baptists and religious liberty. Accompanying Land to NOBTS was the new iVoteValues.com Mobile Voter Registration Event Center, an 18-wheeler specifically equipped to aid in voter registration and to offer nonpartisan voter education leading up to the November 2 elections.
“We want to do everything we can to make sure that every eligible voter is registered, every registered voter is informed and every informed voter votes,” Land said. “And when they vote, they vote their values, their beliefs and their convictions.”
Introducing Land’s topic of discussion, New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelley said that Baptists must cherish their freedom to vote.
“One of the great contributions of Baptists to the world is our insistence on the separation of church and state and what that means precisely,” Kelley said. “We like every generation of students to be reminded of that very important doctrine and conviction on the part of Baptists….
“There are Christians all over the world who would love to be able to have a vote in their government’s elections. For us to squander that opportunity is indeed a sin.”
That’s where the iVoteValues.com truck comes in. Land and the staff of the ERLC saw the 18-wheeler — once used to transport souvenirs for the Charlie Daniels Band — and envisioned it as a tool to promote voter registration.
“As we began to talk about the fact that it’s a disgrace that 30 percent of Southern Baptists are not registered to vote and that we wanted to do an unprecedented voter registration and voter education drive this year for Christian Citizenship Sunday, we remembered the truck,” Land said. “That old 18-wheeler is now the slick, painted up iVoteValues.com Express. It’s been to 13 states so far, saying ‘iVoteValues.com.'”
In addition to the effectiveness of the truck, Land also reported that 16,000 Southern Baptist churches have used ERLC’s material on voter registration.
Still, Land said a Christian’s responsibility to vote does not end with registering to vote and casting that vote. Land emphasized the need to vote according to one’s religious values by contrasting it with the contemporary interpretation of the term “separation of church and state.”
“It [the phrase ‘separation of church and state] is widely believed to have come from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist pastor in Danbury, Connecticut,” Land said.
At that time, nine of the 13 states had tax-supported state church, Land said. He emphasized the fact that the First Amendment to the Constitution says Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” At the time of Jefferson’s letter, states could establish a state church and, thus, discriminate against members of other denominations or religions.
“You have to understand Jefferson’s letter in that context,” Land said. “He was writing to Baptists in Connecticut where they had an established state church. There ought not to be an established, official church that is given state preference.”
Unfortunately, Land said, there was a shift in the interpretation of the First Amendment in the last half of the 20th Century that now calls for the separation of religious conviction and governmental decision-making.
“This is a recipe for disaster, and it is a recipe cooked up in the kitchen of the secularists,” Land said.
Christians should not wish for a state-supported church, Land said, referencing the Baptist Faith and Message’s clause on religious liberty.
“When the church and the state get tangled up together, it’s not even a marriage. It’s an arrangement where the church becomes a concubine,” Land said. “The last thing we should ever want is government-sponsored religion.”
But Land staunchly opposes the idea that religion should not impact public policy and legislation.
“We have a right and an obligation and a responsibility to go forth and to seek to bring our religious convictions to bear on public policy issues,” Land said. “That’s not called a violation of the separation of church and state. That’s called religious freedom. It’s called freedom of speech.”
And this call to vote according to one’s convictions is mirrored in Jesus’ command for Christians to be salt and light to the world, Land said.
“We are commanded by our Savior Jesus Christ to go out into a dark and degenerate world and to be a preservative, a disinfectant, a purifying agent and to penetrate the darkness with the light of the Gospel,” he said.
After the chapel service, the ERLC’s iVoteValues.com truck was available to the NOBTS family and the public. Inside the truck, participants could test their political prowess, research political candidates’ stances and register to vote.
For the iVoteValues.com 18-wheeler’s scheduled stops, visit www.ivotevalues.com