WASHINGTON (BP)–Lincoln Davis responds robustly when people equate faith with political party affiliation.
“[W]hen I meet people who tell me, ‘You can’t be a Christian if you’re a Democrat,’ I’ve got to start reading and quoting Scripture and explain to them, ‘You need to seek forgiveness. You need to understand the plan of salvation. You need to understand how you become a Christian,'” the Democratic congressman from Tennessee said.
“Now if abortion and the gay movement was the only thing that mattered in America today, I’d be a Republican. Well, guns, I’ve got to count guns,” he said. “I feel compelled to let my life speak for itself, rather than my political positions.”
Davis, 65, is in his fourth term as the U.S. representative of Tennessee’s massive Fourth District, which curves like the letter “j” around the central part of the state. He is a Southern Baptist, a member with his wife Lynda of the First Baptist Church in Byrdstown, Tenn., since 1971.
He is one of the more conservative congressmen in a political party marked by a platform that endorses abortion rights and homosexual rights. He is a pro-life leader, sponsor of the Pregnant Women Support Act, a major piece of legislation seeking to reduce abortions by 95 percent in 10 years. He is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, which describes itself as a group that gives “moderate and conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives a common sense, bridge-building voice within the institution.”
Elected first in 2002, Davis said in an interview with Baptist Press at his office in the Cannon House Office Building, “I started in this job with a certain set of principles and values that I believe I’ve kept. … [A]s long as I’m here as a congressman, as long as I am serving in Washington, there are certain principles that will guide me.”
While that means he will cast what are considered conservative votes on such issues as abortion, it also means for him that he will support social programs championed by Democrats. His advocacy of such programs is based on his understanding of the Bible, Davis said.
Of the “many different scriptures in the Bible that test me from time to time, and they all do, … the part that really burdens me probably as much as any is Matthew 25, 31 through 46, when Christ is saying there will come a time when we’ll be judged based upon how you addressed the needs of the lesser amongst us, and He mentions the sick and the hungry, the naked and thirsty, the imprisoned unjustly, and the homeless, the stranger,” Davis said.
Unlike some evangelical Christians in the Republican Party, Davis applies such passages to the government providing for the needy through Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other programs.
Before his election to Congress, Davis was mayor of Byrdstown, then a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, followed by service in the state Senate.
Davis’ walk of faith did not begin with a “bolt-of-lightning experience,” he said. His family attended church, as well as brush arbor and tent revival meetings, when he was a boy in Fentress County, the home of World War I hero Alvin York.
“[T]here were so many times, as a young fellow growing up, whether it was 12, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, I continued to ask for salvation,” Davis said. “And I got to thinking: ‘You only have to ask for that once. You don’t have to ask for that over and over and over again.’ And so … I started realizing that salvation is a one-time thing.”
Since becoming an adult, “as a person who looks to Christ and makes faith-based decisions, I think I grow more and more throughout my life …, he said.
Davis attends the Sunday morning worship of First Baptist Church in Byrdstown when he is home, while there are ongoing group sessions in Washington that help his development as a Christian, he said. He participates in a weekly, early morning Bible study with three other U.S. representatives, followed by a prayer breakfast for members of Congress.
“I found that that gives me … a renewing,” Davis said. “It’s like letting a vehicle sit around. If you don’t watch it, the battery will run down. So if you start it, it generates it back up again. So it gives me kind of a renewing of my faith.”
Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.