ATLANTA (BP)–Georgia’s gubernatorial inauguration Jan. 13 had a decidedly Baptist flavor as Sonny Perdue took the oath of office as the state’s 81st governor. In addition to being the first Baptist to be inaugurated since 1979, he is the first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
At an early morning prayer service, the new governor’s son, Jim Perdue, brought a message from the sixth chapter of Micah on “what the Lord would have you do.” Jim Perdue is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
“I’ve had speeches, lectures and even ‘sermons’ all my life from my dad. Now it’s my turn,” said the younger Perdue. “Dad, this has been a journey of faith for you. It hasn’t been a matter of politics but of obedience to God’s call. … I think you will find it even more difficult to be governor than to get elected governor.”
The son encouraged his father to continue to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. He closed his message by noting that he had always wanted to please his father and make him proud. But how much more important it is for believers to please their Heavenly Father and make him proud of his children, the younger Perdue said.
The prayer service was held at The Church of the Apostles, a large evangelical Anglican church near the Governor’s Mansion. Other Baptists featured on the program were Mark Richt, coach of the University of Georgia football team, and noted Christian businessman Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A restaurants.
The inaugural ceremony itself was held in downtown Atlanta’s Phillips Arena rather than the traditional site outside the nearby State Capitol.
“We are excited about being here,” said Gary Morton, minister of music at Perdue’s home church, Second Baptist in Warner Robins. “We are mostly excited because we know Sonny and know about his commitment to the Lord.”
More than 120 choir members from the church made the trip to Atlanta to sing for the inauguration ceremony, along with 35 members of the church’s orchestra.
In his inaugural address, the new governor made reference to the fact that he was taking the oath of office on the anniversary date of James Oglethorpe’s discovery of Georgia 270 years ago on Jan. 13, 1733. “General Oglethorpe and those first English colonists stepped ashore to settle the new colony of Georgia. They were few in number, but large in spirit … united in faith and purpose … and inspired by their new motto: ‘Not for ourselves…but for others.’
“Today we have our own set of challenges, and even greater opportunities,” the governor said. “I come to our capital city with a mission, a mission to restore the citizens’ trust in state government…. But more importantly, a mission to restore the citizens’ trust in themselves. My vision to accomplish this mission is rooted in faith, family and freedom.”
Perdue went on to say that he was committed to bringing a new tone to Georgia: “Together we will forge a new day, a new spirit of cooperation, consensus-building and reconciliation.”
He then quoted from the Prophet Isaiah: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always.”
The governor called upon the General Assembly to pass what he called “the most comprehensive ethics reform in Georgia’s history.” He also pledged to ensure the safety of children in state custody, a response to several widely publicized instances of child abuse as a result of children “falling through the cracks” of the state’s child welfare system.
Education reform was another controversial issue in the November election. In pledging his commitment to improve education, Perdue stated, “As we move to improve education, I want to start by working with, not against, our teachers. I will return control to those closest to the students … our superintendents, our principals, our teachers and our parents.”
Noting that the state was facing a tight budget and some hard fiscal choices, the governor vowed to “make some basic changes that will improve our budgeting habits and let us be better stewards of the people’s money.”
Referencing Georgia’s two Nobel peace laureates, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter (both Baptists), the governor noted: “There is much inspiration to be found in what Georgians have accomplished…. People of character…. People of vision…. People of destiny.
“Inspired by those who have gone before, encouraged by the future’s promise, buoyed by faith, we will build a state we can be proud of; we will educate our children for the future; and we will create a growing and dynamic state economy. Together with God’s blessings, we will create a new Georgia for all our people.”