NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–President Bush told Southern Baptists June 21 their belief in a “free church in a free state” requires establishing a culture of compassion.
Southern Baptists “know that freedom is a divine gift that carries serious responsibilities,” the president said from the White House in a live satellite feed to messengers on the first of the two-day annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. “We are called by our Creator to use this gift of freedom to build a more compassionate society.”
Establishing a compassionate society involves strengthening families, protecting life and helping the needy, Bush said. The president cited ways Southern Baptists and his administration are seeking to fulfill these requirements.
Although Bush unveiled no new positions or policies, messengers enthusiastically greeted his 13-minute speech, giving the president standing ovations four times. It is the fourth consecutive year Bush has spoken to the convention either by satellite or video tape.
The “source of compassion” is the family, and as such it must be preserved to build a compassionate society, Bush said. He commended Southern Baptists for “defending the family and the sacred institution of marriage.”
Marriage “should not be redefined by local officials and activist judges,” the president said in reaffirming his opposition to attempts to legalize “same-sex marriage.” He reiterated his support for a constitutional amendment to preserve marriage as the union of a man and a woman and pledged he would continue to recommend federal judges who “do not legislate from the bench.”
The U.S. Senate has confirmed six of Bush’s appeals court nominees in recent weeks after lengthy delays by Democrats.
In reaffirming his frequently expressed call to build “a culture of life,” the president said a “compassionate society” opposes cloning, partial birth abortion and “the creation of life — only to destroy it.” Despite mounting opposition, Bush has maintained a 2001 policy that prohibits federal funds for stem cell research that destroys embryos.
The president reiterated his call for Congress to put into law his executive order protecting religious liberty and providing for equal treatment of faith-based service organizations seeking federal funding. “[W]e want your help; we want your love but, at the same time, you do not have to forget the mission of faith or ignore the mission of faith that calls you to action in the first place,” Bush said.
The president described Southern Baptists as “the armies of compassion, at home and abroad.” He said the White House awarded $5.8 million to College Park Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., to construct 68 homes for low-income senior adults. (On its website, College Park identifies itself as “a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) church.”)
Bush commended Southern Baptists’ work in Africa, especially Uganda, where an emphasis on sexual abstinence has helped reduce HIV infection dramatically.
“Where there is despair, [Southern Baptists] provide hope, and you help those who need love find love,” the president said.
As he has done with many gatherings of Christians and other religious adherents, Bush expressed thanks for prayer on behalf of his family and him. Prayer is “the greatest gift anyone can give to me and Laura,” he said.
Bush also said he is thankful for Southern Baptists’ “prayerful support” of U.S. troops overseas.
In introducing the president, SBC President Bobby Welch expressed gratitude on behalf of millions of Southern Baptists for Bush and his “courage” and “commitment in times like these.”
Bush also addressed the convention via satellite in 2002 and 2004. He spoke to messengers in 2003 by means of a taped message.
Following President Bush’s address, “A Celebration of God and Country” was presented by a variety of musicians, including recording artist Russ Lee, a member of the New Vision Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and choirs and orchestras from First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., and First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla.
During a musical medley salute to the branches of the U.S. military, active and former service members were invited to stand during the song honoring their branch: Army, “The Caissons Go Rolling Along”; Navy, “Anchors Aweigh”; Coast Guard, “Semper Paratus” (Always Ready); Air Force, “The Air Force Song”; and Marines, “The Marines’ Hymn.”
Following the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” messengers responded with a standing ovation as Welch presented two members of the military from the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army from Fort Campbell, Ky. — Captain Scott Jackson, a Southern Baptist chaplain, and Bill DeLaigle, chief warrant officer — along with their families.
“We need people up here where you can see their families,” Welch told the messengers as he choked back tears.
A Vietnam veteran who earned a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Air Medal and other awards for military service — something for which President Bush earlier commended him — Welch reminded messengers that soldiers serving overseas “have mothers, fathers, children and spouses that they’d like to be home with. You and I need to remember [this] as we pray and give thanks to God for these great soldiers and defenders of our freedom and this nation.”
With reporting by Keith Hinson.