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SBC’s Patterson, Land, others meet, pray with congressional members

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson and ethics agency head Richard Land were among a delegation of Southern Baptists who met Feb. 25 with leaders and members of Congress to express public-policy concerns and to pray with them.
The leaders they met with included Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R.-Miss., and House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey, R.-Tex. They also visited with Sen. Don Nickles, R.-Okla., assistant majority leader; House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R.-Tex.; and House Republican Conference chairman J.C. Watts, R.-Okla.
In a series of meetings in the members’ offices, the delegation visited with three senators and nine representatives, discussing their faith and public-policy issues.
The visits “were very open and very forthright discussions in which we were able to share our concerns and we were able to hear theirs,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We did have the opportunity to ask each of the folks with whom we met how we could best pray for them, and we did have a time of prayer for each senator and representative. It was encouraging to hear of their commitments both to their faith and to their families.
“Everyone with whom we talked was quite forthcoming and open about their personal faith and the very important role it played in the fulfillment of their calling to public service.”
Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., was unavailable for comment Feb. 26.
The delegation gave each member a list of the ERLC’s legislative priorities for the new session, including support for such measures as Education Savings Accounts and a religious freedom bill, rescinding the marriage penalty in the tax code and a renewed effort to override a presidential veto of a ban on partial-birth abortions.
“We talked with all of them about the pro-life issue,” Land said.
“We talked about the need for any faith-based initiatives to be aimed at assistance that empowered recipients. … what we were saying is that any government assistance that included faith-based approaches must not have any kind of direct government assistance to institutions but instead have assistance going to the recipient who then made the choice as to where and how to use the assistance.”
A couple of the congressional members asked if the delegation was including schools in those initiatives, Land said. While the delegation had not specifically mentioned education as a part, “faith-based alternatives would certainly include schools,” Land said the delegation responded.
He also told virtually every one of the 12 members of Congress, Land said, “the vast majority of Southern Baptist voters, while conservative on social issues, were not identified with either party but had independent voting patterns,” and if conservative, social-issues positions were not available in a candidate “then voter turnout and energy tended to dissipate.”
“In other words,” Land said he told them, “they and only they could energize Southern Baptists to vote in significant numbers, and they could only do so by making it very clear that they were fighting for the unborn and the sanctity of all human life, as well as measures to protect children and to safeguard the family and to empower parents.”
Other congressional members the SBC delegation visited were Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Reps. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Charles Canady of Florida, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Steve Largent of Oklahoma. The SBC representatives also had an appointment scheduled with Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas but met with his chief of staff when Hutchinson was detained by debate on the Senate floor.
All are Republicans. The ERLC, which arranged for the visits, sought an appointment with House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D.-Mo., but his office said the delegation could not be worked into his schedule, an ERLC staff member said.
All but four of the members Patterson, Land and the others visited are Southern Baptists. The exceptions are Armey, Canady, Largent and Nickles.
The other members of the SBC delegation were Steven Wright, the ERLC’s board chairman and pastor of Northwest Baptist Church in Houston; two ERLC staff members in the Washington office, Will Dodson, director of public policy, and King Sanders, director of communications; and Waylan Owens, Patterson’s special assistant and a professor of pastoral ministries at Southeastern Seminary.
Three of the visits were with representatives who served as managers of the House’s case against President Clinton in the recent impeachment trial. Those members are Canady, Graham and Asa Hutchinson.
“We felt that it would be helpful to express to the House managers our appreciation for their standing for what they believe was right in the face of intense criticism and the way in which they conducted themselves in the presentation of their case,” Land said.