Pastors Day: the importance of involvement in the political process

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The large crowd for Pastors Day at the Capitol filled out the Empire Room in the James “Sloppy” Floyd Building in Atlanta on Feb. 26. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

ATLANTA — An address from Governor Brian Kemp highlighted the morning part of Pastors Day at the Capitol before an afternoon spent meeting and praying for state leaders.

The early portion of the event was held in the Empire Room on the 20th floor of the James “Sloppy” Floyd Building in downtown Atlanta before moving across MLK Jr. Drive to the Capitol after lunch. Georgia Baptist Public Affairs hosted the event, which featured addresses not only by Kemp but also Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.

Griffin, Public Affairs representative, and Georgia Baptist Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. welcomed those gathered. Various leaders advocating for positions supported by Georgia Baptists also spoke.

Thanks from the governor

“First of all, I want to thank you for praying for us. We need it; it’s been warranted, and we need you to continue,” Kemp expressed to the crowd.

“I want to thank you for praying for us. We need it; it’s been warranted, and we need you to continue,” Governor Brian Kemp said. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

The governor talked about a group prayer he’d had with friends that morning, saying, “You know, we’re praying for wisdom on what to do … the ‘what to do’ I have figured out. It’s the strategy of how to do it that I need continued prayers for.”

Reflecting back on the campaign, Kemp recommitted to promises made during those months on the trail. “I believed in what I was saying, and I know many of you did. That hasn’t changed and it’s not gonna change. I just want to make sure you all realize that.”

The governor addressed religious liberty, a topic of great interest to those in attendance.

“We’re in a very interesting time in our country right now,” he admitted. “It’s a shame that you feel like sometimes if you wear your religious convictions on your sleeve you can be persecuted for that. It’s really outrageous. Know that you have men and women in the legislature and the executive branch – and definitely in the governor’s office – who’ve got your back.”

… you have men and women in the legislature and the executive branch – and definitely in the governor’s office – who’ve got your back.”

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp

Immediately after speaking with the group of pastors, Kemp left for a press conference alongside his wife, Marty, who would announce the formation of a commission to combat sex trafficking.

Mike Griffin, Georgia Baptist Public Affairs representative, welcomes the crowd. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

“I know [fighting trafficking] has been a mission for many of you as well. A lot of the problems we have in our state and country lead to sex trafficking and a lot of it is dealing with drug cartels before it goes to the street gangs peddling our children for sex. We’re going to do something about that in the state of Georgia.”

Before departing, Kemp thanked those for making the trip to the event.

“God bless you. I know it takes a lot of time … because of traffic and other things, but it matters. There are others here who may not think like we do and are continuing to chip away every day.

“We have to always be mindful of that and continue to work, to make sure we’re educating people and letting them know we love our state and love our country and we’re going to fight for it.”

Don’t bury your influence

For the pastors in attendance, it became clear the importance of being aware and involved in the political process.

“It was a day of learning about what goes on under the Gold Dome and how it effects not only us as pastors but those in our congregation,” said Ryan McElheney, pastor of Cheatham Hill Baptist Church in Marietta. “Since leaving the Capitol, I have been in contact with many of our elected officials both at local and state levels to let them know that as a church we are praying for them.”

Seven-year-old Brayden Hill looks on as his father, Evan, looks over materials handed out at the Pastors Day event. Evan Hill serves as lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Fairburn. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

Josh Saefkow, senior pastor of Flat Creek Baptist Church in Fayetteville, remarked that Jeffers’ message “inspired” him “to be salt and light” by building relationships with legislators.

“This event has provided me the opportunity to get to know my representatives personally,” he testified. “I can honestly say one of the greatest surprises to my life in attending an event like this two years ago was to meet my state senator who would then become my mentor. I encourage every pastor to come and experience what a beautiful job Mike Griffin does through our Public Affairs Ministry.”

Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. addresses pastors. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

“It was great to have the governor there and to see the importance and priority of his own faith,” remarked Steve McFall, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Douglasville. “Pastor’s Day is a good picture of the Georgia Baptist and Southern Baptist conventions. We cooperate so we can do more together than we can single-handed.”

McFall, who has been to the event five times, urged his peers to get involved in the political process.

“Our influence as a pastor still matters. If all you are doing is pounding the pulpit and declaring how bad our government and legislature are and there is no hope, then you are misleading your people. You really are burying your influence in the ground.”

Evan Hill, lead pastor of First Baptist Fairburn, said his seven-year-old son, Brayden, greatly enjoyed the history lesson walking through the Capitol and seeing the government in action.

“He enjoys history and learning, so being able to walk with him and help him see what has shaped our state since Oglethorpe arrived in 1726 was very cool for him,” Hill said of his son’s experience. “I had to dust off 22 years in order to tap back into 8th grade Georgia History, but the visual prompts [throughout the Capitol] helped immensely.

“From there, we were able to enter the galleries of the Senate and the House so that I could whisper some of the process to him. He is old enough to get the basics of civics and government, so we will probably go back when we have more time.”

Hill added that it wasn’t just meeting state leaders and learning history that left an impression on Brayden.

“The most meaningful venture was the opportunity to pray with other pastors and faith leaders in our Capitol for our legislators. Brayden mentioned to me later that he was glad he got to pray for the governor and the other leaders.

Virginia Galloway, regional director for the Faith and Freedom Coalition, joined other speakers updating pastors on current points of legislation. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

“This is where I can find great encouragement as a GBMB pastor for our state. I know there are good and godly men and women in those rooms making those tough policy decisions that I will not have to make. They need our prayer, not our political agendas.”

John Yarbrough, dean of Alumni Relations & Public Policy for Truett McConnell University, commented on the attendance while echoing others’ calls for pastoral attention to legislative issues.

“What an encouragement to see the room packed with Georgia Baptist pastors for Pastor’s Day at the Capitol,” he told The Index. “For too long the church has complained about the cultural decline and the secularization of America. The free proclamation of the Gospel for our children and grandchildren may very well depend on the church’s willingness to stand and speak today. 

“Thank you, Mike Griffin and Thomas Hammond, for seeing the need and Georgia Baptists for sponsoring an event like this.”

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