ATLANTA — Hindsight shows that refusing to order churches to shut down at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was the right move, Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday.
“I’m glad we never wavered on that,” Kemp told some 200 Georgia Baptist pastors gathered at the Capitol for an annual prayer breakfast. “If there was ever a time people needed to worship, that was the time.”
Kemp has been a favorite among leaders of the Georgia Baptist Convention, the state’s largest religious group with some 1.4 million members, because he has stood with them on key moral and biblical issues, including in the fight to halt abortion, to implement adoption and foster care reform, and to wipe out human trafficking.
The Republican governor, now in his second term, faced national criticism for refusing to order churches closed in 2020, like governors of other states had done. He thanked Georgia Baptist for standing with him on that and other biblical, moral and ethical issues.
Kemp drew applause when he talked about his administration’s efforts to protect unborn babies by pushing for the state’s so-called heartbeat law and the continuing legal fights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“We knew then and we know now that it’s going to be a long battle,” he said. “We have not wavered. We’ve been steady.”
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board invites pastors to the Capitol each February to hear firsthand about issues impacting the state and to interact with elected leaders and policymakers. That included former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, a hero in evangelical circles for having taken on the city of Atlanta in a high-profile religious freedom case.
Cochran, who had been fired after writing a Christian book for a men’s Bible study, is now a vice president at Alliance Defending Freedom, a national organization that provides legal representation to people facing religious discrimination.
Cochran is among the long list of people Alliance Defending Freedom has represented. Cochran settled his case with the city for $1.2 million in 2018 in a move that widely heralded as a victory for religious freedom.
“Our backs are not against the wall,” he told the pastors. “We are not at the end of our rope. Throwing in the towel is not an option.”
Mike Griffin, the Mission Board’s public affairs representative who organized Tuesday’s event, said it’s crucial that Christian leaders be involved in the political process, because, he said, “the lifechanging witness of the gospel needs to be everywhere,” including the state Capitol.
Georgia Baptists understand the need to speak biblical truth to the men and women in the Capitol who are making decisions that impact everyone in the state, said W. Thomas Hammond Jr., executive director of the Mission Board.
Hammond said he’s glad Georgia Baptist church leaders continue to refuse to back down issues that matter most.
“Billy Graham once said that when a man of faith and courage stands up he stiffens the spine of everyone around him,” Hammond said. “I believe with all my heart that this room is filled with those who have faith and courage.”