Barber said he didn’t worry much about the decline in church membership given the « ebb and flow of people’s religious affections throughout history. » He also said he is less concerned about how people in his congregation vote than he is about « how they treat other people who vote differently than they do in the upcoming election. »
I told Barber that I had spoken to many messengers who felt that evangelicalism more generally was under siege.
« On the one hand, » he told me, « it is true that there are many movements in the culture that not only see things differently than evangelicals do, but are also actively trying to suppress religious people’s viewpoints. » « . He mentioned the controversy surrounding Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple and, more recently, to celebrate a gender transition.
« There is definitely a greater tension between some elements of society and the evangelical faith, » said Barber.
However, he said, compared to other countries, « the difference here is that we have a jurisprudence dating back to the founding of this republic that has proven effective in protecting people’s rights not only to keep their faith, but also to practice it. » .
Down the street from the convention center, at the Liberty University and Conservative Baptist Network event, it was the practice of faith in politics that Southern Baptists were coming to. And if declining membership was a problem, tempering their conservatism wasn’t the answer.
Moderating a panel before a Pompeo keynote, Trump’s former secretary of state Ryan Helfenbein, executive director of Liberty University’s Standing for Freedom Center, acknowledged the decline of what he called a « biblical worldview » in America. But he also said that millions of regular churchgoers don’t vote. Those people, perhaps, are reachable.
“The nation was certainly formed and founded by Christians,” he said. « He was shaped from the pulpit and I think it will take the pulpit to save the nation. »
Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, told pastors in the audience to make voter registration a « Christian citizenship effort in your church » and to « encourage our people to run for political office. » .