Southern Seminary trustees Gunn, Pruitt defending religious freedoms in government
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) — Among those directing the future of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on the board of trustees are two men who also influence the direction of their states: Philip Gunn, speaker of the House of Representatives of Mississippi, and Scott Pruitt, attorney general of Oklahoma. With more than 20 combined years of experience in government, Gunn and Pruitt assert their profession is informed by their faith.
“My faith informs and shapes my political views, as it should inform and shape everything I do in life,” said Gunn, chairman of Southern Seminary’s board of trustees, which recently concluded its Oct. 12-13 meeting. “But as a Christian, I believe the main answer to our dilemma as fallen human beings is the gospel. It’s not politics, it’s not education, it’s not more money. The world will tell you that those things are the solution. And while I do think it’s important to be engaged in those roles, nevertheless I do believe the ultimate answer to all of our ills is the gospel and salvation through Christ.”
Rather than abandoning politics, this conviction inspires Gunn and Pruitt to put their faith to work in government.
“A Christian worldview means that God has answers to our problems,” said Pruitt, who is currently leading the charge against the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling to remove the Ten Commandments from the state Capitol. “And part of our responsibility is to convey to those in society that the answers that he has, as represented in Scripture, are important and should be followed, because they lead to freedom and liberty.”
Gunn, who is also an attorney for Wells Marble & Hurst, insists Christians cannot ignore politics. When he speaks to schoolchildren, Gunn begins by asking whether the students like rules, which unsurprisingly provokes grumbling. But Gunn tells the children that politics is all about making rules, and they get to choose the politicians who make the rules. Just like those children, Gunn says, Christians need to recognize that they need to choose their politicians wisely, or else they might get rules they don’t like.
“You don’t have to be politically savvy, you don’t have to be incredibly politically knowledgeable, but you do need to be politically aware,” said Gunn, who recently called for Mississippi to remove the Confederate symbol from the state flag. “You need to read the newspaper, you need to pay attention to what’s happening in your state capital and in Washington, because those people are making the rules.”
Political awareness is a must in Pruitt’s book as well, the attorney general explained, because a lack of such awareness robs Christians of the ability to defend religious freedom.
“The number one thing that all citizens need to do is educate themselves,” he said, speaking especially of the First Amendment, which Pruitt says is often purposefully misread and misapplied. The amendment, which also protects the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and petitioning the government, includes the widely misunderstood religious clauses: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The general ignorance of the First Amendment’s meaning and purpose, Pruitt said, is a specific and worrying example of unawareness.
“The political left, the liberals, and those that are anti-faith seek to read the first part — ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion’ — very broadly,” he said. “They take it as a mandate for the government to eradicate all vestiges of religion in the public square.”
On the other hand, Pruitt added, the left tries to read the second part of the clause — “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — very narrowly, thereby putting the religious freedom clauses in tension with one another.
“But the Founding Fathers were not schizophrenic,” he said. “They put those clauses next to one another seamlessly to achieve the same end: to ensure that government would be kept out of religion, not religion out of government.”
Christians ought to be much more bold in bringing their faith to the public square, according to Pruitt, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
“The response to the Supreme Court’s decision regarding same-sex marriage is not going to be mostly political. It’s largely going to be spiritual,” Pruitt said.
Gunn says his calling as a Christian in government is “to influence the culture around me with the goal of sharing the love of Christ and pointing people to him because he is the answer to eternal security and eternal joy.”
“I believe that God lays out guidelines for culture in Scripture that will provide the greatest joy of all,” Gunn said. “We want to have a culture that promotes the most joyous way to experience life, and we believe that is through the Christian faith. That’s the kind of culture we want to live in. That’s the kind of culture we want to enjoy. But if we’re not aware of what’s going on, then there may be policies and laws passed that change that culture and take away what we believe to be the best way to enjoy life. That’s why Christians should be concerned about politics: because you love God and you love people, and the culture affects people.”
Both Gunn and Pruitt still readily acknowledge the limitations of government in bringing about an ideal and joy-filled culture: “Government has never been able to control culture,” Pruitt said.
“We know from Scripture that there is nothing new under the sun,” Pruitt said. “These issues have been debated for millennia, from homosexuality to drugs and all the other issues we are currently facing. It’s nothing new.
“From this point onward the only answer we have is the church. The only answer we have is truth. ... The church must be the church. We must provide the truth, we must impact the culture, and we must, as Paul said, let our speech be marked with grace and seasoned with salt, that we might know how to answer each person.”