The Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission (CLC) gave ministry leaders an opportunity to connect with policy experts and legislators to discuss issues relevant to faith-in-practice, from a political level during the 88th Texas Legislative Session, during Advocacy Day on April 20.
“I really hope the people who came today feel comfortable and familiar with the democratic process so they feel empowered to come back with or without me,” said John Litzler, public policy director for Texas Baptists “That they know how to let their legislators know about the things they care about.”
Faith motivates action in the life of believers and very often the ripple effect has the potential to change lives and reorder systems. Historically, that’s been the case as Texas Baptists, who are compelled by the gospel, go to the steps of the state legislature and advocate for the communities they love and care about.
Morgan Hammer, who is from First Baptist Church San Marcos, said the experience was new for her, and that time with policy experts was particularly helpful.
“I think it was great to hear, from a Christian standpoint, about the bills and how they are important to our mission to take care of one another,” she said. “Low income communities are constantly in debt because of how restricted (financial) opportunities are. Seeing the difference in the way other states handle APR limits, and Texas doesn’t – it shouldn't be that way.”
Morgan and Monica Followell, missions and outreach minister for First Baptist Church San Marcos were planning to meet with their representative about predatory lending policies that afternoon.
“I know there’s people here at the Capitol fighting for these things,” Followell said. “But these decisions have major implications on our communities, ministries and the missions of our churches.”
Chris McLain,pastor at First Baptist Church Bandera, said he came to meet with Rep. Pete Flores (R-24) about the importance of adequate school funding and his concern for the temperature inside Texas prisons.
“When we talk about an issue like providing AC and heating in prisons – basic living conditions for anybody living anywhere. To me that’s a pro-life issue,” McLain said. “It’s more than about protecting the unborn, it's from conception to death. Scripture is very clear about having concern for those in prison and marginalized by society, and so this is a simple way we can care for people who are made in the image of God.”
That particular theology is a guiding factor for the CLC during this session as policy priorities centered around issues of religious liberty, pro-life legislation, predatory financial practices and public education funding.
“Under my direction at the Christian Life Commission, our north star is that every human being was made in the image of God. Without any caveats or challenges there,” said Katie Frugé, director of the CLC. “We bear God’s image to one another. So we have equal dignity, value and worth – starting in the book of Genesis, all the way through. As we navigate what [policy] issues we want to weigh into, one of the lenses I’m looking through is what issues validate or affirm the dignity that our fellow humans have.”
Frugé gave testimony the night before at a hearing for a bill that would remove use of the r-word from Texas laws and replace it with the term intellectual disability.
“It’s become so outdated, and it really belittles the value, dignity and worth of individuals with intellectual disabilities,” she said. “People use it as a derogatory term. People use it to indicate, ‘I'm superior.’ So in my testimony last night, I wanted to give them a central figure. This is a 9-year-old little girl. I shared with them that my daughter is not stupid. She’s passing every class in her gen ed public school classroom. I couldn’t be more proud of her.
“So I asked the senators to validate the dignity of a 9-year-old little girl by taking out this outdated, antiquated word, and replace it with a more appropriate term.”
That theological basis, coupled with the distinctive history Texas Baptists have with advocacy in the public space has seeded a diverse response in this year's legislative session.
For the 88th Legislative Session, the CLC has four approved public policy priorities focused on religious liberty, pro-life legislation, predatory financial practices and adequately funding public education. During Advocacy Day, those in attendance received updates on some of these issues and had the opportunity to discuss them with policy experts and legislators. More information on the public policy priorities and updates to the issues can be found on the CLC website.
Chris Hughes, pastor of Influence Church in Garland, Texas, has been mentoring local students for a while now.
“It started when I read that prisons can make their predictions based on certain student performance information,” Hughes said. “We wanted to partner with public schools because I think we had some things in common. If we could change kids’ outlook, their grades would follow.”
Texas Baptists has a history of mobilizing public action from a place of theological conviction.
“This session in particular was about clinging back to our roots. We’re Texas Baptists and we’re proud of that,” Frugé said. “We are who we’ve always been, and I think that’s a moral testimony to the character of Texas Baptists – we’re not going to get caught up in partisanship, we are going to be more about the Kingdom agenda and try to be faithful to that.”