The 86th Legislative Session has ended and most lawmakers have returned home. Here is a recap of some of their legislative accomplishments and failures of key legislation related to the 2018-2019 CLC legislative priorities.
It is with both sadness and excitement that I write to let you know we are losing a valued employee of the past five years -- Kathryn Freeman.
Kathryn will be leaving our staff the end of July in order to pursue her Master of Divinity degree full time at Baylor University's Truett Seminary. She also will be working with Truett.
Kathryn has led our public policy efforts since joining us in August 2014. She came to us as a practicing attorney with legislative staff experience, and she used her experience and abilities to further Texas Baptists's work in Austin. Kathryn especially brought a Matthew 25 emphasis on caring for "the least of these" through her policy work. The CLC has seen great success in advancing policy initiatives and blocking ill-conceived policy proposals.
By Girien Salazar
One of the top bipartisan legislative priorities, this session, has been improving the Texas public school system by increasing funding. As we approach the end of the session, Texas public schools are on track to receive a major financial investment. While both parties agree on the need to increase school funding, there are still many differences to work out between what the House and Senate want to see in the school finance bill.
Currently, HB 3 is in conference committee where select members will work together to hash out the differences between the House and Senate version of the bill. Texas voters still have the opportunity to encourage their elected officials to support an equitable school finance system.
More than 90 percent of Texas school children will attend Texas public schools. Increasing quality and funding for public schools is critical to having a highly skilled workforce and building a healthy Texas economy.
HB 3 would increase the basic per-pupil allotment for all school districts (from $5,140 to $5,880), which will inject $9 billion dollars into the school finance system. Texas needs a school finance system that propels students out of poverty and helps all students reach their full potential.
Donna Burney is not your typical advocate, after serving as an English professor and then with Woman's Missionary Union, she retired. But, a few years ago, Donna became aware of the uncertainty facing women just released from prison.
The Lord gave Donna a heart for these women and a few years ago, she began “Light in the Gap” ministry. Volunteers literally meet women in the gap of time between their old lives as prisoners and their new lives in their communities.
Since its founding only a few years ago, Light in the Gap volunteers have met some 4,000 recently release women at the bus stops in their towns. They bring cookies and bags filled with toiletries and a devotional. During the winter they bring coats. But mostly, they bring Christ’s love and hope to women who feel forgotten and a deep sense of shame about their pasts.
Donna saw through her ministry an injustice, one that the hugs and prayers, while powerful, could not correct.
She reached out to the Christian Life Commission and asked for our help. The women Donna was ministering to needed an advocate to stand in the gap for them. The women needed their elected officials to step in and get the government agency responsible to change its policy. Donna met me in Austin, and we went to meet the men and women with the power to change the policy.
Before our first meeting, we prayed for God, our advocate, to stand in the gap for us, to give our words power and to give us favor with those we were to meet. And He did!
Our Texas governor said something during his State of the State address in January that should not have been shocking, but still it is. “Last year, more than 100 children died in our Child Protective System.”
It should not have shocked us because this is not new. In fiscal year 2017, Texas had “172 confirmed child abuse and neglect-related fatalities,” according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. And that was a decrease from 2016, when 222 died.
Here are the death totals from 2010-2015: 227, 231, 212, 156, 151, and 171. That’s 1,542 deaths from 2010 until the end of the Texas fiscal year Aug. 31, 2017. We are now 18 months beyond that point.
As Gov. Abbott said, “The primary goal of government is to keep its citizens safe and secure.”
We are not doing that well enough. In 2017, 238,600 children were assigned for investigation or “alternative response” by Child Protective Services. That is a lot of children. That’s 3.18 percent of the 7.5 million Texas children.
Two events on two successive weekends have encouraged me. In mid-January, I witnessed busloads of people streaming into Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life. One week later, I listened to thousands of people cheer during Austin’s Rally for Life.
Both events attracted large numbers of students and young adults. There’s an enormous concern evidenced by the thousands of students lifting up the importance and value of life.
A message can be gleaned from this -- pro-life supporters are not going away. And more and more pro-lifers understand that it is not just about abortion; we want to promote the value of human life from conception to natural death.
Children before birth are among the most vulnerable among us, but many women who are carrying these children are in vulnerable positions, as well. We need broad cultural understanding, support systems, and legal frameworks within which we promote the health of all children and their mothers.
In speaking at the Austin event, I noted that Texas Baptists believe every person is created in the image of God and, therefore, deserves our respect and honor from conception.
After reading Psalms 139:13-16 in both English and Spanish, I called for all Texans to work together in . . .
uring his keynote at our 2017 Advocacy Day, Dr. Vincent Bacote, a Christian ethicist and professor at Wheaton College, said, “people’s lives as disciples ought to matter every hour of the week.” Dr. Bacote argued that our Christian discipleship should include every aspect of our lives including our political engagement, but many of us struggle to bring our politics under the full authority of Jesus Christ and Scripture.
We often compartmentalize our lives as Christians. We give the Lord dominion over our lives for two hours on Sunday, but our money, our votes, our families belong to us. Even as we declare Jesus Christ as Lord, we treat Him as if the boundaries of His kingdom extend only as far as we are comfortable. But, citizens do not declare national boundaries, the boundaries of our country are determined by those in elected authority. Christians are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and if we declare Jesus Christ is Lord, He determines the boundaries (Colossians 1).
Scottish missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin puts its this way, “[t]he confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ implies a commitment to make good that confession in relation to the whole life of the world — its philosophy, its culture, and its politics no less than the personal lives of its people.”
While our citizenship is ultimately in heaven, our heavenly citizenship should inform our earthly one. This is not a plea for theocracy; it is a plea for Christian principles to inform how you think about policy issues and political engagement. America is not a Christian nation, our Founding Fathers intentionally included language in the Constitution prohibiting a religious test for federal elected office.
In the book of Exodus, a caravan of Israelites set out from Egypt to their new home in Canaan. They faced many challenges on their journey. Some groups along the way met them with kindness, while others failed to offer any grace.
In Deuteronomy 23:4, God bans Ammonites and Moabites from entering the assembly because of their failure to meet the Israelites with food and water in the desert. In Deuteronomy 10, God reminds the Israelites of His love for the foreigner and commands them to love the foreigner because they were once foreigners in Egypt.
Obviously, America is not Israel, and the same prescriptions placed on followers of Christ do not apply to a sovereign nation. Still, we presently face our own caravans. We can apply biblical principles to our personal responses as we seek to think biblically and consider just policy solutions.
Before discussing policy reforms, it is important to understand some basics about the immigration system. As followers of Christ we should not to bear false witness in our speech. Over the last several weeks we have been bombarded with news stories about a “diseased” migrants, “invading hordes,” “terrorists,” and “drug dealers.” These news reports have sensationalized this issue to stoke fear on this side of the border.
This blog post includes basic facts about the process for seeking asylum in the U.S. and how some of those in the migrant caravan might be allowed to legally stay in the U.S. In a second post, I will include some policy ideas that enhance border security and improve the process for seeking asylum.
During the Texas Baptist Family Gathering, I led a workshop about how Christians can steward their public witness in an age of increasing tribalism. While the workshop room was packed, I think there are lessons from my workshop that deserve a broader audience because I am increasingly alarmed by the polarization in the church and what it is doing to our ability to make disciples. Many Christians are struggling within themselves to keep their partisan identities secondary to their identities as followers of Jesus Christ and it has lead to increased conflicts among believers.
According to a recent report by Lifeway, more than half of Protestant churchgoers under age 50 say they prefer to attend church with people who share their political views and few churchgoers say they attend services with people of a different political persuasion.
The increased partisan rancor in our country will have dire consequences. The church is following the culture rather than modeling how those of different political inclinations, races, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds can work together for the common good.Christians are increasingly moving to opposing corners based on politics, and our churches and our gospel witness is suffering because we have put our allegiance to our political parties before our allegiance to Christ and each other.
Unity does not mean uniformity. Democrats and Republicans -- not to mention partisans from Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America -- will be in heaven. Civic engagement and advocacy are important parts of what it means to be an American citizen, but we are first citizens of another kingdom, and must keep things in their proper order.
My pastor’s wife puts it this way, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” We are so beholden to our respective political parties we have lost sight of the main thing, namely the kingdom of God and our responsibility to make disciples.
Here are four pitfalls of the partisan trap for Christians and some suggestions for avoiding them.
Monday, the Supreme Court decided Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission in a 7-2 decision in favor of Masterpiece and its owner, Jack Phillips. While Phillips asked the Supreme Court to consider his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, the Court actually only addressed his free exercise claim.