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If Oklahoma is one of the country's most religious states, why preach to the choir?


Greg Horton July 15th, 2010

A common thread united the latest rally in the culture war, the Reclaiming America for Christ Conference held last week at Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon. While reclaiming the culture of America was ...

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A common thread united the latest rally in the culture war, the Reclaiming America for Christ Conference held last week at Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon. While reclaiming the culture of America was the theme, some of the participants eschew the political label and simply focus on "worldview education."

No 'rest' for conservatives
Rally for Sally

The phrase goes back to Francis Schaeffer, a name not widely known outside the circle of conservative, evangelical Christianity. He popularized the idea of competing worldviews in a series of books he wrote that have influenced James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Ralph Reed and an entire generation of culture warriors.

"If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?" The quote is from the book of Ezekiel in the Bible, but Schaeffer updated its significance in 1983 with the publication of "How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture."

Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, was one of the speakers at the Reclaiming conference attended by 2,500 people on July 9 and a packed house July 10. Ham is a defender of "young Earth creationism," the belief that the universe was created by God in its present form less than 10,000 years ago. Ham is also the inspiration behind the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. Critics have mocked the museum for various reasons since its opening, particularly the displays of animatronic dinosaurs interacting with humans.

Ham, who came at the invitation of Trinity's Pastor Dan Fisher, said he doesn't usually get involved with political events or causes.

"We're not typically involved with issues related to public school education, Democrats, Republicans," Ham said. "We teach that people have to have their own hearts and minds changed so that we can change the culture. Everyone has a worldview; it comes from somewhere. Our worldview is supposed to be built on the Bible."

The sentiment is a paraphrase from Schaeffer's "How Should We Then Live?": "As Christians, we are not only to know the right world view "¦ but consciously to act upon that world view so as to influence society in all its parts "¦ as much as we can to the extent of our individual and collective ability."

The Reclaiming conference was not the only event of its kind in the metro this summer. Three other events used similar language to stir up interest: the Rally for Sally, Taking Our Country Back Tour and Truth Exalts America.

In January of this year, Oklahoma Gazette reported Oklahoma's rank of seventh most religious state, according to a Pew Forum study. In the last election cycle, Barack Obama failed to win the majority in any Oklahoma county, the only state in the U.S. with that distinction. Why bring the message of "taking America back" or "reclaiming the culture for Jesus" in what is arguably the most conservative state in the U.S.?

No 'rest' for conservatives
Paul Blair, president of Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ and pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, said conservatives " theological and political " cannot "rest on their laurels."

"The Reclaiming America event is general education for the public," Blair said prior to the event. "We want everyone there; that's why it's free. We are trying to remind people of forgotten truths. We're inundated with so much propaganda " things like the Founding Fathers were deists and atheists, which is not true " that even Christians can get worn down by it. I toured Massachusetts recently. It was once a beachhead of fundamental, biblical principles; now it's secularized. We cannot rest on our laurels just because we're in a conservative state. We have to reach everyone."

Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ, according to Blair, is the continuation of a ministry begun by the late D. James Kennedy, a Presbyterian minister in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Kennedy's ministry, Reclaiming America for Christ, was shaped by a sermon Schaeffer preached at Kennedy's church in 1983. The sermon was based on Schaeffer's then-new book, "A Christian Manifesto."

Focus on the Family still credits the book and the sermon as "one of the most influential set of ideas in guiding how Christians engage in the public square and in the world of ideas." Schaeffer asserted that true spirituality meant that Jesus was lord of every aspect of life, including the political. Schaeffer warned that humanism " his title was a reflection of the Humanist Manifesto of 1973 " would lead to increasing secularization and the marginalization of Christian ideas.

Blair said he formed the organization to continue the work begun by Kennedy. "Dr. Kennedy carried that responsibility for a decade before he died," Blair said, "And now it's our responsibility."

Blair founded Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ to influence the culture. "We're trying to make a difference in our own backyard," he said. "We want to teach people about the role of fundamental biblical values in the founding of our country and in our culture."

Ham echoed Blair's perspective: "Even in conservative areas in America, many people in churches don't get it," he said. "They don't understand what's happening to America from a worldview perspective. We're losing two-thirds of college-age Christians, perhaps more, because we haven't taught them how to answer the skeptical questions of the age."

Mike Fuller, president of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said groups like Reclaiming Oklahoma are troubling because he believes "they want to establish a theocratic form of government."

"And not just any theocracy," Fuller said, "a Christian theocracy. The Founding Fathers were keenly aware that true religious liberty can be achieved and protected only when the government remains neutral on religious matters."

That is a point of dispute, as Reclaiming Oklahoma's website makes very clear: "Government was designed by God to be subject to and built on the Rock of Jesus Christ."

To buttress this claim, the Reclaiming event featured David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, an Aledo, Texas-based organization that Barton describes as being in the "historical reclamation" business. Barton talked about the role of pastors in the founding of America, and he offered statistical data to show what happens when Christians don't vote.

Brad Raley, an adjunct professor of history at the University of Oklahoma, said that Barton's primary argument is "that our nation was founded by Christians who intended that the government be run by Christian values and led by Christian leaders. He further argues that this 'real' history has been supplanted by academics hostile to religion."

Raley said Barton's methodology is flawed from the beginning.

"His methodology is to start with his conclusion (that America was founded as a Christian nation) and then look through the sources for choice quotes that support that conclusion," he said. "If you approach just about any problem from that perspective, you will be able to find sources or quotes that support that conclusion."

Glenn Beck, a speaker on the Taking Our Country Back Tour, likes Barton's materials so much that he's made them part of his newly launched Beck University. Raley said he was troubled by the idea, but didn't view it as a real threat.

"I suspect that most of the people who watch or listen to Beck already believe that view of the past and are already convinced that they have nothing to learn from the historical profession," he said. "That is a shame. Our past is fascinating and complex, and it deserves better than Barton or Beck's simplistic and polemical version."

Rally for Sally
Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ also sponsored the Rally for Sally, a fundraiser for Rep. Sally Kern's District 84 re-election campaign. The event featured a short presentation by William Federer, president of Amerisearch Inc., a publishing company that produces history books about American's Christian founding and heritage.

The Rally was announced via an e-mail from Reclaiming Oklahoma's advisory board. It included the following allegation: "In case you missed it, the homosexual lobby has recruited an individual that has had a sex change operation to run against Rep. Kern. The homosexual lobby from across America will be pouring money into this local race in an attempt to make a statement to the country by knocking out an outspoken Christian, pro-family representative. If they succeed, it will serve as a warning shot across the bough of all elected officials who defend Biblical values."

Rep. Kern did not respond to a request for a statement, but Democrat Brittany Novotny, Kern's opponent, denied that she'd been recruited by a "homosexual lobby" and said the language in the letter makes clear that Kern does not intend to focus on issues that are important to all Oklahomans.

"She said in her bio in The Oklahoman that she entered politics to fight a culture war," Novotny said. "Her agenda is a social one, not one to build a better community by focusing on economic development, jobs, small businesses, education and other issues that impact all Oklahomans." "Greg Horton

top photo
Paul Blair, president of Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ and pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond. photo/Adam Kemp
second photo Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, spoke July 9 in Yukon. photo/Adam Kemp
third photo Sally Kern. photo/Mark Hancock
bottom photo Brittany Novotny. photo/Mark Hancock
 
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