By Bob Allen
A Baptist state newspaper editor, reported last week to the IRS for possibly violating federal tax law that bans nonprofit charities from endorsing candidates, convened a conference call Aug. 24 in which former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee rallied Southern Baptist support for embattled Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.
“I had the pleasure of emceeing a conference call today featuring former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, David Barton, former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts, Ohio Congressman Bob McEwen, MBC Executive Director John Yeats and Bro. David Baker, pastor, First Baptist Church, Belton,” Don Hinkle, editor of the Missouri Baptist Convention newspaper The Pathway wrote in a blog after the event. “Hundreds of Missouri pastors joined in as our guest speakers discussed the controversy surrounding Congressman Todd Akin and his quest to unseat incumbent Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill.”
Hinkle, named in an Aug. 23 complaint to the IRS lodged by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said all the speakers expressed support for Akin, who is under fire for recent comments about rape and pregnancy for which he later apologized.
“Pastors have even changed their minds, calling me to tell me they had doubts about Akin — until today,” Hinkle wrote. “Many words will be written about the unjust treatment of this Christian gentleman who has served his nation in Congress for 12 years. It is time for a groundswell of grassroots support to rise up in support of Todd Akin. He is Missouri mainstream through and through.”
The Politico, one of a couple of media outlets privy to advance notification about the invitation-only conference call, said Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and one-time president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, told pastors “this could be a Mount Carmel moment,” an allusion to the story of Elijah contesting the prophets of Baal in First Kings Chapter 18.
“You know, you bring your gods; we’ll bring ours,” Huckabee said. “We’ll see whose God answers the prayers and brings fire from heaven. That’s kind of where I’m praying: that there will be fire from heaven, and we’ll see it clearly, and everyone else will to.”
Yeats, recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention who was director of communications and public policy for the Louisiana Baptist Convention before his election last October as Missouri Baptists’ executive director, told the group that he counseled Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) after he was linked to a prostitution ring in 2007.
“As I think about Congressman Akin, his quote, ‘transgression,’ was not nearly as vile as Vitter’s,” Yeats said. “So I think this thing is survivable. And beyond survivable, I still think he has a real shot at winning the race here in Missouri.”
An e-mail inviting Southern Baptists to join the conference call about “How to make a proper response to the Todd Akin controversy” carried the Missouri Baptist Convention logo.
The Americans United complaint said the IRS should investigate whether Missouri Baptists violated the tax code when Hinkle wrote in a Pathway column May 8 that he personally endorsed Akin, along with another Republican running for attorney general. Hinkle did not respond to a request for comment about that story Aug. 23, but he defended Akin Aug. 25 on Public Radio International.
“I would acknowledge that it’s certainly been a political setback for him,” Hinkle said in an eight-minute interview on The Takeway radio program. “However I do not believe in the state of Missouri it’s fatal.”
Hinkle admitted that Akin’s reference to “legitimate rape” seldom resulting in pregnancy was a poor choice of words, but said the controversy has a bright side for social conservatives.
“Social conservatives, who make up a tremendous amount of the Republican Party, are happy that abortion is now back center, part of the national conversation, and we are glad in that sense that we’re able to have this conversation about abortion,” Hinkle said.
Hinkle said in a new Pathway commentary that earlier this year the Missouri Baptist Convention “launched the most aggressive voter registration campaign in its history” to help win passage of Amendment 2, a referendum on the Aug. 7 primary ballot guaranteeing Missourians the right to pray and express their religious beliefs in public.
Hinkle said the effort was just one example “of how Missouri Baptists have stepped up in the face of government domination” to defend religious freedom.
“I attended a private meeting in Kansas City June 28-29 with 850 pastors and church leaders, mostly Missouri Baptists,” Hinkle reported. “The meeting was called The Missouri Renewal Project. I am not at liberty to share what was said, but the high level of concern for the church and our nation was evident. Baptists, from Roger Williams and John Leland, have championed religious freedom and Missouri Baptists – true to our forefathers – are stepping up.”