By Bob Allen
The Kentucky Baptist Convention is placing a lobbyist, chaplain and journalist in Frankfort, Ky., in an effort to gain more influence in state politics.
The new jobs are funded by a financial grant at no cost to the Cooperative Program unified mission and ministry budget, KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood said in announcing the three-pronged strategy at the recent state convention annual meeting in Elizabethtown, Ky.
“For too long, we’ve been too quiet in the Capitol,” Chitwood said in the KBC news website Kentucky Today. “As you know, forces on the other side have quashed a number of common-sense bills time and again, including every pro-life proposal that has been introduced in the General Assembly in recent years.”
Tom Troth, former deputy director of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission and pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky., has agreed to represent Kentucky’s 2,400 Southern Baptist churches as lobbyist.
“Lobbyists are the norm for organizations working against the interests of people of faith, yet Kentucky Baptists have never had a lobbyist representing them,” Chitwood said. “As a result, we’ve not had a significant voice on many of the most crucial issues of our day. That has now changed.”
Troth, an attorney who worked at the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, a government agency that supports the state legislature, from 1999 until 2008, said on Twitter he is “honored and humbled to be working at the Kentucky General Assembly on behalf of Kentucky Baptists.”
Steve Weaver, senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church near Frankfort and adjunct professor of church history at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, began Oct. 1 as Capitol chaplain.
Chitwood said the chaplain will be non-partisan and will not engage in any lobbying activity. Rather he will be “pastor” to elected officials and state employees working at the Capitol, which Chitwood said could be termed “a spiritual battlefield.”
“Elected officials in Frankfort tend to be more prone to the whims of political influence than spiritual influence,” Chitwood said. “But the fact is, if more of these government leaders had the mind of Christ, most of the moral and ethical issues Kentucky wrestles with could be resolved overnight.”
The third component of the KBC’s legislative strategy is creation of a “world-class online newspaper” to provide Kentucky Baptists with news and perspective on the issues of the day. Chitwood said that’s why the convention launched Kentucky Today, described as “a complement” to Western Recorder, a newspaper that has served Kentucky Baptists for 190 years.
Kristen Lowry, former foreign correspondent for the SBC International Mission Board, has been named Frankfort bureau reporter for Kentucky Today.
In the past the Kentucky Baptist Convention has monitored public policy through an 11-member Committee on Public Affairs composed of nine members elected from each region plus the KBC executive director and editor of the Western Recorder.
The increased profile in Frankfort comes at a politically opportune time. Matt Bevin, the new governor-elect, has connections with leaders in Kentucky Baptist life.
As a Louisville businessman, Bevin donated significant amounts of money to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Bevin recently announced that his inaugural prayer service, traditionally held in a downtown church, will take place at Buck Run Baptist Church, an outlying Southern Baptist congregation led by Pastor Hershael York, a professor at Southern Seminary and past president of the KBC.
Bevin ran for office as a conservative Christian candidate and once in office is expected to take on controversial church-state issues including taxpayer funding for a Noah’s Ark theme park opening next year and developments related to Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who made national headlines for defying a Supreme Court decision this summer legalizing same-sex marriage.