Young adults were encouraged to play an active part in the nation's culture war by a trio of high-profile leaders during Elevate 2004 in Dallas Jan. 23. The call for action -- and advice on how to make a difference -- came from Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, political strategist Ralph Reed and conservative radio talk show host Janet Parshall.
Elevate 2004, sponsored by the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, is a conference designed to encourage young adult professionals to take their faith in Jesus Christ into the world. A second Elevate gathering is planned for Feb. 19-21 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center.
Huckabee, a former president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, used a piece of advice he received during a celebrity bobsled event at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City to encourage the crowd of 20-somethings to forget the past and concentrate on the future.
An instructor/trainer told him that "the ice behind you can't hurt you. Forget where you've been. Steer for the curve ahead."
Many people constantly "look at what was," the governor said. "That's really dangerous, because there's not a thing in the world you can do about it." He told the crowd the reason for being at the conference was to prepare to "steer for the curve ahead."
In describing the need for Christian leaders, Huckabee said Christians should be "thermostats instead of thermometers."
"A lot of people -- particularly in politics -- are nothing more than thermometers," he said. These "thermometers" take an opinion poll to get the "pulse of the public" and, based on the poll, state the position they're going to take.
Noting that God calls people to be like thermostats, moving the
temperature to what it should to be, Huckabee offered two suggestions to help change the climate of the culture.
First, he said, a Christian should stand by their convictions no matter the consequences.
"Convictions are not your preferences or your likes versus your
dislikes," Huckabee said. "These are things that you so genuinely
believe in. ... You're willing to be left alone and have your friends walk away because these are things you're simply not going to compromise."
For Christians, these convictions should be based on the Word of God, Huckabee said, listing some of his unchangeable convictions on
abortion, helping the poor and honesty.
Secondly, Huckabee said, Christians should "serve compassionately" to get ahead in the culture war.
"Jesus did not come to be served, but He came to serve," Huckabee told the group.
The former pastor said when he first made the decision to go into
politics some friends questioned the decision, believing the only true callings were as a pastor, song leader or missionary. Everything else, he said, was considered secular work -- not a calling.
"Where did that nonsense come from?" Huckabee asked. "Folks, you don't have to get a paycheck from a church in order to follow Jesus Christ. Your calling is not necessarily fulfilled by some title in front of your name like reverend. God calls people to be stock brokers, playwrights and teachers."
The important thing to remember is that in order to truly serve God
effectively no matter what one's life profession is, he or she must be willing to sacrifice some comfort.
Instead of focusing on making more money or making a name, Huckabee said Christians should "determine the most important thing in your life is to sacrifice your comfort, so that somehow God can use your life to touch someone else for eternity."
Ralph Reed echoed Huckabee's encouragement to use God's calling to
serve. As a political strategist and one of the architects of the
religious right movement in American politics, Reed told the group that behind a decision to follow Christ and whom to marry, deciding what to do as a career is probably the biggest decision a person will make.
"The Bible talks about doing the good works that we have been prepared in advanced for," Reed said. "You weren't just prepared for salvation...you were prepared for good works that you were uniquely designed for here on earth."
He shared three basic principles to enable young Christians to find
that calling and live it out, the first of which is to focus on a
calling, not a career. He said the idea of an emphasis on career was foreign to the nation's forefathers and alien to American culture until World War II. As example, Reed cited former President Ronald Reagan.
"This is somebody who decided as a profession to be an actor," Reed
said, "but as a calling he believed that his life was devoted to ending communism."
Secondly, Reed said, a Christian should be focused on a testimony, not a title. He told of the Apostle Paul calling himself the chief of sinners and yet God had shown him mercy so that he could lead others to Christ. Paul wasn't concerned with his title of apostle nearly as much as he was concerned with the testimony he left behind, Reed said.
He encouraged the young professionals, thirdly, to focus on
significance and not success.
"If you reach the very top of your profession or your career but you don't have spiritual significance," Reed said, "you'll find it
ultimately unsatisfying and unfulfilling."
Reed said if Christians will focus on these principles, "we will not only find fulfillment for ourselves in Christ, but we will be able to share His love and His grace with more people than we can ever imagine."
Nationally known radio personality Janet Parshall, who identified
herself as "your embedded [culture] war correspondent from Babylon, "shared her testimony about how she became a Christian, met her husband and came to host her Washington D.C.-based program.
Parshall encouraged the audience to support politicians who hold
Christian values and to become more involved in politics personally.
She said if the logic behind the separation of politics and religion were true, then Christians wouldn't get involved in business, education or entertainment.
"We would be involved in nothing," Parshall said. "We would sit in our pews on Sunday morning, and we would sit there in absolute isolation."
Parshall said Christians should listen to the culture, read newspapers, and talk to people with opposing views, asking them why they believe what they believe. "Ask them to explain their apologetics," Parshall said.
She also said Christians should have compassion on the culture. "Don't hate those with different views. Pray for them. Share with them. Love them. And, ultimately, stand up for Jesus Christ in the world."
The reaction of at least one Elevate registrant reflected the impact planners had envisioned for the conference.
Sarah Dewey, a 23-year-old nanny from Conroe, Texas, near Houston, said she heard the message of involvement in a new way that challenged her.
Voting was about as involved in politics as she has been, but she now wants to impact the culture by becoming more involved in the political process, saying it's "scary" when young people don't know the beliefs of the people who make the nation's decisions.
"I don't want my kids to grow up in a place where laws have been made and I didn't change them when I had a chance," Dewey said.
Rodney Hays is a freelance writer and member of Prestonwood Baptist
© 2004 Baptist Press. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.