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Baxley leads Christian Coalition to ‘awaken’ believers

Huckabee says much ‘on the line’ in 2008 elections


Photo by Joni B. Hannigan

The Platt family, from Northridge Baptist Church in Haines City, meets Gov. Huckabee. (L-R) Jenna, Carol, Gov. Huckabee and Shane Platt.

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ORLANDO (FBW)—Two Southern Baptists—one a lifelong layman, the other a pastor-turned politician—played prominent roles in Christian Coalition of Florida’s annual “God & Country” awards dinner Aug. 16 in Orlando.

Former state representative and Christian Coalition executive director Dennis Baxley and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee both stressed in interviews with Florida Baptist Witness that Christians must get involved in the political process to affect positive change in American society.

Baxley resigned from the Florida House of Representatives last summer to run in a Florida Senate special election. Although he won majorities in 10 of the 12 district counties, Baxley was defeated in the election by 386 votes of all votes cast—illustrating the importance of involvement.

“That’s why I feel compelled to stay involved in this public policy process of helping people be aware that Christ has told them that they are the light of the world, that they are the salt of the earth,” Baxley said.

Photo by Joni B. Hannigan

Gov. Mike Huckabee

He didn’t set out to be the latest executive director of the Christian Coalition, but after being approached about the position and praying about it, Baxley decided that it was God’s will for him to do it, he said

Known in the legislature as a strong advocate for pro-family issues, Baxley said, “I’m still very burdened about the issues that relate to faith, family and freedom, and I want to make a difference. I want to use the experiences that have happened to me so far to effect public policy in some positive way for the Kingdom.”

A member of First Baptist Church in Belleview since 1975, Baxley has participated in short-term mission trips to Cuba and Haiti, as well as within the United States. He owns funeral home and banking businesses in the Ocala area.

Baxley became executive director of Christian Coalition of Florida in February, and is assisted in that role by Bill Stephens, the former executive director of the group who remains as administrator. Stephens was recently ordained to the Gospel ministry by Aloma Baptist Church in Winter Park and is currently studying for church ministry.

The mission of the group, according to Baxley, is “waking people up to participate” in the political process.

“God doesn’t have a secular and a spiritual divide. … He’s Lord of all or He’s not Lord at all. And He directs all of our affairs and everything I have is His. It was His before He ever put it in my hands as a steward,” he said.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to use some of the experiences that I’ve had in the legislative role to help expand the influence of this organization,” Baxley continued.

Baxley said there are an estimated 60 million evangelicals in America, half of whom are not registered to vote and many who don’t vote according to their biblical values.

Contrary to some media reports, Baxley says it’s too soon to “write the obituary” of values voters.

Nevertheless, he agreed there is a degree of apathy among evangelicals and other values voters, in part because there seem to be fewer “champions” among elected officials who strongly advocate their views.

“There are enough believers [that] if they would act on their faith and their convictions about values they could have the right kind of people” making public policy, Baxley stressed.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told the Witness value voters need to get involved in this election.

Joni B. Hannigan

Tim Miller (l-r), Christian Coalition board chairman, with Sen. Daniel Webster (c) and Christian Coalition’s executive director, Dennis Baxley.

Citing as examples possible Supreme Court appointments and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s promise to pass the pro-abortion “Freedom of Choice Act,” Huckabee said “there’s a lot on the line” in the election.

“I know that there are a lot of conservatives and a lot of value and faith voters who may feel like, well, ‘I don’t want to go get involved.’ They need to get involved,’” Huckabee said.

Huckabee acknowledged in his interview with the Witness there may be “political fatigue” among some values voters who are discouraged that prior efforts at political involvement have not resulted in successful policies like constitutional amendments to protect marriage and human life.

He said such voters should “understand that politics is always an incremental process. It’s never huge gains in strides. It’s usually baby steps along the way.”

In his speech before the Christian Coalition banquet, Huckabee said the effort in Florida to pass the state constitutional marriage amendment is “critical” for the entire country.

The marriage amendment is not a “Christian imposition. This is true of all faiths, that marriage means a man and woman,” he said.

More fundamental than the marriage amendment is the need to reassert the “Golden Rule” in American society, said Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor in Arkansas.

Contrary to some in his political party who argue that politicians should ignore moral issues and focus instead on economics, Huckabee pointed to the well-publicized 1992 beating of a truck driver in Watts in the midst of riots prompted by the not-guilty verdict for Los Angeles police officers in the Rodney King trial.

Both the assailants of the truck driver and those who saved his life came from the same impoverished community, he noted.

“It is not so much where you live, it is how we live that determines what kind of people we are,” Huckabee said, noting that immorality is true of some corporate executives just as morality can be found among the poor.

“My friends, the moral issues of America drive the economic issues of America. … The stronger our families are, the stronger our marriages are, the stronger our kids grow up to understand the difference between right and wrong, the stronger our economy will in fact be, and the less intrusive our government would have to be.”

The “saving of this great republic,” Huckabee said, is when Americans “understand that the only way we preserve, protect and pass on this freedom is when we start by saying we must govern ourselves with a simple moral code that we will do unto others as we’d have others do unto us.”

Southern Baptist elected officials were recognized with awards during the Christian Coalition dinner, emceed by Florida Baptist legislative consultant Bill Bunkley, a member of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz.

Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, was acknowledged for his leadership in defending human life and as “outstanding legislator of the last quarter century.” Webster is a member of First Baptist Church of Central Florida in Orlando.

Recognized for their efforts to pass an evolution academic freedom bill were Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, a member of First Baptist Church in Brandon, and Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, a member of First Baptist Church in Umatilla.