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Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told NBC’s Tim Russert he wouldn’t “replace the Capitol dome with a steeple” but made no apologies for past statements saying America needs to turn to Christ.

On “Meet the Press” Jan. 28, Russert asked Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and past president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, what a 1998 quotation challenging Southern Baptists to “take this nation back for Christ” means to Jews, Muslims, agnostics and atheists.

“I’d probably phrase it a little differently today,” said Huckabee, who on Sunday announced plans to form a presidential exploratory committee. “I don’t want to make people think that I’m going to replace the Capitol dome with a steeple or change the legislative sessions for prayer meetings.

“What it does mean is that people of faith do need to exercise their sense of responsibility toward education, toward health, toward the environment. All of those issues, for me, are driven by my sense that this is a wonderful world that God made. We’re responsible for taking care of it. We’re responsible for being responsible managers and stewards of it. I think that’s what faith ought to do in our lives if we’re in public service. ”

Russert quoted an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story covering comments by Huckabee at the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference in Salt Lake City.

“I didn’t get into politics because I thought government had a better answer,” Huckabee said in explaining his move from the pastorate to politics. “I got into politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives.”

Huckabee told pastors the ultimate solution for a nation slipping into crisis is faith in Christ. “There’s not one thing we can do in those marbled halls and domed capitols that can equal what’s done when Jesus touches the lives of a sinner,” he said.

Huckabee’s entry into an already-crowded race for the Republican nomination represents his hope that the party’s base won’t be satisfied with moderates like John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani and will instead support a staunch conservative who opposes abortion and gay marriage.

While Huckabee boasts of getting along with liberals during two-and-a-half terms as Arkansas’ governor, he has long touted a conservative social agenda.

Huckabee favored a state ban on same-sex marriage and said he would support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. He supports teaching of creationism in public schools, saying Darwin’s theory of evolution isn’t established scientific fact.

Huckabee is an advocate for “covenant marriage,” which makes it harder for couples to divorce. “When it is easier to get out of a marriage than get out of a contract to buy a used car, clearly something is wrong,” Huckabee said at a Celebration of Marriage rally on Valentine’s Day 2005.

He supported a law making it possible to charge someone with murder for killing a pre-born fetus.

Huckabee joined conservative politicians Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., Sen. George Allen, R-Va., Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., at a Values Voter Summit sponsored by the Family Research Council in 2006.

In 1998 he was one of 131 signers of an ad in USA Today affirming an amendment to the Baptist Faith & Message saying that Christian wives must submit to their husbands.

He supported an unsuccessful effort to have Religious Rountable founder Ed McAteer, a Christian Zionist, appointed as U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Huckabee sat, along with Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship and Gary Bauer of American Values, on an advisory board for Redeem the Vote, a conservative Christian response to MTV’s Rock the Vote campaign that helped elect Bill Clinton in 1992.

On “Meet the Press” Russert asked Huckabee if as president he would consider America to be a Christian nation or try to lead the country into being more Christian.

“I think it’s dangerous to say that we are a nation that ought to be pushed into a Christian faith by its leaders,” Huckabee said. “However, I make no apology for my faith. My faith explains me. It means that I believe that we’re all frail, it means that we’re all fragile, that all of us have faults, none of us are perfect, that all of us need redemption.”

“We are a nation of faith,” Huckabee continued. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be mine. But we are a nation that believes that faith is an important part of describing who we are, and our generosity, and our sense of optimism and hope. That does describe me.”

In 2003 Huckabee told Baptist Press he came away from meetings with George W. Bush impressed by what he termed authentic faith of the commander in chief.

“One of the things that impressed me about President Bush is that when he talked about his faith to me personally … he didn’t just talk about a vague and generic relationship with God,” Huckabee said. “He spoke very candidly and very specifically about his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Huckabee said Bush’s talk about repenting from his sin and personal commitment to faith is different from a politician saying in general he believes in God and thinks the Bible is a great book.

“He’s much more genuine and much deeper than that,” Huckabee said of Bush, “and I think he is as authentic as anyone I’ve ever been around in terms of his faith.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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