Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has picked up endorsements of two influential leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention.
On Sunday former SBC president Jack Graham introduced the former Arkansas governor to about 7,000 worshippers at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., told the Raleigh News & Observer he is supporting Huckabee not because he is a minister, but because of his stands on abortion, the family and keeping the United States strong.
“I’m grateful Mike Huckabee is a born-again evangelical, but that’s not the criteria by which I would support him,” Akin said.
Akin acknowledged Huckabee is a long shot to win the presidency, but he said he has friends in Huckabee’s campaign who asked if he would endorse him. “At this time I’ll put my support behind the person who would do the best job, regardless of where they are in the polls,” Akin said.
Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area mega-church who served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2003 and 2004, told reporters it is in America’s best interests for social conservatives to rally around one the presidential candidates.
“He is one of us,” Graham said of Huckabee. “He is not one who is coming from outside to us, but he is one of us.”
While not calling it an endorsement, Graham introduced Huckabee’s Sunday morning message at Prestonwood as “God’s word from God’s man.”
“It’s very important that we vote our values, that we select folks and nominate folks who stand by principle and who live and proclaim and legislate according to the values we cherish,” Graham said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “Here’s a man who comes and says: ‘I’m not looking for your endorsement. I endorse what you believe. I endorse your values.'”
Graham was even more direct in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, calling Huckabee “far and away the best communicator on either side, Republican or Democrat,” and adding that he is also right on the issues.
“He shares the values that many of us share in the evangelical churches,” Graham said. “He’s a broad-tent conservative that has a message I believe can coalesce evangelicals and conservatives of all kinds in this nation.”
Four years ago Southern Baptist leaders were unified behind President Bush. An SBC voter-registration drive called iVoteValues rallied churches around issues like abortion and gay marriage, part of a larger effort to mobilize evangelical voters widely credited with helping Bush to win a second term over Democratic Sen. John Kerry.
With the Iowa caucuses less than two months away, the Christian Right has yet to coalesce around a single candidate. Huckabee performs well in front of crowds of “values voters,” running away with straw polls at recent events in Florida and Washington, but he hasn’t persuaded everyone he can raise money or win in a general election.
Some on the Christian Right also question his conservative credentials. Paul Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation announced Monday he is supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon.
Asked about Huckabee in an interview with NewsMax.com, Weyrich said: “I like him, and he certainly is somebody who can give a stemwinder, but I have learned so many things about his waffling positions, and conservatives in Arkansas don’t like him at all. They say he left the conservative movement in Arkansas in shambles when he left the governorship early this year. There are a whole lot of things–he came out for civil unions, he came out for D.C. statehood–that cause me not to be able to support him.”
A recent online Wall Street Journal column quoted Paul Pressler, co-founder of the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC, as accusing Huckabee of siding with the moderates. “I know of no conservative he appointed while he headed the Arkansas Baptist Convention,” Pressler reportedly told columnist John Fund.
Vision America founder Rick Scarborough, a former Southern Baptist pastor active in the conservative cause, said last week that rap on Huckabee is “not completely accurate.”
Scarborough said in a column on World Net Daily that he and Huckabee gravitated toward each other while both were students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary because of shared values, but Huckabee opted for a less-confrontational approach that Scarborough now believes turned out to be providential.
At Prestonwood, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Graham said God “is the one who puts down one and lifts up another, and he is lifting up those who would serve our country and raising up leaders for our nation in this day.”
“And I believe among those who God is lifting up, his favor is upon Mike Huckabee.”
The Dallas Morning News quoted Graham in an afternoon press conference.
“The more people hear Mike Huckabee, the more they like him,” Graham said. “Everywhere he goes, in small groups as well as big groups, people are saying: ‘This is a man who is saying what I think. This is man who is representing what I believe.'”
Huckabee said Graham’s admiration for him is mutual. “Prestonwood is truly renowned across this country as one of the great churches of America,” Huckabee said in his message to the church, “and your pastor is unquestionably seen as one of the truly great pastors and leaders of God’s movement in this nation. I’m just honored to be in the same building with him.”
According to the Arkansas newspaper, Mike Buster, executive pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church, agreed to help raise $100,000 for Huckabee.
“I’ve raised $30,000 in the last three days,” Buster told the newspaper. Asked if he would reach the $100,000 fund-raising goal by the end of the year, he replied: “Oh, by the end of the month. There’s an amazing momentum just in the last two or three days that has swept the country. I’m sensing it.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.