Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been criticized for spending tens of thousands of dollars of state funds on helicopter flights to attend church services. At least one visit was to a Southern Baptist church where Jindal shared his testimony and spoke about campaigning.
Jindal, a rising star in the Republican Party, claimed that his speeches and appearances in the churches were not campaign events. Jindal previously reached out to churches during his successful 2007 gubernatorial campaign.
Critics, such as Sandhya Bathija of American United for Separation of Church and State, point out that Jindal has already started raising campaign funds for his re-election and therefore argue that the church visits are related to his campaign and not his duties as governor.
“Jindal claims his trips to churches are not at all political, and it is not a stunt to get re-elected, though he has already begun raising money for his next campaign,” Bathija argued. “He was known for his visits to churches during his last campaign for governor. But at that time, the trips were paid for by campaign funds, not the state of Louisiana.”
During his first eight months in office, Jindal’s total helicopter use has cost nearly $180,000. Jindal’s helicopter usage, which cost $1,200 an hour, surpasses that of his predecessor Kathleen Blanco during her first eight months.
He has made twelve trips to churches, eight trips to town halls, and five trips to Chamber of Commerce banquets. He also has traveled to speak at a high school graduation, attend a basketball tournament, visit a fishing rodeo, and attend out-of-state events.
When Jindal visited First Baptist Church of Winnfield in May 2008, he delivered the message. The service was delayed about 15 minutes because Jindal’s flight had to be rerouted due to weather.
According to The Baptist Message, the state Baptist newspaper in Louisiana, Jindal began his message with a story from the campaign trail. Jindal also shared how it took seven years of witnessing and personal struggles before he became a Christian. He added that “the most important moment in my life was the moment I accepted Christ.”
Jindal ended his message by urging those present to witness and “plant the seeds of the Gospel that others may know Jesus.” He also called for prayers for elected officials and encouraged Christians to keep “an eternal perspective of life.”
Winnfield’s interim pastor at the time, Jerold McBride, expressed his excitement when contacted by the governor’s office about the possibility of Jindal sharing his testimony at the church.
“I replied we’d be thrilled,” McBride recalled. “The governor will use the time the normal sermon would be. That will be tremendous because we’re starting the Winn for Jesus Crusade and to kick it off, the governor of the whole state will be here, sharing his experience of coming to know Christ as his savior.”
McBride, the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, is a former president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and former co-chair of Texas Baptists Committed. McBride has been an outspoken critic of fundamentalism.
In May 2008, Jindal also delivered the commencement address at Louisiana College, which is affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Jindal and Tommy French, pastor of Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, received honorary doctorate degrees at the ceremony.
During the 2008 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, then-president Frank Page claimed that Jindal had been led to Christ and baptized by French. Page told of meeting with Pres. George W. Bush in the White House and then being introduced to Jindal.
“‘Do you know Tommy French?'” Page recounted Jindal asking. “‘Well, he baptized me and led me to Christ.'”
“So the new governor of Louisiana was baptized by this dear man,” Page added about French. Page did not mention that Jindal, a former Hindu, is now a Catholic.
In a 1993 column describing his religious journey, Jindal referred to a “Southern Baptist friend” who helped him on his “journey from Hinduism to Christianity.” Jindal also mentioned that two years after “tak[ing] that leap of faith and accept[ing] Christ into my life” he was “baptized into the Catholic Church.”
During his gubernatorial campaign, Democrats ran ads highlighting past writings by Jindal that criticized Protestants. The ads claimed that Jindal had “referred to Protestant religions as scandalous, depraved, selfish and heretical.” Jindal attacked the ads as “a new low” and “absolute lies.”
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.
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Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.