Presbyterian and Catholic politicians received recognition at a state Baptist convention just one week before Election Day.
Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) leaders introduced two Republican candidates for office during the opening session of their annual meeting Monday night and another Republican candidate on Tuesday morning, despite IRS tax regulations that restrict partisan politicking by tax-exempt organizations like the MBC.
Republican U.S. Senate nominee Todd Akin, a Presbyterian, and Republican gubernatorial nominee Dave Spence, a Catholic, both attended the MBC annual meeting on Monday and were introduced to messengers and guests by MBC Executive Director John Yeats.
After messengers applauded – especially enthusiastically for Akin – Yeats used his “Executive Director’s Address” to urge greater political efforts.
The following day, Republican nominee for state Attorney General Ed Martin, a Catholic, attended the MBC annual meeting and was similarly recognized.
MBC leaders previously engaged in numerous partisan efforts on behalf of Akin’s struggling campaign, even using MBC resources to support his candidacy.
Hoping to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Akin fell dramatically in the polls after he suggested that women could not become pregnant from “legitimate rape.”
Nearly all national Republican leaders – including presidential nominee Mitt Romney – urged Akin to drop out. Yet MBC leaders became among the most visible and active of his few public supporters.
EthicsDaily.com broke the story in August that MBC used resources to support Akin’s campaign and that more than 75 Missouri Baptist leaders and pastors publicly endorsed Akin.
In addition to endorsing Akin, MBC leaders printed the endorsement list in the Pathway, the MBC’s official newspaper, and Pathway editor Don Hinkle wrote a column endorsing Akin and Martin.
Citing the EthicsDaily.com report, the church-state watchdog organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the IRS alleging the MBC violated federal tax law that prevents partisan politicking by tax-exempt organizations.
Rather than ending their politicking on behalf of Akin, MBC leaders doubled-down by sponsoring a conference call on Akin’s behalf.
As EthicsDaily.com reported, Missouri Baptist pastors received an invitation to the call from Hinkle’s MBC e-mail address, with a large MBC logo at the top of the e-mail.
Joining MBC employees Hinkle and Yeats in speaking on the call were former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts and pseudo-historian David Barton.
Last month, Hinkle joined other conservative Christian political activists on a four-day campaign bus tour across the state for Akin.
Others who joined this official campaign event included Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum, Dick Bott of Bott Radio Network, Buddy Smith of the American Family Association, and First Baptist Church of Belton pastor David Baker (who also spoke on the conference call).
On Monday night in St. Louis, Yeats used part of his “Executive Director’s Address” to recognize “two of my friends.” First, he asked Akin and his wife to stand, and then Spence.
As the crowd erupted in applause for Akin, Yeats smiled and said “amen.” After introducing both, he added, “Thank you for coming.”
“I am grateful for pro-life and pro-family new friends,” Yeats added. “We’ve got to run some godly men and women for office if we’re going to see this nation changed.”
“Our nation has been intentionally deceived and is racing toward destruction,” Yeats said later in his address. “And if we do not change paths now, the nation, the culture that we love and know is going to be lost forever. We have a responsibility as believers to vote our values.”
After introducing the candidates and others at the annual meeting, Yeats then moved into his address about the work of the MBC. He transitioned to this part of his speech by telling a story of calling “Larry with an Indian accent” for tech help and even mockingly imitated the accent as he recounted the advice he received.
On Tuesday, Hinkle recognized “my good friend” Martin in the audience and urged messengers to applaud as he asked Martin to stand.
This is not the first time MBC leaders have used their annual meeting to promote Republican candidates in the week before an election.
In 2004, messengers saw video greetings from Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, a Presbyterian, and Republican U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, a member of the Assemblies of God.
Messengers also heard the reading of a letter from Republican President George W. Bush, a Methodist, who was seeking re-election. Additionally, Republican U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, a Presbyterian, was brought on stage to pray just six days before he successfully won another term in office.
In 2006, Talent appeared in person and spoke to messengers only six days before Election Day as he faced a tough re-election campaign to the U.S. Senate. He lost that race to McCaskill.
In addition to the MBC conference call and the Akin bus tour, national conservative Christian activists have also engaged in other efforts on behalf of Akin and Spence. For instance, the political action arm of the Family Research Council is funding a radio ad and a six-day statewide bus tour to help Akin defeat McCaskill.
Earlier this month, Akin and Spence both received help in the form of a bus tour led by “The Response,” a group created to lead a religious rally in Houston last August that helped launch Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s short-lived Republican presidential campaign.
After the national event, smaller “The Response” events were held during the presidential primary process in key early voting states of Iowa, South Carolina and Florida.
“The Response” reappeared in Missouri. The “Missouri Prayer Tour” spent three days across Missouri in a bus painted to look like Air Force One (and dubbed “Prayer Force One”).
“This will be a time of worship, repentance for America,” the event website stated. “We will be joined at each stop by various Missouri candidates.”
Twitter updates by “The Response” and others during the bus tour indicate the politicians at the events included Akin, Spence, Martin and the Republican nominee for Missouri state treasurer, Cole McNary.
As MBC leaders and others press the vote for Akin, Spence and Martin, most polls show all three running behind their incumbent Democratic opponents – even as Romney easily leads President Barack Obama in the “Show Me” state.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.