Oct 25th, 2015, 04:51 PM

Republican Debates: Separation of Church & State?

By Angelic Croxell
Inside Prestonwood Baptist Church for North Texas Forum (Photo: texasobserver.org)
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas is no stranger to American politics

So the Republican presidential candidates got together on a Sunday afternoon to speak at a Southern Baptist Church? I’m no expert, but I'm pretty sure that's contrary to separation of church and state. But it’s Texas. Or to be more specific, it’s Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, which just happens to be my church back home.

So am I surprised that my well-known church is holding an event for GOP hopefuls to get together? Not at all. This is not the first time my church has been involved in politics, and it certainly will not be the last. Since my focus here is more on the general conflict that arises from the crossover, I won’t recap what the candidates had to say. However, it spanned all afternoon. You can hear their statements here.

I grew up in north Dallas where for decades Prestonwood Baptist Church has been an icon for Christian churches in the southern United States and around the world. Its weekend services and special events are broadcast live on their website www.Prestonwood.org and can be seen as far awat as Russia. Pastor Dr. Jack Graham is a well-known and well respected pastor who has not only been president of the Southern Baptist Coalition for the past two terms but he has also guided Prestonwood from its early days of a few hundred members to its now three campuses across Dallas and its thousands of members who attend services on the weekends both in person and online.

Pastor Jack Graham (Photo: US Pastor Council)

Everyone knows Texas and the Southern United States are home to a large Christian population and, not coincidentally, a large Republican population as well. Last weekend Prestonwood hosted six Republican candidates in a Sunday afternoon of discussions at the main church in Plano. Former Governor Jeb Bush, Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz, former Governor Mike Huckabee, and former Senator Rick Santorum were all there. Donald Trump was notably absent, but for a forum held at a prominent Baptist church, six candidates is a remarkable turnout. It is the first of its kind thus far in the 2016 campaign. According to Pastor Graham, they also invited Democratic candidates but none chose to participate. The church holds 7,000 people and they had a total attendance of over 6,000 people, almost filling the entire church, with an estimated additional 10,000 plus in attendance online.

Earlier this year Pastor Graham and Prestonwood were chosen to lead the United States’ National Day of Prayer. Pastor Graham led the entire country in prayer from Washington DC showing what an iconic church it is and just how much power it holds. A few months ago when the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing gay marriage in all 50 states, Prestonwood was anything but silent on the matter. In the weeks leading up to the big decision there were countless meetings, trips to the Supreme Court, petitions, and rallies charging all Christians to take a stand against the ruling and refuse to adhere to the new law. Pastor Graham is quoted as saying "Many Christians are prepared and willing to go to jail if necessary." You can see Pastor Graham's speech on the steps of the Supreme Court after the decision. So in 2015 Prestonwood Baptist Church has been the National leader in the United States National Day of Prayer, one of the leading voices vehemently opposing the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of allowing gay marriages, and now is hosting GOP presidential hopefuls running for the 2016 election. 

So again I ask where is the separation of church and state? What does it say about the United States that the same religious leaders praying for our country are the same ones who oppose the ruling of the highest judicial court in the nation -- and now are considered proper hosts for presidential candidates to debate? I don’t know about you, but to me that is a bit confusing.