Southern Baptist named co-chair of Congressional Prayer Caucus

Congressmen Walker, left, and LankfordAnother Southern Baptist has stepped up to provide leadership for the Congressional Prayer Caucus.

Rep. Mark Walker, R.-N.C., will be the new House of Representatives co-chairman of the caucus, it was announced on Jan. 9. Sen. James Lankford, R.-Okla., the other co-chairman of the prayer caucus, and former Rep. Randy Forbes, R.-Va., made the announcement. All three are members of Southern Baptist churches.

Forbes, a seven-term Congressman, founded the caucus in 2005 to help protect the right of people to exercise their religious belief and pray freely. The caucus had more than 90 members in the last congressional session. Walker is replacing Forbes, who lost in the Republican primary last year in his bid for re-election.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, expressed his gratitude for the leadership Forbes and Lankford have provided to the Congressional Prayer Caucus.

"I'm overjoyed to see Congressman Forbes' tireless work in praying and speaking on religious freedom issues will be continued by the new leadership of Congressman Mark Walker," Moore said in a written statement. "I'm honored to call Congressman Walker a friend who represents Southern Baptists and all people of faith with excellence, integrity and skill in the U.S. Congress.

"This important caucus is raising awareness of the dire state of religious freedom around the world."

The caucus intends to advocate this year for religious liberty on such issues as health-care conscience protections, freedom for religious schools and employers' hiring rights, according to a release from Lankford's office.

Walker gained election to the House in 2014 after serving Southern Baptist churches for about 15 years in such roles as executive pastor, as well as lead pastor of a church plant. He most recently was associate pastor of music and worship at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C.

The second-term Congressman said in the release he looks forward to "fighting to protect one of the foundations of our First Amendment" as the caucus' co-chairman.

"Though politics can be divisive at times, prayer should be a uniting force for Congress and for our nation," Walker said.

Forbes said in the release: "Freedom of conscience is part of who we are as a nation, and we must preserve this fundamental freedom in our nation. That's why I founded the Prayer Caucus. Today, the strength and size of the Caucus is a testament to the importance of protecting and preserving our nation's Judeo-Christian heritage."

Lankford—the director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center for 13 years before his 2010 election to the House—welcomed Walker as co-chairman and expressed his gratitude for Forbes.

"America is stronger because of his commitment to creating this Caucus, and being a consistent champion for religious freedom," Lankford said in the release. "Our nation is a diverse country that values the freedom to have faith or have no faith at all. It is vitally important that Congress respects these values in public policy, as well as culture."

In 2015, Lankford became the first member of the Senate to join the caucus. He won a special election in 2014 to complete a Senate term and was elected to a full term in 2016.

During its first 11 years, the Congressional Prayer Caucus' efforts have included: 

• Helping pass a bill to confirm "In God We Trust" as the national motto;

• Successfully working to protect religious expression by military service members;

• Defending the rights of student religious ministries at secular universities;

• Gaining reversal of a policy that prevented people from distributing religious material during visits to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Walker is also the new chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus for conservative House GOP members.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.

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