By Jessica Pigg
June 20, 2023
NEW ORLEANS–Hundreds gathered to hear from former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other Christian leaders about the state of religious liberty in America, June 13, at “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” an event hosted through a partnership between Liberty University, the Standing for Freedom Center, and the Conservative Baptist Network, during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Meeting in New Orleans, La.
Ryan Helfenbein, executive director of the Standing for Freedom Center and senior vice president of communications and public engagement at Liberty University, and a widely-known conservative voice within evangelicalism received a warm reception from attendees as he welcomed them to a 90-minute, 9-speaker evening program that included a time of prayer, encouragement, call to action, and worship led by Birchman Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas.
Jonathan Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and chancellor at Liberty University, introduced the state in which believers are living as a deconstruction of truth and compromise. Utilizing his opening statements to call on those in the room to be “champions for Christ,” Falwell urged pastors to stand upon the sufficient, inerrant, and infallible truth of God’s Word.
“Everything is being redefined,” Falwell said. “Truth is being redefined, and yet we stand here today and recognize that truth has always been truth, and truth will be truth, and truth will forever be truth, and that truth comes from God Himself.”
With a desire to rally local church pastors, Falwell urged them to stand firm in wavering days and to preach the Word faithfully and boldly—for it is only by God alone that hope can be found in the days ahead, he said.
“It is in Him and Him alone where we find our hope,” he said. “It’s not going to be found in the White House, or the State House, or the Court House—it will be found in God’s house when God’s house is teaching the gospel and the Word of God.”
Tim Lee, marine, former pastor, and now an evangelist for 45 years, connected with attendees and brought the crowd to rolling laughter before he began his remarks by thanking those in the room for their faithful service to God’s people and praying for the presence of the Lord to fill the room.
“A lot of my heroes are here in this room tonight,” Lee said. “I love pastors, evangelists, and missionaries, and I appreciate what you do so very, very much.”
An engaged, attentive crowd listened enthusiastically as the three-speaker panel lineup discussed courage in the pulpit and the state of religious liberty in America. Those on the panel included Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church and president of Founders Ministries; Jeff Schreve, pastor of First Baptist Church Texarkana and founder of From His Heart Ministries; and Helfenbein, as moderator.
Narrowing in on the question of ‘will the pulpit save the public square?’ Helfenbein stated that he firmly believes that the future of the public square depends on an engaged pulpit and active pews.
“The nation was certainly formed and founded by Christians,” he said. “The nation was shaped by the pulpit, and I think it’s going to take the pulpit to save the nation.”
Quoting Adrian Rogers, Schreve stated that “as we see the world getting more and more wicked, you can say praise the Lord it’s getting gloriously dark, because that means that the Lord is coming soon.”
“This time is a great opportunity to teach the Truth, to lift up Jesus, and point people to the cross,” Schreve said.
In addressing if he is optimistic or pessimistic about the days ahead, Ascol responded by reminding those in the room that a day is coming in which every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
“God is always working, and I hope that He will continue to work in America,” said Ascol. “But whether He does or not, His kingdom is not going to miss a beat. Jesus Christ will be acknowledged as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords by everyone. I look forward to the day when the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the water covers the seas. I will pray for that day and I will work toward that day.”
Utilizing the parable of the wheat and the tares, Perkins said that “this is one of the most significant times in the history of the human race” where “good is becoming more pronounced, but so is evil.”
“God has entrusted us—the Church—in this moment of time,” said Perkins. “I’m optimistic about what God can do if we yield ourselves to Him and His Word. The future of the church, in this hour, is a return to His Word. We have neglected His Word. And what the pulpit will prioritize is what the people will live.”
Convinced that there seems to be a correlation between what’s going on in the church and also what’s going on in the public square, Helfenbein called on the panel to address three major topics: “a low view of God and the authority of Scripture, a lower priority of church life practicing governance, and the invasive worldly ideologies and cultural teachings co-opting the gospel mission and message.”
Referencing the 1851 classic “Moby Dick” in which Herman Melville says that “the pulpit leads the world,” Ascol urges pastors to “proclaim the whole counsel of God.”
“If we are not taking God seriously—in regard to what the church is—if we’re not saying this is God’s house, and God’s rules apply, why in the world would we expect lost people to listen to us as well? If we can’t help God’s people live Christ-honoring lives, why do we expect to reach those outside the church?”
Perkins echoed Ascol’s sentiments as it relates to encouraging pastors to remain anchored to God’s Word.
“We live in some challenging times, and it requires that pastors be bold and courageous in preaching the Word of God,” he said. “The hope for America is for the men of God to open the Word of God and proclaim it. That is the only thing that will turn this country around. It begins in the church with the people in the pews with the Word coming from the pulpit.”
Calling on pastors to confront the discussions of the age head-on, Shreve exhorted pastors to draw a line in the sand.
“Politics and morality have intersected so much…abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism…those are topics that are straight out of Scripture. How do you not touch those from the pulpit?” Schreve asked. “We must say this is sin, and this is righteousness, and you need to know the difference between the two.”
In calling into question the “subjectivism of piety” and the narrative that those inside the church should not interact with the culture wars of the age, all three panelists stood firm on the belief that those in the pulpit and pew are the very ones that should be engaging in the various conversations.
“For the sake of Christ, we need to stand and be willing to speak to any power, political entity, and cultural entity and say, ‘this is what the Lord says,’” said Ascol. “Where God speaks, we cannot be silent.”
“Christ is Lord over everything,” he continued. “God appointed you, and you are accountable to God to punish evil and promote what is good.”
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, joined the chorus of voices urging attendees to stand uncompromised among spiritual darkness. Quoting Nehemiah 4:14, Graham challenged pastors to fight for their homes and families—for the glory of God.
“These are dark days, and we are in a spiritual battle,” he said. “We are in this fight to the glory of God, for the sake of our nation, beginning with your own family, friends, and churches.”
Confident that the “Equality Act is one of the most dangerous threats to religious freedom in our generation and lifetime,” Graham spent the remainder of his brief time urging those in the room to take action and to be “on the frontlines of this battle” in their own communities.
He encouraged those in attendance to take four actions: get involved in a pregnancy center ministry, invest in Christian education, preach the truth of biblical worldview from the pulpit, and encourage those in the pew to run for local, state, and national elections.
Despite the uphill battle, Graham reminded the crowd that we know how it all ends.
“In the end, we know that the victory is ours because it is in Christ and Christ alone,” he said. “Let’s keep fighting the good fight as we serve the Lord.”
Dondi Costin, the sixth president of Liberty University, introduced the event’s keynote speaker, Sec. Mike Pompeo. Sec. Pompeo served in President Donald Trump’s administration as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2017 to 2018 and as the 70th United States secretary of state from 2018 to 2021.
Convinced that the crowd of pastors and laypeople have an “incredible opportunity to address where faith and politics intersect,” Pompeo echoed the sentiments of those before him in admonishing those in the room to be “God’s diplomat” in their own backyard.
“If we’re waiting for Washington to fix it, we’re going to be waiting a long time,” he said.
Pompeo, who has consistently received both criticism and appreciation for never apologizing for his faith and making religious liberty around the world his number-one priority while in office, said that the hatred of the outside world is untroubling if done before an audience of One.
“I am aware of how much people hate me,” he said. “But when you love the Lord, and you are confident that you are right and believe in truth, it’s untroubling.”
In the evening’s final moments, Helfenbein and Pompeo discussed questions such as why the church should take a leadership role in Christian education and whether the “pulpit will save the public square.”
“I’m incredibly confident that America is going to get another 250 great years,” he said. “I am not confident in that because someone in Washington, D.C., is going to make it happen. I am confident in it because of rooms like this tonight. Where people come together to share their faith, their stories, their good works, and their best practices.”
“In the last couple hundred years, men and women who led, for the most part, understood that this is a nation that depends on people of virtue…They understood that our Judeo-Christian founding mattered,” Pompeo said.
While some will choose to capitulate and assimilate to culture in days of adversity, Pompeo urged the room to remain vigilant and to fight the battle on every front.
“My encouragement to you would be to not let them [culture] tell you that this [politics] is somehow outside your lane,” he said. “It is squarely inside your lane as a pastor…Be everywhere, and be prayerful.”