Remarks on the National Day of Prayer

This morning, nearly 250 West Virginians gathered at the West Virginia Capitol to kick of the 2013 National Day of Prayer.  Though an, "unavoidable conflict" kept Governor Tomblin from joining us, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Coach Don Nehlen, and Jeff Jenkins were on hand to lead the celebration.  At the end of the event, I had the opportunity to share some parting thoughts.  Below are my remarks, along with some pictures from the day's event.

My thanks to those in attendance, as well as to our sponsors for making this event possible.

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Five and a half years ago, my wife and I moved from Morgantown to Charleston.  Our oldest son was 2 and our second son was making my wife very uncomfortable in her latter stages of pregnancy.  We knew no one in Charleston.  I had just started a job with a group known as the West Virginia Values Coalition, what would later become the Family Policy Council of West Virginia. 

At our first board meeting, we realized that there were hundreds of issues that we needed or wanted to address, but insufficient funds to pay me through the end of the year. 

Our board looked at a lot of models for how to conduct business.  We consulted with fundraising consultants who told us their best ideas for how to raise money.  There were plenty of charts and graphs by which we – the leaders – were trying to chart a functional course by which we could operate a viable and influential business.

We must have spent hours thinking through various approaches we could take to make this organization move forward. Nothing seemed to come together easily. We were simultaneously frustrated and motivated.  But, we felt stymied.  Almost at the same time, I recall the members of the board looking at one another, looking at me, and realizing that we needed to start again, this time beginning our meeting in prayer.

Our Founding Fathers came to a very similar conclusion, albeit on a much more grand scale.  At the constitutional convention of 1787, after weeks of wrangling over how to phrase the founding documents of our country and how to chart it's future course, it was Ben Franklin who took to the floor of a convention hall that was filled with equal parts frustration and motivation, but entirely at a stalemate. 

Franklin did not live a holy lifestyle.  At best he was deistic in his belief, but he understood the importance of the principle that government acts best when it acknowledges its limitations, including doing so through prayer.

Franklin took to the floor of the hall and observed the frustration that had led to their stalemate. James Madison recorded his words for us.  Franklin said to the constitutional conventioneers:

We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it.  We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which, having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exists.  And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

He went on:

In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understanding?

One wonders of the hush that must have fallen across the room as the elder statesman’s question hung in the air.  Wasn’t the wisdom of Locke and Rutherford enough?  Would not the leadership of Washington and Adams suffice?  Surely, the country that had long fought for its liberty could, through its leaders, grab their bootstraps and muster on.

Not for Franklin.  For Franklin, our government – by its founders – must mark itself differently.  No revolutionary, no president, no senator, representative, governor, delegate, or mayor could long sustain this great experiment in democracy apart from the most controlling of understandings.  Not even freedom would be secure that did not recognize the source of its provision.

To that, Franklin spoke:

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God governs the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?

He went on to explain that, unless the founders of this government sought the kind guidance of Providence, he said, they would, succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel . . . And what is worse, he said, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

Then he concluded by asking that that constitutional convention of our founding era stand in repose and pray. 

They did so, sparking the clergy of the city in which they met to undertake to pray for them.  The clergy encouraged their parishioners to pray and soon was born a nation that was dedicated to invoking God’s kind direction in the affairs of our government and it was this humbling of our founding fathers at our nation's founding that is the basis for why – to this day – most of the meetings held in the bodies surrounding us are begun with prayer.

It is also why our board recognized our need to stop and pray.  Long could we have labored on our own with moderate success, but it was in stopping to pray that we found our conviction to lead.

Soon after that meeting of our board, one of our ministry partners came forward with a sizeable investment in the Family Policy Council of West Virginia.  After that, others matched that investment.  Soon, we had gained full association with Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom.

From there, we began meeting pastors across this state with a similar burden to see life protected, marriages strengthened, and religious freedom guarded.  A group of pastors came together to lend their advice and counsel to a group focused on policy and politics.  They knew that, as pastors, their primary role is to proclaim the Gospel, but also understand that the role of a limited government is to preserve the space for that good news to go forward.  And unless someone with principle and professionalism stood guard, the family could unravel at the hands of policy and politics.

In short, the Divine Hand of Providence governed our affairs to create what is today, the Family Policy Council of West Virginia.

Last year, many of you witnessed Governor Tomblin sign in to law the Premarital Education Act.  Today, that law is incentivizing couples across this state to start their marriage on strong footing.  Many of the pastors in this room today are, because of this law, counseling more couples to seek premarital education and, through it, strengthening marriage.

Even as we continue to work to encourage strong marriage, we are ever mindful of the many threats to religious liberty – and the threats are myriad.  We worked to prevent the passage of a law this last legislative session that, on its surface, promoted the noble concept of nondiscrimination, but underneath eroded what you and I have come to understand as religious liberty - a religious liberty that extends beyond the pulpit and intro the pews, the people in them, and their place of business.

In the future, safeguarding religious liberty may mean challenging a government that says a business has no First Amendment freedoms and must violate the conscience and convictions of its owner.  In whatever form, we will continue to advance, defend, and equip West Virginia’s families and the religious liberty given to them by their Creator.

Even as we do, we are mindful of the nearly 2,200 lives eliminated in this state at the hands of abortion every single year.

Perhaps you have followed the gruesome story that is Kermit Gosnell.  Gosnell is touted as an abortionist, but is better described as a monstrous serial killer.  Even this morning, a jury is deliberating in a case that alleges he killed a woman seeking an abortion by giving her too much Demerol. 

The jury has also been asked to convict Gosnell of crimes to gruesome to have an adequate name.  Babies – some of whom were more than 30 weeks in gestational age – were ripped from their mother’s womb and then – still breathing – at the hands of Gosnell had their spinal cords severed by a pair of scissors.  Others were flung into toilets, some of which were even reported to have attempted to swim out of the putrid water, only to be flushed into a fleshy clog in the pipes of this house of horrors.

But, did you know of the connections Gosnell has to our great state? 

First, one young lady from the eastern panhandle was referred to his clinic.  In a decision she now regrets, she arrived and received an abortion.  She was scheduled to be a rebuttal witness in the case against Gosnell because he had kept – like some form of sick trophy – the feet of her aborted baby.

If there is justice in this world, Gosnell goes to jail for a long, long time. Our fellow West Virginian turns home scarred for life at the hands of "reproductive justice."

But, that’s not the only connection.  After overdosing a young lady on Demerol, Gosnell asked for certification from the National Abortion Federation, the self-regulating arm of the abortion industry.  After inspecting his clinic, they determined they could not certify it because, among other violations, his furniture was bloodied, his medical instruments unsterile, and there were an abundance of fetal parts housed in the freezer.

They were right to refuse certification.  They were wrong to fail to report such gross violations of human dignity to law enforcement.

Ladies and gentlemen, just a few short weeks ago, we partnered with lawmakers in the room behind me at the close of this legislative session to pass HCR 167, a resolution that asks this legislature to study the health and safety standards of the abortion industry of this state. 

Why?  Because the largest abortion provider in the State of West Virginia, the clinic that performs more than 6 abortions per day, over 1800 per year, and which receives one-third of their budget from taxpayer dollars – the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia is part of a national network of abortion mills that are proudly certified by who? . . . the National Abortion Federation.

A self-regulating abortion industry does not work.  It is my great preference that not a single abortion would be conducted in this country, but so long as it is legal, we at the Family Policy Council of West Virginia will hold that industry accountable for the health and safety of our sisters and daughters.

Will you join us in this partnership?  Foremost, join us with your prayers.  Pray for your leaders – pray for them, not against them.  Pray that they will pass laws that permit you to live at peace.

But realize also that excellence in advancing, defending, and equipping West Virginia’s families is sustained by benevolence.  Your benevolent partnership feeds our ability to advocate for policies that embrace the sanctity of human life, that enrich marriage, and that safeguard religious freedom. 

On your tables is a card that you can use to indicate how you might further invest in the Family Policy Council of West Virginia.  We welcome your partnership.

For our part, we are working for the day in which every life is treated in West Virginia as preciously as the creator of that life, a day in which a husband and wife are living at the center of a strong and growing family, and when West Virginians are free – fully free – to live, learn, and do business according to the convictions of their faith.

As it did for Franklin, as it did for our board, that begins with prayer.  That begins today. 

Thank you for joining us this morning. May God bless this state, the leaders elected to serve us, and each one of you.