Last month my wife and I had an unforgettable vacation.
We usually spend our summer vacations relaxing with family, hanging out at Okoboji or up in Minnesota. In mid-September we had the experience of a lifetime as we traveled to Washington, D.C., and saw many wonderful sights of that historic city, along with a special visit to the U.S. Capitol.
Our visit was made possible because of an organization called Wallbuilders, which was hosting a pastoral briefing.
Wallbuilders, according to their website is “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built.” They’re dedicated to educating the public about how important Christianity was to the founding of our republic, and our nation’s entire history.
They take their name from the Old Testament story in Nehemiah, when the nation of Israel rallied together to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It represents the symbolic call for citizen involvement in rebuilding our nation’s principles which were established on Judeo-Christian philosophy. Wallbuilders was founded by David Barton, a nationally known historian and speaker, and someone I count as one of my personal heroes.
A couple years ago I asked our pastor, Terry Simm of First Presbyterian Church in Sibley, if he and his wife, Dawn, would be interested in attending a pastoral briefing. Because my wife, Denise, holds a pastoral degree in Christian counseling, we’d be able to go as well. Our plans for last fall’s briefing fell through, but this year we were able to attend.
Wallbuilders hosts these briefings on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, twice per year, given exclusively to pastors and church leaders. This year the briefing was on the evening of Sept. 10, and during the day of Sept. 11. Our speakers were Mr. Barton, his son Tim, and many Christian senators and representatives who spoke about their faith, and how they apply that faith in carrying out their civic duties.
One of my favorite speakers from the conference was U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Georgia). He told us of his experience of being at the baseball practice in June of 2017 when a crazed gunman tried to shoot him and many of his colleagues. This only reinforced his view that a further gun law would not have stopped the shooter. “It was an act of evil, and evil has no respect for any law,” he stated.
The highlight of the briefing for us all was the special, behind-the-scenes tour of the U.S. Capitol, hosted by US. Rep. Mike Cloud (R-Texas). We were shown National Statutory Hall — which contains sculptures of many prominent Americans, the paintings in the rotunda and the architectural history of much of the complex.
A surprise was when we were all ushered into the chamber of the House of Representatives; not just the visitors’ gallery, but to sit where the House members govern. This is the room where the president gives the annual State of the Union address.
While I knew the phrase “In God We Trust” is engraved above the speaker’s rostrum, what I didn’t know is the House voted to add it after a Supreme Court decision around 1962 which disallowed prayer in school. House members were upset about that decision, so they added the phrase as an act of defiance, according to Mr. Barton.
After our briefing the rest of the week was spent touring the sites on the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery and visiting many museums. We were there only five days, but one can spend a month in D.C. and still not see everything the city has to offer.
After our return from the conference Pastor Terry gave a sermon to our congregation where he recounted some of the things we heard at the briefing. While he made it clear that he didn’t think it was a good practice for him, or any pastor, to get involved in specific political disputes, or endorse candidates, he did state that church leaders should speak out about the current issues our nation faces, from a biblical perspective.
He then ended his sermon with a story about President Abraham Lincoln, which is appropriate here as well.
During the Civil War, President Lincoln overheard someone say that “surely the Lord was on the Union’s side.” Lincoln responded by saying he was not concerned about that, “because I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right; but it is my constant anxiety and prayer and I, and this nation, should be on the Lord’s side.”
Attending the Wallbuilders’ pastoral briefing reminds me that we all have an obligation to be on the Lord’s side, and that obligation should come before any candidate, political party or political dispute that faces the country. As President Ronald Reagan once said, “If we ever forget that we’re one nation, under God. Then we’ll be a nation gone under.”
Tom Kuiper lives in Sibley. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.