|Former pastor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee continued to emerge as a front-runner for religious conservatives, picking up endorsements from the son of the late Jerry Falwell and from a former opponent in Baptist politics in Arkansas.
Huckabee announced the endorsement of Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. on Wednesday. The two men appeared together Wednesday morning on the campus in Lynchburg, Va., where Huckabee delivered this week's convocation address in the university chapel.
Falwell's father, the founder of Liberty University and Falwell Ministries, invited Sen. John McCain to speak at the university in 2006. The senior Falwell, who also founded the Moral Majority in the 1980s, died in May. Huckabee's campaign said Jerry Falwell Jr.'s endorsement was personal and not by any organization that Falwell represents.
One day earlier Huckabee announced formation of a 30-member Faith and Family Values Coalition being co-chaired by Jimmy Draper, a former Southern Baptist Convention president who recently retired as CEO of the denomination's publisher LifeWay Christian Resources, and syndicated radio host and Christian activist Janet Fogler.
Coalition members include Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., and the Church and Pinnacle Hills, whom Huckabee defeated in 1989 to become, at 34, the youngest-ever president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
Huckabee, at the time pastor of Beech Street First Baptist Church in Texarkana, Ark., wasn't viewed as a moderate. But he was asked to run and backed by moderates who opposed Floyd, a more strident fundamentalist closely tied to a theo-political machine called the "conservative resurgence" that took control of the Southern Baptist Convention during the 1980s and removed moderates from leadership in the decade that followed.
Huckabee defeated Floyd by a 2-1 margin, and he now credits the experience as an important step toward his decision to leave his church and run for office in 1992. Some former SBC combatants, like movement co-founder Paul Pressler, haven't forgotten the chapter and because of it today still question Huckabee's conservative credentials.
"I know of no conservative he appointed while he headed the Arkansas Baptist Convention," Pressler, a retired judge from Houston and powerful Texas Republican, recently told the Wall Street Journal.
But Floyd, who went on to serve as president of the SBC Pastors Conference and chairman of the influential SBC Executive Committee, apparently isn't holding a grudge.
"Mike Huckabee's relational ability with people, whether it be one-on-one or through mass media appeal, coupled with his influential proven leadership at the executive level in a largely Democratic state, will win the hearts of millions as he articulates with mastery the conservative values of evangelicals," Floyd said an press release by the Huckabee campaign. "I am personally endorsing him because I have found these things to be true in my 21 years of knowing him."
Joining Draper and Floyd on the faith coalition are other SBC leaders who previously endorsed Huckabee's candidacy.
They include two more former convention presidents: Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church near Dallas, who was SBC president in 2003-2004, and Jerry Vines, retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., who served as SBC president in 1989-1990.
There is also a current seminary president, Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.
Jay Strack, a well-known Southern Baptist youth evangelist from Florida, is on the panel. So is Zig Ziglar, an author and motivational speaker from Texas who teaches Sunday school at Prestonwood Baptist Church and was first vice president of the SBC in 1985-1986.
Another member is Billy McCormack, a Louisiana Baptist pastor and founding national board member of the Christian Coalition.
Another is Rick Scarborough, founder and president of Vision America and a former pastor who once ran unsuccessfully as a fundamentalist for president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Scarborough has known Huckabee since they attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary together in the 1980s.
Other prominent names on the faith coalition include Don Wildmon, founder and chairman of American Family Association; Charisma Magazine founder Stephen Strang; and Michael Farris, head of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Chancellor of Patrick Henry College. (Huckabee was the first governor to appoint a homeschooler to the Arkansas State Board of Education and is thought to be the first to do so in any state).
Others are William J. Murray, chair of Religious Freedom Coalition and son of the famous atheist the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair; Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University Law School; Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary; and Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the best-selling "Left Behind" novels.
"I'm proud to have this impressive group of faith leaders join me in my efforts to reach out to Christian and social conservatives across the country," Huckabee said. "I don't come to these people for their support, I come from them. Together, we will continue to spread my message of hope and optimism."
Draper was elected SBC president in 1982 and again in 1983, while pastor of First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas. He took over what was then called the Baptist Sunday School Board in 1991, after his moderate predecessor, 57-year-old Lloyd Elder, opted for early retirement instead of certain firing by fundamentalist trustees. Draper retired from that job in 2006.
While not as high profile as some of his contemporaries, Draper is no latecomer to the Religious Right.
According to William Martin's 2005 book With God On Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, Draper was present at a secret meeting in 1979 at a Dallas airport hotel called by Campus Crusade's Bill Bright, where participants including James Robison, Charles Stanley, Adrian Rogers, Pat Robertson, Rex Humbard and Billy Graham discussed switching loyalties from then-incumbent President Jimmy Carter to support Ronald Reagan in 1980.
In 1987 Draper hosted a reception for Pat Robertson, who was then running for the Republican presidential nomination, at the SBC annual meeting in St. Louis, Robert Parham reported in a chapter about the Baptist Center for Ethics in a 1993 Mercer University Press book titled The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement."I support Mike Huckabee for president," Draper said in a statement endorsing Huckabee Nov. 9, "because I have known him for over 30 years and know him to be a man of absolute integrity and sterling character. He has the strength of convictions that will enable him to be a great leader."
Earlier this week Huckabee picked up an endorsement from an influential conservative politician in Florida, State Senate Majority Leader Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, a Southern Baptist layman. Last year the Florida Family Policy Council honored Webster, a longtime member of First Baptist Church of Central Florida in Orlando, by naming an annual award for pro-life and pro-family efforts in his honor.
The growing list of religious endorsements is welcome news for Huckabee, who just under three months ago complained on national television about a quote by SBC leader Richard Land saying Southern Baptists like Huckabee but that no one believed he could beat Hillary Clinton.
"All these years I've been paying my tithes to the Southern Baptist churches I belonged to, I'm thinking maybe I ought to get some of my money back if Richard is not going to be a little more supportive," Huckabee said half-seriously to ABC News "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos
Heading into Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate, a new Rasmussen Poll showed Huckabee for the first time pulling past Mitt Romney to lead all Republican candidates in Iowa.
"The more we get attacked, the more our numbers soar," Huckabee said. "This just proves that when you get kicked in the rear, you're really the one out front. Despite what the pundits have said, there's no substitute for message--and the voters know it."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.