Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) leaders hosted a Friday afternoon conference call to rally support for the candidacy of embattled Missouri Senate nominee Todd Akin, who said women rarely become pregnant after "legitimate rape."
The invitation went out from Don Hinkle's Missouri Baptist Convention e-mail address and included a large MBC logo at the top of the e-mail, giving the appearance that the call was an MBC-sponsored event.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former U.S. Congressmen J.C. Watts and Bob McEwen, and Christian Right activist David Barton joined MBC leaders in making pitches on Akin's behalf during the hour-long conference call.
On Wednesday, EthicsDaily.com broke the news of the efforts of MBC leaders to support Akin's campaign during the primary.
The article caught the attention of church-state watchdog group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), which filed a complaint with the IRS on Thursday. AU urged the IRS to investigate the MBC for engaging in political efforts that tax-exempt organizations are barred from doing.
"Pray that God will show his hand," urged former Southern Baptist pastor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. "This could be a Mount Carmel moment. You know, you bring your gods, we'll bring ours. We'll see whose God answers the prayers and brings fire from heaven. And that's kind of where I'm praying is that there will be fire from heaven, and we'll see it clearly, and everyone else will too."
Other speakers spoke in similarly dramatic terms.
"This nation is at literally a tipping point," claimed former U.S. Rep. McEwen from Ohio. "It's not just a crossroads, it's not an intersection. It's at a tipping point. I believe that if we do not change course that five years from now it will be too late."
"If we don't go to the polls and grab our country from the precipice, then we'll have to answer to future generations," he added.
Watts, an African-American Baptist who spoke at a regional meeting of the New Baptist Covenant and served as a Baptist minister before winning a seat in Congress from Oklahoma, praised Akin before exiting the call early.
Watts warned of the growing power of the "homosexual lobby" and Planned Parenthood, and criticized establishment Republicans for working against Akin.
Watts and others on the call mentioned David Lane as a key figure in helping set up the conference call.
Lane, who has led several efforts to politically mobilize pastors, last year joined McEwen and dozens of other conservative Christian leaders in a behind-closed-doors meeting led by evangelist James Robison.
EthicsDaily.com broke the news of this politically focused meeting that even included Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry.
Don Hinkle, editor of the MBC's Pathway newspaper and MBC's director of public policy, invited Baptists to join the conference call.
The invitation went out from his MBC e-mail address and included a large MBC logo at the top of the e-mail, giving the appearance that the call was an MBC-sponsored event.
Early in the conference call, Hinkle led the participants in prayer.
"Father, our hearts are grieved over the state of our nation," Hinkle said. "Bless our time together today. May you be honored and glorified in all we say and do."
Hinkle emceed the call.
During the call, other MBC leaders joined in offering their tactical support for Akin's campaign.
David Baker, pastor of First Baptist Church in Belton, Mo., expressed his support of Akin.
Baker, who is running for MBC president, mentioned he knew Akin well and even had Akin in his church to speak one Sunday. Baker added that pastors needed to speak out on the Akin issue with "courage" like "prophets."
John Yeats, executive director of the MBC and recording secretary for the Southern Baptist Convention, compared Akin's case to that of Sen. David Vitter, who was embroiled in a prostitution scandal while Yeats worked for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
Yeats mentioned he met with Vitter during the scandal. Yeats argued Akin could win since Vitter won re-election with a "transgression" that was more "vile" than Akin's.
"One of the things we have to remind ourselves of and remind our people of is that Congressman Akin represents the mainstream of our values," Yeats told the pastors.
"We need to pray for Congressman Akin and his family and his work, his campaign," Yeats added. "We need to call upon the Lord for resources for him to carry on and fight the good fight."
Dick Bott, founder of the conservative Christian radio company Bott Radio Network, stated that Paul Pressler, a former SBC second vice president, also expressed his support of Akin.
"I was with Judge Paul Pressler, and Judge Paul Pressler said 'please use my name any way you care to to endorse Todd Akin,'" Bott stated. "And, by the way, he made a very sizable contribution to Todd Akin also."
During the call, Hinkle claimed there were "hundreds of Southern Baptist pastors on the line." Following the call, Hinkle bragged the session had helped the Akin campaign.
"Hundreds of Missouri pastors joined in as our guest speakers discussed the controversy surrounding Congressman Todd Akin and his quest to unseat incumbent Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill," Hinkle wrote on his blog Friday night. "All expressed their support of Akin. Pastors have even changed their minds, calling me to tell me they had doubts about Akin – until today."
One key argument made throughout the call was that Akin's mistake represented a minor verbal gaffe that did not warrant removal from the campaign.
Barton, whose book "The Jefferson Lies" was recently dropped by Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson due to historical errors, was brought on the call to offer a "historical" perspective about Akin's error and the response to it.
He noted Akin often spoke at events hosted by Barton's WallBuilders. Barton, who endorsed Akin during the primary campaign, claimed it was "unprecedented" for someone to be so condemned for simply "misspeaking."
"While there are lots of other missteps out there, there are none so small as simply a transgression of words," Barton added as he attempted to downplay Akin's scandal. "I just apologize I couldn't find a better example, but there's really none that I could find anywhere where we take a guy down for a misstatement like this."
Hinkle immediately interjected, "That is astounding. That is simply astounding."
Despite Barton's claim, misstatements have ended candidacies in the past. For instance, 1968 Republican presidential hopeful George Romney, father of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, saw his presidential campaign crash after he mistakenly used the word "brainwashing" to explain his changed position on the Vietnam War.
While Romney's campaign ended due to one poorly chosen word, Akin's remains under fire for a number of reasons, including his false medical claims and his policy position on the issue of rape.
Barton, a former co-chairman of the Texas Republican Party and a delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention Platform Committee, also criticized Republicans who called on Akin to drop out of the race, even questioning the religious faith of some critics.
"We've seen some of the Senate leaders [criticize Akin] but they're not the guys that we're necessarily concerned about," Barton stated. "Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and others, [Ron] Johnson in Wisconsin, but those aren't guys who are considered to be conservative Christians in any way, shape, fashion or form."
Although Brown is considered a moderate Republican, Johnson came to office as a conservative, Tea Party favorite.
Brown is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (a small Protestant denomination), and Johnson is a member of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
Last week as Barton helped write the Republican Party platform in Tampa, Fla., Akin secretly met with conservative Christian leaders in Tampa.
Even as many Republican politicians and strategists urge Akin to drop out of the Senate race against McCaskill, Missouri Baptist leaders and other conservative Christian activists flex their political muscle to support his struggling campaign.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com and an editorial assistant for Churchnet.