Legislative News

 



Click on the tab "ALCAP Alerts" beside Legislative News to read all current alerts during the Alabama Legislative Session.  Click here to sign up for ALCAP Legislative Alerts.

To read all pending legislation go to the Alabama Legislative Information System Online (ALISON).

Note: House bills are identified as "HB" and Senate bills are identified as "SB"

Click here to find the names and contact information of your state legislators.
 
People often call our office to find out how certain legislators voted on certain bills or issues. Project Vote Smart is an excellent resource for finding such answers. Click on the "Project Vote Smart" link then, type in your zip code or the legislator's name, the issue or key word about which you are inquiring and the year. Then click on "Go."

9And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

                                                                                                                


                                                                                                                                  

State of Alabama Opioid Action Plan

The Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council established by Executive Order of Governor Kay Ivey in August 2017 with a charge to develop a comprehensive coordinated strategy to combat Alabama's opioid crisis and reduce the number of deaths and other adverse consequences in our state.

Click here for a copy of the State of Alabama Opioid Action Plan.  The Action Plan in this document was developed through the efforts of Council members and other subject matter experts who served on the Council's seven subcommittees.

All current Legislative Updates are found on the "ALCAP Alerts" tab.
                                                                                 

Gambling or skill? Alabama lawmakers ponder whether to turn fantasy sports into a reality

By John Sharp
www.al.com
March 22, 2017

Is fantasy sports gaming a battle of wits and smarts that's worthy of free-market protection? Or is it just dolled-up digital gambling that deserves being outlawed? Josh Adams, following the debate in Montgomery from 50 miles away, can speak to the questions as well as anyone in the country.

Adams, 38, who lives in Auburn, is already nationally known for his views on the matter.

In the past two years, both the New York Times and the PBS show "Frontline" have come to talk to Adams, a recovering gambling addict, featuring him in deeply-reported stories about fantasy sports gaming and the risky obsessions associated with it.

"I want people in Alabama to be able to play daily fantasy sports," Adams, who works for an entertainment production company in Opelika, said in an interview this week with AL.com. "Most people can play responsibly."

And for people who can't play responsibly, like himself, Adams insists that the industry owes them forthright warnings to stay away, and to tell them where to find help.

In the Legislature, three bills are in play to legalize daily fantasy sports gaming by Alabama players. And the brains-vs.-luck debate is well under way.

"To me, I don't see it as the same type of gambling that I've been opposed to in the past such as the casino-type of gambling," said Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, who is sponsoring one of the bills. "It's about the skills of picking teams that are playing once a day or a couple times a week."

Countered Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program - an organization funded by Alabama churches that opposes gaming of any kind: "It's nothing more than online casinos. They say it's all skill. It's not."

Click here to read the rest of the article.
                                                                                            

EDUCATIONAL UPDATE FROM THE SOUTHEAST LAW INSTITUTE™, INC.

To: SLI Supporters
Date: November 2016  
From: A. Eric Johnston
Re: An Advisory Council on Gaming?

On October 3, 2016, Governor Robert Bentley announced he was appointing an Advisory Council on Gaming.  Among the reasons reported is that it was necessary to resolve ongoing disagreements over electronic bingo, to resolve disputes and controversy that have existed for years on gambling, to avoid selective enforcement of gambling laws, to settle a lack of consensus among the judiciary and determine best practices from other states.  In the Governor’s wisdom, all of this needs to be reviewed and then presented to the people for a vote.  In other words, the Governor is now working for gambling interests in this state and he expects the Council to advise a repeal of that provision in the Alabama Constitution which prohibits games of chance.  In the process, the Governor will discover a new source of income for the state - taxation of the poor.

For those of us who have been involved in the gambling issue, the Governor’s approach is completely transparent.  Possibly, he has been duped by the gamblers, but more than likely, he has chosen to work with them to legalize gambling on the pretext of resolving conflict in the state and increasing revenue.

The apparent genesis of this was the case of State v. $223, 405.86, et al.  The trial court found there was selective enforcement of gambling laws.  The Governor said there is a “quilt work of local constitutional amendments around the state.”  He suggests this is the basis for the dispute which needs to be resolved.

As a matter of fact and law, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court case.  It has ruled consistently in a number of cases in recent years that it is only the gamblers who are attempting to perpetrate illegal slot machine gambling in the name of bingo who dispute our laws.  The cases are not inconsistent and there is no dispute among the judiciary.  The law is absolutely clear.  The Supreme Court ordered on March 31, 2016, that once and for all law enforcement and gamblers should realize there is no question in the law and the law must be enforced.  The Governor has ignored this finding.

The problem is, however, on September 5, 2015, Governor Bentley issued Executive Order 13 which told the Attorney General, who had been prosecuting cases statewide, to desist and allow local law enforcement to proceed.  As a consequence of that action, Milton McGregor reopened VictoryLand on September 13, 2016.  The local DA and sheriff refused to follow the Supreme Court’s instructions and have failed to investigate and prosecute clear criminal acts.  It is a charade by the Governor to suggest that the operations in VictoryLand are questionable.  In fact, he admitted they were illegal in a recent letter, joined in by the Attorney General, to VictoryLand.  

The Supreme Court further ruled that Executive Order 13 has no effect on the Attorney General.  It is his responsibility to enforce the laws.  If local law enforcement refused to do so, it is incumbent on the Attorney General to do so.  The only catch is that the Attorney General does not have the manpower, i.e., state troopers, to do the legwork necessary to enforce his investigation.  The Governor has refused to provide that assistance to him.

So, you see, the Governor has found a way to thwart proper law enforcement of criminal activity in the state, while at the same time suggesting that a council is necessary to resolve these very difficult issues.  It is complete fraud, deceit and subterfuge on behalf of the Governor.  It works only to the benefit of the gamblers.  We know from past legislative experience that the findings of this Council will result in the need to amend Alabama’s Constitution and to repeal its criminal gambling laws, while at the same time passing new laws to legalize gambling in the State of Alabama.

Perhaps, Governor Bentley does not believe the people in the state understand this.  His very special “Council” will lead the way to broad, sunlit uplands of understanding.  Such demagoguery by the morally failed leader of this state will lead only to a dark valley of deceit and crime which will injure not only individuals and families, but the moral fabric of the state.
  
Eunie Smith
Eagle Forum of Alabama

Joe Godfrey
ALCAP

A. Eric Johnston
Southeast Law Institute
                                                                                                           

An 'advisory council' on gaming?

Guest Voices, www.al.com
October 20, 2016
By Eunie Smith, Eagle Forum of Alabama; Joe Godfrey, ALCAP; and A. Eric Johnston, Southeast Law Institute

On October 3, 2016, Governor Robert Bentley announced he was appointing an advisory council on Gaming. Among the reasons reported is that it was necessary to resolve ongoing disagreements over electronic bingo, to resolve disputes and controversy that have existed for years on gambling, to avoid selective enforcement of gambling laws, to settle a lack of consensus among the judiciary and determine best practices from other states.

In the Governor's wisdom, all of this needs to be reviewed and then presented to the people for a vote. In other words, the Governor is now working for gambling interests in this state and he expects the Council to advise a repeal of that provision in the Alabama Constitution which prohibits games of chance. In the process, the Governor will discover a new source of income for the state - taxation of the poor.

For those of us who have been involved in the gambling issue, the Governor's approach is completely transparent. Possibly, he has been duped by the gamblers, but more than likely, he has chosen to work with them to legalize gambling on the pretext of resolving conflict in the state and increasing revenue.

The apparent genesis of this was the case of State v. $223, 405.86, et al. The trial court found there was selective enforcement of gambling laws. The Governor said there is a "quilt work of local constitutional amendments around the state." He suggests this is the basis for the dispute which needs to be resolved.

Click here to read the rest of the article.
                                                                                                             

Southern Baptist leader questions Gov. Bentley's motives for lottery push

By Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com 
July 28, 2016 
 
The Rev. Joe Godfrey, executive director of ALCAP, will lead churches in the fight against a state lottery in Alabama.

Southern Baptists have been fighting gambling since the days of brush arbor revivals across the South.

They remain some of the staunchest opponents of gambling, believing it promotes immorality and hurts the poor.

 Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who took office flouting his reputation as a staunch Southern Baptist upholder of morality, has now called for a special session to consider a state lottery.

 The minister assigned to lead the Southern Baptist fight against gambling in Alabama questions Bentley's motives.

 "Either his morals are not as strong as he claims they are, which we've already seen, or this is a distraction from the scandal," said the Rev. Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, an anti-gambling lobby supported by the Alabama Baptist Convention.

"I've talked to a lot a lot of pastors who are fed up with him," said Godfrey, a former president of the state Baptist convention.
Regardless of Bentley's motives, Godfrey is gearing up for yet another fight against lottery proposals.

"It's a regressive tax on the poor," Godfrey said. "It's deceiving people into thinking it's their ticket out of poverty. They're going to advertise it and sell lottery tickets in poor neighborhoods, and people will spend their entire paychecks. Most of those tickets will end up in the trash."

Then the state's social services agencies will be beset by chronic gamblers and the social problems they cause, including increased Medicaid rolls, Godfrey said. Instead of fixing Medicaid funding, it will create a bigger drain on state services, he said.

 "You're not going to sell enough lottery tickets to sustain it," he said. "It's not producing wealth. It's draining money out of the economy. When people buy lottery tickets, they're not buying goods and services. They're not paying sales taxes. The state will have to raise taxes."

If the state votes to overturn its constitutional ban on lotteries, a push for casinos will be next, Godfrey believes.

"If people vote to allow a lottery, the legislature can come back and put in place casinos," Godfrey said.

"I think it's smoke and mirrors. I think the ultimate goal is to get casinos. They'll come back and say the lottery revenue is not coming in like we thought it would; we need casinos, slots, keno, terminals. It'll be a constant battle from now on."

When he was pastor of First Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove, Godfrey had an older couple in the congregation who went to a Mississippi casino and gambled away everything they had, including the mortgage to their house. Gambling addicts then often turn to churches for assistance, he said.

"If we had casinos, they will go on a regular basis," he said. "They will go every day and sit and gamble all day and lose everything they have."

While many in Alabama travel to other states to gamble, it's not as much a drain as if gambling were more available closer to home, Godfrey believes.

Gambling revenues mainly benefit casino owners, he said.

"The gambling bosses will own this state," Godfrey said.

"A very small amount goes to state government," he said. "When they opened Birmingham Race Course, we were told Birmingham City Schools would never have to worry about revenues again. You see how that turned out. If you look at schools in Mississippi, they are at the bottom of the pile. It doesn't help their schools. Then people don't have money to spend on goods and services when they lose all their money gambling. You'll see more of that."

Although churches staunchly opposed past efforts to create a state lottery, a major factor in keeping them out of Alabama, church opposition has faded as gambling becomes more acceptable, Godfrey admits.

Even Baptist and Methodist churches that once held the line on gambling now see prominent members going across state lines to buy lottery tickets and play at casinos and questioning the traditional moral stance against it.

So the front line of defense in the past now may be vulnerable.

"It's going to be the churches that have to fight it," Godfrey said. "Churches don't have the money and reserves they did in the late 1990s. The recession has hit them hard."

Churches will be hit again if a lottery passes, he believes. "When gambling addicts go broke, they're going to come to the churches looking for help," Godfrey said.

Now Republicans looking for alternatives to income, sales and property tax increases are more likely to resort to a lottery as an alternative, he said.

"This is not going to be good for the economy," Godfrey said. "It sucks money out of the state. You have to raise taxes to sustain services. It's the worst way to raise money. It's still a tax. It's a regressive tax on the poor."

The real solution to state budget problems is courageous leadership, Godfrey said.

"We need to come up with a tax plan that's fair and equitable and cut the budget," Godfrey said. "If you're depending on gambling, you're in trouble. Gambling does not solve economic problems, it makes them worse. When the recession hit, Nevada had some of the highest unemployment rates, foreclosure rates, suicide rates. People stopped going out there to gamble when they didn't have money. Our budget situation is bad, but It'd be worse if we had a lottery."

States that use lottery money for college scholarships have had to raise academic standards for earning the scholarships, which means that children who attend poor schools with few resources often have a lesser chance of getting scholarships, he said.

"In Georgia, poor people are buying lottery tickets to pay for rich kids to go to college," he said.

"It's like Robin Hood in reverse. It's robbing from the poor to give to the rich."

Lottery income also pays for advertising that targets the poor, he said. "The government is asking citizens to invest in worthless lottery tickets," Godfrey said. "It's just sad."

Click here for more information on our website.
Click here for information from Stop Predatory Gambling.  Dr. Joe Godfrey is on the Board of Directors of this national organization. 
                                                                                                     

Title loan interest rate cap gets hearing

Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser
May 20, 2015

A House committee Wednesday morning heard arguments for and against a bill to regulate interest charged on title loans.

No vote was taken on the measure, sponsored by Rep. Rod Scott, (D) Fairfield, and its chances of passage are slim with only a handful of days left in the session. That point was noted by advocates of the bill, which has almost two-thirds of the House membership signed on as cosponsors.

“We’re looking at a long off-season,” Stephen Stetson, a policy analyst for Alabama Arise, a group that works on poverty issues, told the House Financial Services Committee. “It’s a shame 67 cosponsors, which is enough to get (a bill) passed on the floor, wasn’t enough to get it through committee.”

Scott’s bill, similar to legislation aimed at payday loans, would cap title loan interest rates at 36 percent APR and provide for regulations for the disposition of property pledged under loans.

Under current law, title loan companies can charge upwards of 300 percent APR on title loan transactions. Critics of title loan and payday lending consider the practice usury and say it preys on the poor. The industries say they provide credit in areas generally under-served by traditional lenders and cannot survive under the strict rate cap.

“The most difficult part of this issue deals with interest rates and the amount that should be financed or considered,” Scott said. “We were very diligent in working with the Banking (Department) in coming up with a framework.”

Industry representatives, however, said the 36 percent rate cap was a deal breaker.

“It’s not reform,” said Gina Dearborn, speaking on behalf of Title Max. “It would completely put us out of business. 36 percent is not something we can live with.”

Advocates of reform say that the short-term loans trap the poor in a cycle of debt. 
Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, a socially conservative group, said bad title loan operators “preyed” on individuals.
Godfrey said government has a role “to protect (citizens) against foreign and domestic enemies. This would be a domestic enemy.”
Click here to read the rest of the article.  Click here for a pdf copy of the article for printing.
                                                                                                                                                           

What to Do With a Lawless Legislature?

A. Eric Johnston, Attorney at Law

Telephone: (205) 408-8893
Address: 1200 Corporate Drive, Suite 107, Birmingham, Alabama 35242
Facsimile: (205) 408-8894

TO:  ALCAP
FROM:  A. Eric Johnston
DATE:  December 2014
RE:  What to Do With a Lawless Legislature?

The case of Glenn Bynum and Larry Gipson v. City of Oneonta was argued before the Alabama Supreme Court on November 6, 2014.  The case involves a question of a wet/dry municipal option election and an important principle of law.    

In 1984, the Legislature passed § 28-2A-1, 1975 Code of Alabama, a “general law” applicable to all 67 counties, providing that municipalities with 7,000 or more population could decide through municipal option elections whether to sell alcohol within their city limits.  Subsection 3 of the statute explained the cutoff was to protect the public welfare due to complications that arise from alcohol consumption, viz., domestic abuse, DUI, crime, etcetera.  

The facts of this case demonstrated a history of willful legislative abuse in passing the statute at issue.  In 2002, the Alabama Legislature passed a local law providing that towns in Cherokee County with populations of 1,300-1,500 (only the Town of Cedar Bluff qualified) could have wet/dry elections.  This law was in conflict with the general law.  The Legislature asked the Alabama Supreme Court if the bill was constitutional, who explained that it was not.  Nevertheless, the Legislature passed the law.  A lawsuit was filed and the trial court held it unconstitutional.  On appeal, the Supreme Court found a jurisdictional issue and sent it back to the trial court.  The issue was resolved and the case was renewed.  Before the second effort could be tried again, in 2009, the Alabama Legislature amended the general law providing that in every county except Blount, Clay and Randolph Counties, towns with 1,000 persons could have wet/dry elections.  This mooted the Cherokee County case.  

In passing the 2009 amendment to § 28-2A-1, the Legislature violated several Alabama constitutional provisions, viz., though introduced as a general law, it was passed as a local law due to excluding three counties, it was not advertised as a local law and the bill had two subjects.  Notwithstanding the Governor’s veto for the latter reason, the Legislature passed the law.  During the legislative process, the law was amended eight times, most of which had to do with what counties to include and the population of a qualifying city.  It was clear the bill would not pass without limitations.  The most egregious violation of law was the excluding of three counties without a proper reason from being able to vote as the other 64 counties would.  This was a violation of citizen’s equal protection rights under the United States Constitution.

From 2002 until 2009 the Alabama Legislature  was acting at the behest of big alcohol interests to establish the sale of their products in every nook and cranny in the State of Alabama, without regard to the health, safety and welfare of the public, and in disregard of the laws mentioned.  The Legislature knowingly acted unlawfully in this concerted and protracted effort.  As a result, the law was challenged in court by Bynum and Gipson.  

These issues were presented to the Blount County Circuit Court who followed the usual rules of statutory construction, ordering removal of the offensive constitutional language, viz., deleting the three counties who had been omitted, thereby making the law applicable to all 67 counties, and upholding the statute.  In other words, alcohol could be on the ballot of every small town in every county of Alabama.  The injustice of this is that the rule of statutory construction is oblivious to the intentionally unlawful legislative acts to achieve something through the court that the Legislature could not achieve on its own.  

The arguments presented to the Alabama Supreme Court requested the court to mitigate that rule so as to recognize the unlawful intentions of the Legislature.  The only way the Legislature could pass this bill was to exclude the three counties.  If that is unconstitutional (which it is) and the legislative intent was to exclude them (which it was), then the law is unconstitutional.  Put another way, there were only three options for the possibility of this law:  (1) pass it excluding the three counties [which it should not do]; (2) not pass it due to the opposition by the three counties [which it would not do]; or (3) pass it in its unconstitutional condition and let the court correct the unlawful action [which it did].  The latter is not a legitimate option, but it is the reality of the existing rule of statutory construction.

The circuit court is not to be blamed, because it ruled in conformity with existing law.  There appears to be no legal precedent for guidance to courts in situations like this.  On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court was requested to find the entire law unconstitutional.  The court was asked not to do what the Legislature could not do and, certainly, not to be complicit through a judicial slight of hand to participate in the denial of equal protection rights to voters.  We are hopeful the Alabama Supreme Court will further define the rules of statutory construction so that a travesty like this will not happen again.  We are a nation of laws, not men.

Finally, if this law is found unconstitutional, we will go back to the previous law, that is, only municipalities with 7,000 or more citizens can have alcohol municipal option elections.  All of the small towns who have voted under this unconstitutional law to authorize alcohol sales must stop those sales. That will be a good thing.  Otherwise, any changes to the law must completely start over in the Legislature.  It is unlikely the current Legislature would go down this path again. 

I represented Messrs Bynum and Gipson in this case and also parties in the second Cherokee County case.  I appreciate the opportunity to work with these fine citizens who are standing up for their communities. They are to be commended.
                                                                         

What the Election Reveals About Us, and Why We Vote as We Do

WEDNESDAY • November 5, 2014
www.AlbertMohler.com

Campaigning over the weekend, President Obama said, “The American people are with us on all the big issues.” He continued, “You know it. I know it. The polls show it.”

Yet the midterm election yesterday did not affirm President Obama’s statement. In fact, yesterday’s election is what political scientists classify as a “wave election.” The “wave” became evident early on Tuesday evening and it continued throughout election night as Republicans won key seats in the Senate. Even as some elections are still yet to be called, it is clear that the Republican Party has gained control of the United States Senate and now holds control of both the House and the Senate for the first time in eight years .

Furthermore, the pickup in the Senate was even beyond what most Republican analysts had estimated. With Senatorial elections in the states of Louisiana and Alaska still pending, the Republican Party has already picked up seven seats. This is a massive change for America’s political system. Coming in the sixth year of President Obama’s administration, this midterm election is a massive check upon his presidential power and will inevitably be seen as a political judgment upon the President’s leadership. This is due to the fact that the President of the United States is also seen as the symbolic head of his political party – in this case the Democratic Party.

Key Senate elections were won by Republicans in the states of West Virginia, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and also in the state of North Carolina. The change of party control in the Senate will mean that the Republicans now hold key decision-making positions, especially in terms of the key committee chairmanships. Furthermore, the Senate’s very important constitutional role in the confirmation of presidential appointees will also be a major factor in the last two years of the Obama administration. In short, the next two years are going to be very politically interesting.

Claiming victory last night in his own Senatorial contest in Kentucky, Senator Mitch McConnell, who is also now the majority leader, pledged to work with President Obama in a bipartisan consensus where that is possible. Today President Obama is expected to address the nation with his response to the midterm elections. Americans are going to be watching in order to see if indeed the President of the United States and a Republican-controlled Congress can govern together on issues in which there might actually be common concern.

Yet yesterday’s election results also point to the continuing and deepening partisan divide in America. Christians watching this must understand that this partisan divide is not merely a political issue—it is a worldview issue. What divides these two parties is not primarily personalities or regionalism. Instead, what divides these two parties are their visions of political stability, morality, and even what it means to aim for human flourishing. Both parties represent competing worldviews and the most loyal members of each party recognize this reality. What separates these parties from one another are the answers they provide to such basic questions as the meaning of human life, our understanding of morality and even our understanding of marriage.

In last night’s wave election, several very strategic governorships were also on the line. Republicans won key contests in states including Florida, Iowa, Kansas, and even the state of Massachusetts—one of most deeply democratic states in the entire nation. Yet there were other very important issues faced by voters in respective states. In the state of Oregon, for example, voters supported a measure legalizing marijuana. This comes even after the Governor of Colorado warned other states that they should avoid the kind of reckless experimentation that he suggested his own state had engaged in by legalizing recreational marijuana two years ago. In Washington, D.C. voters approved an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana. Yet this vote will not affect the vast areas within the district that are controlled by the federal government. Further, since the D.C. government is ultimately under the control of Congress, Congress may also intervene in this situation. Voters in Alaska also passed a similar proposition known as Measure 2. Meanwhile, an effort to legalize so-called medical marijuana narrowly failed in the state of Florida. It gained more than 50% of the vote but that was short of the 60% that was necessary in order to affect the change.

On the issue of abortion, the states of Colorado and North Dakota turned back personhood amendments—amendments that would have criminalized any assault upon an unborn fetus. In the case of both states, this was a significant setback for the pro-life cause. But the pro-life cause won a huge victory in the state of Tennessee where voters approved Amendment 1—an amendment to that state’s constitution that would allow significant restrictions upon the availability of abortion. This is especially important since Tennessee had become a so-called ‘destination state’ for abortions in the American Mid-South.

The vote in Tennessee, however, was also was deeply revealing. The vote on Amendment 1 demonstrated a very significant moral divide, political divide, and thus a worldview divide between rural and urban voters in that state. Urban voters overwhelmingly voted against Amendment 1 and thus in favor of unrestricted abortion rights. On the other hand, voters in rural Tennessee overwhelmingly voted for Amendment 1. This simply affirms something that political scientists have known for a very long time—rural voters generally vote in a far more conservative pattern than urban or Metropolitan voters. This is in some respects due to the fact that cities tend to draw together persons with more liberal worldviews. At the same time, it also reflects the fact that cities have a liberalizing effect. Sociologists regularly indicate that persons who move from a rural to a more Metropolitan environment also shift their political opinions. This tells us that worldview is also at least partly dependent upon context.

In response to the election, Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban published a rather amazing article in the op-ed pages of the New York Times. They began that article stating,

“As America completes another costly, polarized and exhausting election cycle, it’s commonplace to characterize our society as being divided into warring tribes of liberals and conservatives. But this view oversimplifies the causes of our political differences.”

Their argument continues,
“Most people aren’t ideologically pure, and most don’t derive their opinions from abstract ideologies and principles. People are more strongly influenced by the effects of policies on themselves, their families and their wider social networks. Their views, in short, are often based on self-interest.”
What should Christians think about their argument? Should we accept the fact that self-interest actually guides political decisions? From a biblical perspective, Christians ought to recognize that this is indeed the case. We should expect that in a fallen world it would be nearly impossible for any of us to escape the type of moral calculus that includes our own self-interest. And as these researchers make very clear, self-interest is not limited to an individual perspective, but to our family, to our group, or to our community. 

Weeden and Kurzban continue:
“This point may seem obvious, but it is overlooked by many political scientists who focus on other explanations: parents and peers, schools and universities, political parties and leaders, and that abstract and nebulous catchall, ‘values.’ But the most straightforward explanation, demographics, is also the most persuasive.”

These observations should deeply interest Christians as we consider how political opinions and political decisions are formed. The authors further state,

“Self-interest is not limited to economics. People who want to have sex but don’t at the moment want babies are especially likely to support policies that ensure access to birth control and abortion. Immigrants favor generous immigration policies. Lesbians and gay men are far more likely to oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation. . . . Those who do best under meritocracy — people who have a lot of education and excel on tests — are far more likely to want to reduce group-based preferences, like affirmative action.”

Further:
“A focus on self-interest helps explain why three-quarters of people who went to church as children don’t attend church in their 20s. The young people most likely to abandon the church are those engaging in the kinds of lifestyles — involving alcohol, recreational drugs, premarital sex and nonmarital cohabitation — that religious conservatives condemn.”

Weeden and Kurzban are pointing to something that every Christian leader, parent, or pastor must understand. On the one hand, we recognize that worldview determines behavior—what we believe is inevitably played out in our lives. But we must also recognize, as Weeden and Kurzban point out, that not only does our worldview determine behavior but the contrary is also true – our behavior often affects our worldview.

The illustration used by Weeden and Kurzban is very instructive. Young people who are involved in premarital sex, non-marital cohabitation, and recreational drugs develop a worldview to justify their activities. Of course, this is what all sinners do. Sinners want to justify their sin and in order to accomplish this they try to realign their worldview in order to create moral justification for their behavior. Christians need to understand that Weeden and Kurzban are onto something real here; not only does worldview determine behavior but behavior can determine worldview.

These two researchers are primarily interested in how this plays out in the political sphere. But Christians looking at the same article need to understand that something deeply biblical is being affirmed here. As the researchers very specifically point out, when young people get involved in what the Bible identifies as sinful activities, their worldview often shifts in an attempt to justify their actions—thus leaving the worldview commitments they may have inherited from their church and from their parents and adopting a new set of worldview presuppositions that are at peace with their behavior. As Weeden and Kurzban write, “Despite their early socialization, as adults start making their own decisions, their religion and politics usually align with their interests.”

The results of this midterm election will give intelligent Christians a great deal to think about. But when it comes to the larger issues at stake, the midterm election is simply one episode in a very long story, a story of political engagement that should lead Christians to continue to think ever more seriously about the issues that are really at stake.
                                                                                                                                                                   


                                                                                                                                                                

The following article originally appeared in the Baptist Messenger, a publication of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention, and was later adapted by the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention for one of their publications. It is reprinted here by permission of both the ERLC and theBaptist Messenger.

VIEWPOINT: Cowardly Clergyman?

By staff - May 13, 2008 - 6

Since when does a church or its pastor have to remain silent when addressing moral and social issues from a biblical worldview? There is no shortage on those who would like to squelch the voice of the church, especially during a political season.

Now is not the time for the church and its pastor to turn passive with regard to addressing critical social and moral issues from the pulpit. The pastor must speak with conviction based on the authority of the Scripture, not with results from the latest opinion poll. The pastor must challenge his congregation with the truth of God’s Word without regard to the views and opinions of political parties or candidates.

The pastor must do all he can to provide insight to moral and social issues based on God’s Word. Shying away from or avoiding certain issues for fear of offending a particular political candidate or political party member is acting as a cowardly clergyman.

Pastors have every right to preach on moral and social issues and to encourage their congregations to become active in civic affairs. Pastors should never endorse a candidate on behalf of the church. Nor should they use church funds or services to contribute directly to candidates or political committees. The pastor should never distribute materials on church premises that favor any one candidate or political party. However, the pastor does have the right to address moral and social issues being addressed by candidates and political parties.

The church has every right to encourage members to voice their opinions in favor or against legislative issues. A church should never endorse or oppose a political candidate or make contributions to a Political Action Committee. Nor should churches conduct fundraising for political candidates. However, the church is an excellent place for the community to learn more about the political process and legislative issues.

Unfortunately, too many churches and pastors are standing on the sidelines allowing those with a secular worldview to dominate public affairs and critical legislation. Our silence has been perceived as agreement. We must clear our throats and be heard without concession.

We are not skating on thin ice when it comes to taking a stand regarding moral and social issues. We must not be intimidated by those who desire to silence the church. We are called to proclaim the truth. May Joshua 1:9 serve as our guide as we seek to address the moral and social issues of our day. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” May the Lord find us strong and courageous as together we seek to make a difference within our culture.

It is time to speak up, pastor. Take a stand with God’s Word as your guide! Churches, stand with your pastor as he proclaims the truth of God’s Word with regard to sensitive social and moral issues of the day.

Church members, beware of allowing your political persuasions to compromise your biblical convictions. Know where candidates stand on the issues and support those who share your values as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.

This editorial is adapted and reprinted with permission from the April 10, 2008 Oklahoma Baptist Messenger.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission works to educate Americans about the importance of voting, among many other moral and social issues we face in today’s society. To learn more about this important issue, please visit our Web site at iVoteValues.org.
                                                                                            

The following statement came from the Focus on the Family's "Pastor's Weekly Briefing," dated October 4, 2007:

"This week, a coalition of five Christian organizations released a joint letter to help educate pastors and churches on how to speak on issues relevant to the 2008 elections while staying within the lawful boundaries set for nonprofit organizations. Focus on the Family — along with the Family Research Council, Alliance Defense Fund, Concerned Women for America, and the James Madison Center for Free Speech — is encouraging pastors and churches to become acquainted with their free-speech rights, and to not be intimidated by threats from liberal watchdog groups." [Click here to read the letter.]

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