Sen. James Lankford: I firmly believe Washington doesn’t fix the country. The country fixes Washington. And the way the country is fixed is one family and one church at a time.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: U.S. Senator James Lankford, from Oklahoma, sharing his perspective on government and family. And we’ll hear from him, and also from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, shortly.
Welcome to Focus on the Family, with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, several weeks ago I had, uh, you know, the privilege to be in Washington, D.C., talking about the importance of the family. Uh, “Focus on the Family’s” perspective on a variety of topics, whether that’s a pro-life perspective, a pro-family perspective, et cetera. Uh, and one of the meetings I had was with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And in that time with him, he said a couple of things that really caught my attention. And I thought, you know, more people should hear this being said. And it’s really one of perspective. It’s not necessarily political, although it has that element to it. But it’s really more insightful about a – a person who’s trying to run the Senate, arguably one of the most, uh, powerful people in the country, and I thought it would be interesting to capture some of those answers.
And we did that a few weeks later. He and his staff, I want to say thank you to, for their willingness to be able to sit down with leader for about 15 minutes and, get some of his insights on what’s happening in government.
And, uh, you know, when I look at scripture, it talks about praying for those in power over us right, there in First Timothy. Paul was very specific to do that. And I think– that’s the heart I’m coming at this with today, is to give you a little more insight into the person of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And also, from Oklahoma, we’re gonna have James Lankford, a rising star within the Senate, and, uh, his insights about how to blend a person’s faith and their vocational calling to be in government, which sometimes, uh, for many of us, we think of that as being in strident conflict. How do you compromise…
Jim: …when you’re in that kind of a situation? You’re gonna hear some very insightful answers from these two men today. So it’s that spirit in which I wanted to talk to them. Take it in that way. I’m not trying to persuade you about the Democrats or the Republicans in this effort. I’m simply trying to humanize what they face every day, and I think that’s gona be insightful to all of us, moms and dads. Um, it’s important to know how the leaders of our country are thinking about certain things. And you’re going to hear that in the interview today.
Jim: Mr. Leader, let me start with this. We had a chat not long ago, uh, and you mentioned something that really intrigued me. You said something about your 33 years of history here in the Senate and how swiftly you’ve seen the government move, uh, recently. Explain what you meant by that. I’m really intrigued by 33 years of history.
Senator Mitch McConnell: Well, I think for those who would like to see America right of center, which is mostly people like us. 2017 was the best year in the 30-some-odd years I’ve been here.
Jim: And why?
Mitch: The Supreme Court. Neil Gorsuch Just the right kind of Scalia successor. But, it wasn’t just the Supreme Court. We inherited a significant number of circuit courts. The circuit courts are just below the Supreme Court. That’s usually the last word in a federal case. Not many cases make it to the Supreme Court.
Jim: They see a much higher percentage of cases than the Supreme Court.
Mitch: Yeah. And in the circuit courts, uh, we confirmed 12 in 2017. Let’s put that in context. That’s the most circuit judges in the first year of a president since the circuit courts were created in 1891. All of them, late 40s, early 50s. You know, there are 1,200 presidential appointments that come to the Senate for confirmation. We’re making long-term changes in the country. Of all the things we could do that would have the farthest reaching impact into the future, it’s the courts, because these are lifetime appointments. You add onto that – we used the Congressional Review Act 15 times to repeal regulations that were over-regulating and slowing down the economy. And then, we capped that off at the end of the year by a comprehensive tax reform bill that is clearly pro-growth, that’s clearly benefiting vast numbers of Americans in every way, by giving them more of their take home pay, or bonuses, or raise minimum wages and all the rest.
So, in my view, that is the most transformative thing that we are doing to impact America long-term.
Jim: Let me ask you. Uh, we all have critics whenever we say something, or do something.
Mitch: Oh, really?
Jim: (Laughter) Yeah. You have felt that a few times, and, uh, I’m thinking, again, of your role. I mean, arguably, one of the top three most powerful people in the nation, and you have sat in that position for a long time. So when you weigh the – the idea of Providence and potential and compromise and all the things that you have to do in your role as a man of faith, many within the Christian community can be critical that you didn’t win something, that you didn’t push something. I just want to give you an opportunity to say to us, here is what really goes on here (laughter), when it comes to moving agendas forward. You have to live in an environment of compromise. That can be tough for absolutists like us, sometimes, when…
Mitch: Yeah, yeah. Well, the Constitution itself is replete with compromises, the Constitution itself. And people are sent here from all over the country, and I can tell you – it won’t surprise you – a Republican from Maine is a lot different from a Republican from Alabama.
Jim: As we know.
Mitch: (Laughter) Not to mention the Democrats. And so, you have to accept, when you go into this line of work, that the perfect outcome is almost never possible. So, you try to achieve – Ronald Reagan used to say, “If I can get 70 or 80 percent of what I want, why would I not take it?” And so, my life is full of compromises, and I think frequently people say, “Well, you’ve made the wrong compromise, you know, you gave up too much.” But, my goal every day, if I can, is to get an outcome that’s right of center for the future of this country.
Jim: So often, I’ll be criticized by the media – and I’d love to put these questions to you and get your response – when they talk about those things that matter to us, a pro-life perspective. And we do appreciate the fact that you allowed a vote on the, uh, Pain-Capable Bill for the pre-born child. It didn’t pass, but you had the courage to do it, and we do thank you for that. Hopefully, that will come back again to where we are saving more babies, rather than terminating them. We at “Focus On The Family” believe in that. We have adoption resources set up to help people adopt these babies, and there are other options, rather than the termination of life.
Mitch: I couldn’t agree more.
Jim: And we’d be a better nation, I believe, if we…
Mitch: You know, the Democrats are actually going in the wrong direction.
Mitch: They now are saying they don’t support the Hyde Amendment anymore. And, you know, that’s been part of the law for 30 or 40 years that you don’t use federal money for abortion. It’s been standard boilerplate American law for some 30 or 40 years. That all changed during the 2016 election.
Mitch: They were actually going further, in my view, in the wrong direction on one of the most, if not the most, important issue around.
Jim: And away from the culture, because younger people particularly are more pro-life than their parents were 20, 30-somethings.
Mitch: And I think – don’t you think that technology’s been our – been a great, uh, ally?
Jim: It has been. We’ve placed about 700 machines in pregnancy resource clinics. We’ve saved 400,000 babies from termination…
Jim: …Because of that technology. So, we’re really excited about that. But the question is this: When I’m being interviewed by the media, they’ll say, “Why – why do you support Republicans? If you’re Christian, shouldn’t you support Democrats as well?” And I try to make the point when President Obama was in place, I don’t think many of us on the conservative side thought he would pursue conservative policies. He would pursue what they call progressive policies. And yet, if we get a conservative into the presidency, or into the Senate majority, uh, they try to shame us to think, “Why would you support a guy, or a woman, who’s gonna pursue those kinds of policies?” How would you respond to that, the fact that some of these values, like traditional marriage and like life, show up and are embraced by the Republican Party? Uh, that’s not an accident.
Mitch: Well, you’re making a judgment based upon the policy positions that we’ve
adopted. And, um, that’s what Americans are encouraged to do– is to actually support people who have, uh, similar views. And I don’t think there’s any question that the issues that “Focus On The Family” cares about are in better position to be accomplished when Republicans control the government. It doesn’t mean that you’re all in the tank for Republicans. You’re interested in the policy. And, um, unapologetically supporting those who advocate what you believe in is – just as American as apple pie.
Jim: And the same for the Democrats.
Jim: So it’s – it’s fair game, is the point, and I appreciate that spirit. Let me ask you this. Again, sitting in this seat as the Senate Majority Leader, um, if you had all the knowledge that you possess right now about the good things and the difficult things in our country, but you’re the average voter, what would you be worried about and what would you be encouraged by, as an American, with the knowledge that you have in your role?
Mitch: Well, I’m – I’m encouraged about the future, because America is very resilient. We are so fortunate that these brilliant people who wrote the Constitution understood that the most important thing to be done was to divide the power. Justice Scalia used to say, “Every tinhorn dictator in the world has got a bill of rights. What America has is the separation of powers.” So our – our very system prevents anybody from abusing. There’s always a check, or a balance.
Having said that, there are trends in the country that disturb me a great deal. I’m optimistic that we’ll get past it, but, for example, the lack of free speech on college campuses bothers me a lot. When I was in college – I mean, we would have a socialist one month and a conservative another month. And everybody would show up, and we’d have great debates, and nobody tried to shut anybody up. And so, I’m worried about free speech in America and whether, uh, the next generation thinks that it’s a good idea to listen to other points of view and to have free and open debate. However, I’m optimistic that these trends come and go in this country and we generally, you know, after wrestling with stupid ideas for a while, put it behind us. Winston Churchill said about the Americans – he said, “You know the Americans always do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else first.”
Jim: That may be true. Mr. Leader, this has been, um, really special. I appreciate your time. I know you’re on a tight schedule. Thank you so much for being with us and for doing what you do on behalf of those of us that are right of center, that believe in the, uh, foundational truths of religious liberty, freedom of speech, all the great things that the Constitution provides. Thanks for being there for 33 years to defend those principles.
Mitch: Thank you for the opportunity to be with you.
John: This is “Focus on the Family.” And that was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a rather rare opportunity, Jim, for you to talk with him for a few minutes at the U.S. Capitol.
Jim: Uh, again, I think it provides a bit of insight about the – the weightiness of the position that he faces. Uh, we may not agree on everything that he has to accomplish. But I wanted to provide an insight into this man and the way he, uh, sees what’s happening. We also spoke to Senator James Lankford from Oklahoma. Now, Senator Lankford is a good friend of “Focus on the Family.” I think he’s the only ordained pastor. He was a youth pastor in Oklahoma, uh, became a congressman and now a senator. And I’m telling you, folks, you are proud, as Christians, to have Senator James Lankford, uh, in the Senate serving on everyone’s behalf. He is quite a voice for the values that we support as Christians.
Jim: Senator Lankford, great to have you back on “Focus on the Family.”
James: Glad to be with you again.
Jim: We’ve done this a few times, now (laughter).
James: We have, but this time, face-to-face like this, is nice to be able to do.
Jim: The, uh – when you look at that responsibility, especially as a man of faith, um, it’s an immense amount of power that you wield, as a senator. Um, how do you manage that responsibility? What – what do you think about, when you combine your faith and your vocation?
James: Sure. Well – the – the chair I sit in is on loan to me from my state. And so the – what I hold, based on the power that I – that I wield is not mine. Uh, it’s the position that people in Oklahoma have given me. And I have the responsibility for a season. I’ll take that off whenever that season ends and hand it to another person. So, part of the responsibility is to be able to hold that position and that title lightly, but also understand that I have a responsibility while I wield that. Uh, the – the key thing for me is, this is what God called me to do – uh, to be able to live out that calling. So my calling, as odd as this may sound, I don’t think has changed now, as when I was a youth pastor years ago, or whatever it may be. The calling for each of us that’s a Christ follower remains the same – to follow Him today and to do what He’s called us to do.
Jim: Senator Lankford, uh, so often in the Christian community today – in the media, particularly – we’re hit for the things that we’re against. Describe for us – especially within the context of senatorial colleagues, you’re fighting this out every day. You’re probably having dinner with people that disagree with you.
James: Right. Sure.
Jim: You’re even having Bible studies…
Jim: …I understand, with people both Democrat and Republican. What is the art of the Christian in the modern age? The art of being firm in the middle, but soft on the edges to open up people’s hearts to the possibility that maybe there’s a different way to think of these things?
James: Right. The grand challenge that we face is actually living with a biblical worldview in the middle of all the context that’s here. And I bump into Christians occasionally that will tell me, “You know, I need you to go there, be mad, throw the tables. Jesus tossed tables in the temple, and He drove everyone out with the whip, and I need you to go do that.” And I typically will smile at them and say, “I understand your perspective. Jesus did that twice, ever. The rest of the time, you often find Him drawing people in and hanging out with the people that probably make you the maddest…”
James: “…And spending time with those individuals.” So, if I go every day and toss tables, uh, that’s probably not being biblical. That’s probably an anger management issue that I’ve got, at that point.
James: So I – I need to be able to go live with a perspective, uh, that Jesus lived with, where He loved people intensely, uh, and understood who they were created to be and were not fulfilling that. And so, He spent time with them, uh, to be able to help go through that process.
Now, there are a lot of issues we don’t agree on. Uh, and it’s not just the Republican-Democrat issues. I have issues with my own party, uh, that I’ll have disagreement on. Uh, ultimately, I walk into this first as a – as a Christian, as an individual that has a biblical worldview. And all of us have a lens. I’m always amazed at the number of people that say, “Well, I come in unbiased.” And I always smile and go, “Really? That just means you haven’t identified what your worldview and what your lens is that you have on, uh, to be able to see that perspective.” I come in, unashamedly, and say I have a biblical worldview. Now, I don’t find a place where Scripture and the Constitution disagree, so I think that – that’s not an issue for me to be able to live out that perspective. But it also affects how I debate. I see that person that I disagree with as a person created in the image of God that has value and worth.
James: And I’m going to treat them with dignity and respect. And I’m going to try to win them over, uh, to a perspective that I have. But I’m also going to listen to their perspective. Now, they’re wrong, clearly. Um, but I want to go listen to their perspective and to be able to take that in and see if there’s something that I could learn, but also find a spot of middle ground. Many of the issues that we face as a nation move very, very slowly. And they come by gaining common ground on key issues, and then moving.
James: But changing the trajectory of where we’re headed as a nation is not going to be a single vote, with a single win, to be able to push people over. It’s going to be the swing, uh, to be able to say, “This is the right way. Let’s start heading that direction and see how we get there.”
Jim: You’ve been in the Senate now for a little over three years.
Jim: …And almost four years. Um, you’ve been incredibly courageous – uh, Pain-Capable Act for the pre-born child. You’ve been one of the stalwart, uh, Christian, uh, leaders within the Senate, in my opinion. And we so appreciate you in that regard. Uh, when you view these bills that you put forward, you’re looking at the common good. So let’s get right to the abortion issue…
Jim: …as an example – Pain-Capable. We were astonished that, um, we’re one of the few countries in the world that allow abortion through the full nine-month term. Um, what was your motivation there? What do you think are the – the baby steps or the big yards to gain as we move forward?
James: Yeah. I actually do like calling them baby steps, when we talk about the abortion issue, uh, because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.
James: …Is to take the baby steps to be able to protect children in the future.
James: There is no question, I believe that life begins at conception. Uh, but there’s also no question that my opinion is not the majority opinion in the United States Senate. So, I start with the question with a lot of senators here to ask, “Where does life begin?” Some would tell me, “Once that child is actually born, that’s when life begins.” Uh, and some would say, “Well, it’s what the court said in Roe v. Wade, that it’s really around viability.” And there’s this nebulous definition of viability. And I would say, “Well, let’s back up and actually look at conception. At the moment that tissue has different DNA than the mom, different DNA from the dad, that they had 10 fingers, and 10 toes, and a beating heart and a functioning nervous system, that sounds like a child to me. It’s just a child you can’t see with your eyes, but that’s still a child that’s growing and developing. The only difference between that child in the womb and a child that is you and I at our age now is time. That’s the only difference.” And so, I come back to that simple principle of trying to be able to wrap around that. So things like the Pain-Capable Bill, which I’ll call late-term abortion…
James: …bill – uh, there’re only four countries in the world that allow elective late-term abortion – China, North Korea, Vietnam and the United States.
James: That’s it. That’s the only four countries in the world…
Jim: That’s amazing.
James: …That still allow elective, late-term abortions. All of Europe has said no. All of Africa said no. Central and South America said no. Most of Asia has said no. We are lagging far behind the rest of the world in this simple understanding of late-term abortions. If that child could be born and be viable on their own, then we would not allow elective, late-term abortions. So, as hard as it is, my first step is trying to be able to catch up people to say, “We should catch up morally to Europe.”
James: And I don’t say that very often.
Jim: That’s amazing.
James: But that’s the point that we are right now as a nation, is to say, “We need to be able to catch up with them” – and then to be able to continue to be able to ask ourselves the hard questions. When does life begin? I firmly believe that in the decades ahead, we will look at the time of abortion in the United States like we look back a hundred-plus years ago at the time of slavery and think, “What were we thinking? How is that possible that we did that as a nation?”
Jim: I agree. And I – when you do survey work or look at the research, the 20-, 30-somethings are more pro-life than their parents. Yeah.
James: Yeah. Human dignity…
James: …Should be valued at all stages of life.
Jim: So the – the tilt is happening. It’s moving in the right direction and in the direction of protecting life. And we appreciate your leadership on that, fundamentally. I – I did an op-ed on the issue of the school shootings, because, uh, you know, I could feel the pain of those kids, especially in Florida.
Jim: That’s the one that seems to be the tipping point in the culture right now. Yet at the same time, I pointed out – this is right, when Joy Behar was criticizing Vice President Pence for being a Christian and hearing from God. And I – I tried to draw this analogy that, “Isn’t it ironic that, um, someone’s being criticized, embracing the teachings of loving your neighbor, not killing your neighbor?” And yet we can’t teach these things to our kids in public schools. I mean, there’s some violation of separation of church and state, which, I think is an absurd thing. The wall is too high…
Jim: …When we can’t talk about moral values in the public square. Could I put a little pressure on you to kind of respond to that idea of, how do we keep our nation together as a virtuous people, like Jefferson and other framers said, that this democracy is only for a moral and religious people? It’s not fit for any other. How are we going to do this, if we don’t have common values?
James: So, it would be no surprise to the listeners of “Focus on the Family,” uh, that I believe the foundational portion of that really is the family. Uh, and a lot of folks would look at elected officials. Uh, and it was amazing to me, after the shooting in Florida that, immediately, it was a run to Washington and to say…
James: “Somebody’s got to do something to be able to fix all this.” The foundational repair first is in families. That’s where it starts, at the beginning. Then, as families affect other families and you have adults that are older adults mentoring young marrieds, mentoring young couples, mentoring young kids, that begins to start a revolution.I – I firmly believe Washington doesn’t fix the country. The country fixes Washington. And the way the country is fixed is one family and one church at a time.
So, I challenge older adults to say, “Are you mentoring a young couple? Would you be willing to go once a week to be able to read to a child at a – at an elementary school that struggles in their reading but also isolated in their family, just so they can have a consistent adult voice in their life?” – and just to be able to encourage them. That makes a tremendous difference. That’s beginning to transition culture in practical ways.
And there – there’s no piece of legislation that we’re going to pass that’s going to fix this. It – it’s like we’ve talked about before. You can’t pass something and fix race issues in America. Those are heart issues. Those are family issues that have to be resolved in the local communities and local conversations. That… the issues we face as a culture aren’t going to be just one more vote. These are going to be cultural issues, and that always begins with the family and older folks mentoring younger.
Jim: It’s so true. And I – I’d like to emphasize that, in terms of the breakdown of the family, people, culturally, are turning more to government to solve that, whether it’s foster care, social services.
Jim: And I – it’s not necessarily a great position for the government to be in.
James: Government rises in complexity as families collapse.
James: And the only way to be able to – and for folks that say, “Our government’s too big,” well, the solution of that is not to try to press down on government. The solution to that is to try to lift up families – and because as families are lifted up, schools see improvement, because parents are engaged and people – adults are engaged in the lives of kids. Criminal justice goes down. Uh, welfare and benefits go down. People learn job skills at home. All those things turn around. But government continues to rise, only because families are continuing to collapse.
Jim: That’s so true. Senator Lankford, this has been so good. I hope you have a long career in the Senate, and maybe beyond.
James: Well, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Jim: (Laughter) But we so appreciate it. Thanks for all you’re doing and taking time. I know your daughter’s here with you on spring break, and it’s special to, uh, just watch the two of you, as well, um…
James: Thank you. I – I appreciate that. I do – I do encourage folks to continue praying. Uh, there’s a lot of ministry and mission to do here, as well, and a lot that can be done. And I like to just poke people to say, “Sometimes we catch ourselves, as Christians, complaining more than we pray.”
James: And, uh, that should not be so of us.
Jim: How can we pray specifically for you?
James: So, those folks that you see on the news that drive you crazy…
Jim: (Laughter) Yeah.
James: Why don’t you stop for a moment and just pray for them and their families?
Jim: That’s a great word.
James: And, uh, pray for their staff that’s around them, as well. Uh, pray for all the families that are here. It’s a difficult place for families, because the family’s under unique pressure from being in the public eye so much. Pray for wisdom for the members and for their staff. That’s a very powerful gain for individuals to have a wise staff and for wise decision-making. And quite frankly, uh, there are a million things coming at us every single day of all kinds of topics. You – you can’t do a million every day. You have to be able to focus on the key things, so we need God’s discernment to know what are the key things we need to do today.
Jim: Yeah. That’s well-said. Let’s do that. Let’s pray. Let’s be proactive. Let’s work in the culture to make families stronger, so government doesn’t have to carry that load. That’s well-said. Thank you, sir.
John: That is Senator James Lankford from Oklahoma sharing his, uh, worldview about his calling to serve in the U.S. Senate. And, uh, those were recorded remarks with Jim Daly at the Capitol building in downtown Washington, D.C.
Jim: Uh, John, again, I’m grateful for the time, uh, these two gentlemen, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator from Oklahoma, James Lankford, extended to us in their packed schedules.
I think our prayers should not be focused so much on winning arguments. That’s important. I get it. But, uh, our prayers should be asking God, calling on the Holy Spirit, to move in the hearts of men and women in government and in the lives of families across the country, to correct those injustices, to help us see clearly– what are the right policies to help us thrive as human beings. I know that’s God’s heart for us, as well.
Senator Lankford said it best. The answer to fixing all that is broken in Washington begins with lifting up families. I couldn’t agree more. And that’s one of our key missions here at “Focus on the Family.” So, I hope today’s program has given you that additional insight on how to do just that.
John: And, as we serve families like yours, and try to be on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the culture, remember to pray for us, too.
Now, Jim mentioned a while ago that Focus on the Family has placed 700 ultrasound machines in clinics around the country through our Option Ultrasound effort. Uh, that program, to date, has saved 400,000 babies! And what a remarkable legacy. Uh, just $60 saves a baby’s life. And so, please. Donate today to Focus on the Family.
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Thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.