Two of a Kind

Reps. James Lankford & Tim Scott

"Two of a Kind" was originally published in the August/September 2011 edition of Citizen magazine.

It's no secret that nearly 100 new conservatives were swept into Congress during the 2010 elections. But what most people don't know is that several of them have more in common than just the "R" beside their names. They are outspoken about their faith.

Take, for instance, James Lankford from Oklahoma and Tim Scott from South Carolina.

At first blush, Lankford and Scott could not be more different. One is from the Midwest; the other, from the Deep South. One is married with two kids; the other, a bachelor. One is a self-described "political rookie"; the other, a seasoned politician. One is an ordained pastor who directed the nation's largest Christian camp; the other, an entrepreneur and public servant.

Yet, on closer inspection, Lankford and Scott could be brothers — in the faith, that is. Not only are they strong fiscal, economic and social conservatives, but they are also evangelical Christians who unashamedly discuss their faith — in season and out.

So what happened to make these two leaders "two of a kind" when it comes to their faith?

Firm Foundations

The lives of both men are a testament to the wisdom of Proverbs 22:6: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."

Lankford, 43, and Scott, 46, experienced at an early age the devastation of divorce — at ages 4 and 8, respectively. However, both men had godly mothers who instilled biblical principles at an early age. Providentially, Lankford and Scott also had godly men come alongside and mentor them. These men influenced not only the worldviews of the two future Congressmen, but also the trajectory of their lives.

The preaching and teaching of W.A. Criswell — whom many refer to as the "C.H. Spurgeon of the 20th century" — changed Lankford's life while attending First Baptist Church of Dallas. He was baptized at 8 years old.

Like Criswell, Lankford has the gift of a scholar's mind and a zeal for following Christ. Whether he was debating the news of the day with his mother and brother, or competing on a high school debate team — while still in the fourth grade — it is evident now that the future legislator was undergoing rigorous training for his current assignment.

During the later part of high school, Lankford's youth pastor spent time studying the Bible with him. "I started growing in my own faith, and I saw the benefit of [being a youth pastor]," he said.

After college, Lankford earned a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas. After a number of years in pastoral ministry, he accepted in 1996 the directorship of Falls Creek youth camp in Oklahoma. Under Lankford's leadership, Falls Creek's yearly attendance exploded. By the time he resigned to run for political office, annual youth camp attendance exceeded 51,000.

In February 2009, it was the Old Testament book of Nehemiah that confirmed the path that Lankford and his wife, Cindy, should take — the one to Capitol Hill. The couple had been burdened by the country's spiritual, economic and moral decline. While preparing to teach Nehemiah, Lankford realized he had a lot in common with the Old Testament figure. Nehemiah "apparently had no leadership experience. His experience wasn't in wall building. It wasn't in governing," Lankford said. "But he had been faithful to it, and God had given him a burden for Jerusalem." Likewise, Lankford had no political experience and had never run for office, but he had a burden for this nation and wanted to be faithful to God's lead.

Lankford said Nehemiah's prayer — "Give me favor with the king" — is what touched him most. "It's almost as if Nehemiah understood what he had to do, but [he] also understood, 'There is no way that will happen unless you give me favor. I understand what has to happen, but that's not possible, unless you give me favor.' " Lankford appears to be following in the footsteps of Nehemiah and addressing the imminent and complex effects of a nation in moral decline.

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Almost like a scene out of a movie, John Moniz — a "Christian conservative, white Republican" — stepped into Scott's life.

Around the age of 14, Scott was flunking out of high school. One day when Scott was eating fries at Chick-fil-A, Moniz "came over and sat down next to me and started talking. [He] sold me on the fact that all things were possible. Even a kid living in poverty could one day buy his mom a house — without the aid of football. He made me understand the importance of hard work and education. He had great faith and he helped lay the foundation for my future."

For nearly four years, before he died of a massive heart attack at 38, Moniz mentored Scott, and his grades improved. "John taught me the value of hard work, judging the life from the inside. Most of life on the outside was unattractive. The neighborhood wasn't great. School wasn't fun. But John taught me that if I could see life from the inside out I would be unique."

Unique, indeed. By the end of high school, Scott's peers had elected him president of student government. "I always knew that the Lord could use my desire to serve people in a bigger way," he said. "It was through those years in student council that I discovered what would ultimately become my dream."

During his first year at a Presbyterian college on a football scholarship, Scott fully committed his life to Christ. "My understanding, comprehension and study of the Word of God became of the utmost priority."

Moniz was Scott's first godly mentor, but not the last.

"I've always had the privilege of having strong mentors," Scott said. In fact, he would sometimes seek them out. "I knocked on the door of Al Jenkins, a minority business owner. Al invited me in, and we talked for a while. Twenty-two years later, he's still my mentor, and an amazing man who loves the Lord."

Scott said the friendship reflects Proverbs 27:17, where iron sharpens iron. "That [friendship] is a big source of my strength and recreation: Having a guy praying with me, meeting with me and holding me accountable, for almost two decades. It seems like the will to win is what everybody has, but the will to prepare to win is a little different."

Training Ground

Both men credit their previous occupations with uniquely equipping them for Congress.

Falls Creek proved ideal in preparing Lankford for his current role, especially with skills such as conflict management and problem solving. "Falls Creek camp has 51,000 guests. We have a lot of opinions and attitudes. We have hundreds of churches that are involved — and all their leadership — so working with leaders to form consensus and then make a decision, working with a large budget, working with the complexity of 150 staff. All of those dynamics play into the day-to-day operation of what I had to do. The key thing is we had to solve problems."

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The Charleston County Council — where Scott served for 13 years, and four times as chairman — helped to prepare him for Capitol Hill. "It really gave me a rein on a number of issues that have a natural federal effect. Bigger numbers, different system, but the same game, so to speak. It certainly helps to understand the necessity of building a better economy through the private sector — and not through the arms of the government."

Yet it wasn't always easy for Scott.

"In the beginning, it was a mixed bag," the conservative South Carolinian said, of working with a largely Democratic black community while on the Charleston Council. "But for me it starts with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And through that we understand the responsibilities of being an individual [in Christ]." Over time, Scott won them over. Nearly one-third of the black pastors in his district endorsed Scott during his bid for Congress. "Now folks understand and appreciate my sincerity and conviction to help transform the community without the government as the main character in the play," he said. "I've earned their support through credibility. We don't always agree on the issues. More important than the issues is the relationship."

Taking the Hill

While you won't find Lankford and Scott stationed on a battlefield, they are on a hill that conservatives are trying to secure: Capitol Hill. And as the ideological and spiritual battles rage on, these brothers in Christ are humbly aware that it is God alone who took them to Washington, D.C., and who will direct their every step.

Both congressmen proudly caucus with the socially conservative Republican Study Committee. Scott is also a member of the Republican Prayer Caucus and the Values Action Team, which meets weekly with a number of pro-life, pro-family nonprofits.

As a member of the House leadership team, Scott said he's a "full-time communicator, collaborator and consensus builder around the conservative construct," as well as a member of the influential Rules Committee. He's often reminded of Luke 6:38:

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

"As a servant [of Jesus Christ], the first goal is to serve and the second goal is to listen," Scott said. "And, if you do those two things, I think people will understand your heart and give you more grace and deference during the times that you vote in a way that's inconsistent with what they believe is in their best interest."

In addition to his leadership duties, Scott has sponsored or co-sponsored legislation that promotes the family, directly and indirectly. In his short time in Congress, the South Carolinian has signed onto some hot bills.

He has also sponsored legislation that prevents unions from demanding mandatory dues; thus halting the devastating effects that unions have imposed on politics, the federal budget and socially conservative values. Each year, they have spent hundreds of millions to undermine marriage, life, parents' rights and other conservative values that are cherished by the very members who pay the dues, but have no say on how it's spent.

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Lankford is meticulously asking the hard questions as a member of three high-profile committees — Budget, Transportation and Government Oversight. He was also given the chairmanship of an Oversight subcommittee — a rare assignment for a freshman.

"Contextually, the Proverbs were written to political leaders," he said. "For instance, a wise man leaves an inheritance to his children's children. That's a basic principle. How do we handle debt as a nation? We should be leaving an inheritance to our children's children, instead of spending the inheritance of our children's children. We are backward. So, how do we correct that? How are we able to honor the poor? How are we able to promote justice? How do you not get distracted from practicing what is right and just? How do you not give favoritism to people because of their wealth or their position? Those are all clear principles that come out of Proverbs about how to be a leader. It helps ground me."

The National Crisis — More Than Just Fiscal

Most, if not all, of the 2010 freshman Republicans are of a symbiotic mind when it comes to addressing the most challenging issue of the day: The need to stop and reverse the rapid growth of government, its penchant for spending and its unsustainable debt. However, several are willing to admit publicly that the current economic crisis is also a moral and social crisis, including Lankford and Scott.

"At the heart of many of the problems facing our country stands an institution under siege," Lankford proclaims. "That institution is the American family. The best way to ensure a strong nation is to have strong families. Any part of our government structure that has a penalty for marriage must be eliminated."

Scott also turns to Scripture, and said that trying to address fiscal issues without considering the social and moral implications is foolish. He immediately cited two verses from Proverbs: "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender" (22:7) and "Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts." (22:26).

Lankford agreed. "I don't know of another generation of leaders that has said, 'Times are tough. I'm going to make it tougher on my kids to make it easier on me.' As weird as it sounds, I think people see debt as a moral issue, and they think if you will go aggressively after debt, that is the moral issue of the day."

Fearless Debate

Whether it's the liberal Left in Congress, the political punditry or the mainstream media, the emphasis is the same: Social issues are passé and on the legislative back burner. Yet during a heated point in the economic debate, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Feb. 24 that it would no longer defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

Lankford took to the House floor to call out the hypocrisy:

"This is not the way to deal with the gay marriage debate, is for the president to just sweep it aside and say 'I will not enforce the law.' Many in this chamber are well aware of my traditional view of marriage and my biblical worldview. I am unashamed of my personal faith in the Jesus Christ. I believe words have meaning though. And that the meaning of marriage is the union between a man and a woman. The Defense of Marriage Act codified that definition into law, representing the belief of a majority of Americans. This issue is well beyond faith … or social issue or political issue. Marriage is now not only the center of a national social debate, but also a constitutional debate.

"Weeks ago, some members of the press suggested that Republicans would ignore the budget and focus on social issues. I find it ironic now that the president has submitted a budget that will raise the national debt to $26 trillion — by his own numbers — and he has decided to change the national debate from fiscal issues to social issues and gay marriage. …"

Lankford told Citizen that Scriptural warnings are not only clear for politicians and the nation, but also for the church.

"We have a first responsibility to take care of those in poverty. To take care of our own families. To take care of the needs around us. The more that the church backs up from that, the more the government engages in it. That affects how we are processing, as a nation, our own budget. … You'll find this historically: The more the nation and the family breakdown, the more social services are needed. The more strong families you have, the less government you have. When you have weak families, you have more government. So we are in this endless cycle that we have got to pull out of. The only way to pull out is [to have] churches engaging in [preserving the] family."

Staying Grounded

While the hours are long, the pace grueling and the problems significant and complex, these two freshman legislators proudly declare their reliance on God's Word, as well as time in prayer and fellowship with other believers on the Hill.

"I try to surround myself with people who are incredibly competent at what we do on behalf of the citizens," Scott said. "The top levels of my team are born-again believers who understand how to make a difference in this world. They keep me accountable."

Scott said two Scriptures, in particular, have given him peace and direction in his leadership role: Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. … He restores my soul … I will fear no evil …" and Luke 6:38, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

"The fear of my life is to become Washington, D.C.," Lankford said. "I don't represent Washington; I represent Oklahoma City and the area around it. I always want to live, think and function as the people that I am around there."

Lankford said he desires accountability. "I need people that know me, not as congressman, but as James. They can look me in the face and say, 'You're off balance in your walk. You're starting to be caustic in your words. That's not who God has made you to be.'

"If I'm going to live out biblical principles here, it is [going to be] a challenge. Everyone is so caustic that you think, 'OK, I do need to stand for what is right, but I don't need to be belittling. I don't need to do it in a way that attacks.' And that will always be the temptation, because everybody always draws you into attack mode. So you think, 'Stand for what is right, but do it with biblical consistency.'

"I don't want to punt and then have someone who attended the youth camp 10 years ago say, 'Gosh, that's what he's become?' That's not going to help the kingdom."

Copyright © 2011 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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