For more than 14 years, James Lankford has given remarkable leadership to the program for Youth Falls Creek. We have seen unparalleled growth at what is presumably the largest youth assembly in the nation. During these 15 camping seasons, the attendance has gone from 42,876 to a peak in 2008 of 54,990. James is one of the brightest and most spiritually mature young leaders I have ever had the privilege to walk beside.

In addition, he has provided leadership to GO Students, a ministry designed to involve high school students in hands-on mission projects overseas. This year, 251 students and sponsors from 156 churches spent 10 days on mission in Wales and London, and 25 college students were there on mission for five weeks.

This young leader is an effective and widely used communicator. He has preached in churches, both large and small, with excellence and spiritual power. James has been interim pastor for several Oklahoma churches. In fact, he and I have tag teamed at two of our churches. Some folks joked that it was like having Andy and Opie preaching because we both had red hair. (OK, before you comment, I am well aware that my hair is no longer red.)

Several months ago, James asked me to meet him at Starbucks for coffee and a chat. He unfolded for me a very clear direction he had sensed from the Lord. He told me that he believed he was being led to run for the 5th District Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Mary Fallin. On the one hand, I was shocked. On the other, I know James well enough to be certain he would never do such a thing without absolute direction from the Lord. This week he filed paperwork for an exploratory committee with the anticipation of announcing his candidacy later in September.

For years, I have challenged good and godly men and women to consider seeking public office. There is a great and continual need for leaders of high moral character and deep Christian values to fill the legislature and Congress. So we applaud James for his continued obedience to the Lord, but we also realize the sensitive nature of such a move as it involves the Convention. So, it is important for you to understand how we will move forward with James as he begins this new journey in his life.

When he officially announces his candidacy, James will resign as a staff member of the BGCO. While many candidates remain in their occupation while running, we believe that separation of church and state—both real and perceived—must have primacy in this situation. However, I have asked him to serve as a consultant to help plan and execute the 2010 Falls Creek youth weeks. In that capacity he will be paid for the hours he works and for expenses related to Convention business.

In regard to not endorsing candidates, the Convention will not change its long held stance. Although we have high regard for James and applaud his desire to make a difference as a congressman, we will not endorse him. Convention personnel, property and facilities will not be used to advocate for any candidate. At the same time, Convention personnel are free as private citizens—on their own time and with their own money—to support and work for the election of any candidate of their choice.

Our position in any election is to call attention to those moral and ethical issues that we believe are fundamental to a strong democracy that is founded on Judeo-Christian truth. We will challenge all candidates for public office to identify their positions on these crucial subjects. This is characteristic.

God is not a Democrat, Republican or Independent. Neither is the BGCO. Even when people for whom we have great admiration, love and respect run for office, we will seek to remain focused on the issues. It is the responsibility of every citizen, before voting, to weigh each candidate’s character, positions on issues and personal accomplishments. In America, voting is a right and privilege of each individual who enters the voting booth.

In closing, I am very proud of James Lankford. I love him and believe in him as a man of God. He has contributed in incalculable ways to the progress of Falls Creek and the advance of the Gospel. If the voters of the 5th District choose him to represent them in Congress, it will be a great loss to Oklahoma Baptists, but a great gain for America. We wish James the best as he pursues a new direction in life.