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James Lankford says he was called to run for congressional seat

Although James Lankford felt called to run for Oklahoma's 5th District seat in Congress, the former Southern Baptist camp director says he knows the task is secular and that he's not running for pastor.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: August 15, 2010

"I believe God calls people to public service," Land said.

Land is in Washington frequently, meeting with lawmakers and administration officials on issues. Earlier this summer, he was in Washington with other religious leaders talking about comprehensive immigration reform that would begin with tougher border security but include an earned path to citizenship.

Lankford told The Oklahoman in June that he wouldn't support legislation that allowed people who had entered the country illegally to obtain citizenship.

Asked how he would view Lankford if he were to win the seat, Land said, "I would look at him the same way that I look upon all of the congressmen and senators from Oklahoma. I'm used to getting a careful hearing from them."

The last time he checked, Land said, "one-third of the people who live in Oklahoma are baptized members of Southern Baptist churches."

Lankford said he would consider Land as another Southern Baptist with a point of view. "There is no one person that represents the views of Southern Baptists," Lankford said.

The resolutions passed by the national convention — such as the one endorsing comprehensive immigration reform — reflect the views of the "messengers" in attendance voting on them, Lankford said.

"Ninety-nine out of 100 don't know what resolutions are passed," Lankford said. "Baptist churches are autonomous."

Explaining his 'call'

Lankford said he knows that "it makes some people uncomfortable" for him to talk about being called to run for Congress. In an interview, he used the word "creepy" twice to describe how some might view it. But he said no one had actually told him that.

"There are all kinds of ways to twist this out of perspective," he said.

In fact, he said, there have been very few times "when I felt God was trying to shift the direction of my life."

Once was in 1994, when he took the position that led to him directing Falls Creek. The other was in the summer of 2008, when he got "the unsettling sense that something was about to occur."

That something was apparently the story about Fallin considering a run for governor.

Lankford didn't feel called to run against her for Congress.

"The moment for me was when I read that she was considering running for governor," he said. "If she had not been running for governor, that moment would never have occurred."

Lankford is a conservative and shares the views of Oklahoma Republicans already in Congress on such issues as abortion, gay marriage, gun rights, Israel, health care reform and spending.

Asked about school prayer, he said, "That's just not something schools should be into." He said he would have problems with a school prohibiting any child from praying.

Fallin's predecessor, Rep. Ernest Istook, a Mormon, pushed for years to get an amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing religious expression in schools and other public places. And Southern Baptist leaders, including Land, pushed back with concerns it would create a new government authority to acknowledge religious belief.

Though he has gotten campaign donations from Baptist church employees and has several volunteers working for him that he knows from his former job, Lankford bristles at the notion that "a small group of Baptists" is working to put him in Congress.

"A lot of folks in this campaign are not Christian," he said.