For congressman, faith provides a foundation
WASHINGTON — Rep. Ted Poe likes to joke that he…
When two U.S. congressmen visited a small, English-speaking Church of Christ in Brussels, one of them left Sunday worship with something that didn’t belong to him.
Rep. Brett GuthrieRep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., chuckles as he recalls his friend and brother in Christ — Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas — carrying a brown “Songs of the Church” hymnal back to the pair’s hotel.
“I took it by mistake, of course,” Poe said with a laugh, noting that he had his Bible and the songbook in one hand as he greeted fellow Christians with the other.
“We had it delivered by the State Department back to the Brussels Church of Christ,” the former Texas judge added.
Guthrie and Poe serve together on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. During annual trips to the Belgian capital, the congressmen worship with the Brussels church — an ethnically diverse congregation with a Ghanaian immigrant minister named Joseph Acheampong.
Rep. Ted PoeOverall, 91 percent of U.S. House and Senate members describe themselves as Christians, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. However, only two House members — Guthrie and Poe — identify as members of Churches of Christ, noted the report titled “Faith on the Hill.”
A third House member with Church of Christ ties — Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif. — did not seek re-election in 2016.
On the Senate side, Texas Republican John Cornyn was a member of the University Avenue Church of Christ in Austin, Texas, for many years. The Pew report lists his religious affiliation as non-denominational Christian.
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) January 9, 2017
Cornyn spokesman Ben Voelkel said he would try to check with the senator on his current home church, but Voelkel did not provide that information before press time.
“He still has many good friends here,” University Avenue senior minister Eddie Sharp said of Cornyn.
A COMMON HERITAGE
The shared faith heritage of Guthrie and Poe affords a special bond, both said.
“You just have that common background,” said Guthrie, 52, who is serving his fifth two-year term.
“We are very good friends for a lot of reasons,” agreed Poe, 68, in his seventh term, “but one is because we’re members of Churches of Christ.”
Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Kentucky, in his U.S. House office in Washington, D.C. (PHOTO VIA FACEBOOK.COM/CONGRESSMANGUTHRIE)
Guthrie flies home from Washington, D.C., most weekends and worships with his home congregation — the Alvaton Church of Christ near Bowling Green, Ky.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Guthrie grew up in the Chisholm Hills Church of Christ in Florence, Ala. — a community with a heavy concentration of Churches of Christ.
“I went to a congregation where everybody knew everybody,” he said of his early years. “It’s hard to distinguish between my church life and family life. It was all together.”
In Florence, it seemed like half the people attended one Church of Christ or another, Guthrie recalled.
“The Churches of Christ were just so embedded in everything,” he said. “The Little League coach might be your Sunday school teacher. Like anything with faith, it affects you in a positive way.”
BATTLE WITH LEUKEMIA
Poe got his start as a class president at ACU, where he completed a political science degree in 1970 before heading to law school at the University of Houston.
He’s a longtime member of the Bammel Church of Christ in Houston, but a battle with leukemia has curtailed the frequency of his previously weekly trips home.
“I’ve had a lot of prayers from people all over the world, and the prayers are working,” said Poe, who was diagnosed in July and initially received chemotherapy at the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “The leukemia is in remission, which basically means it’s under control.
“I’ll be taking treatments for several more months, but everything is going well,” added the congressman, who is now receiving care at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington. “Absolutely, my Christian faith has been the reason I am doing as well as I am.”
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, right, pays tribute to his father, Virgil Poe, a World War II veteran and longtime member of the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston. (PHOTO VIA WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/JUDGETEDPOE)
FAITH AND POLITICS
Turning the conversation back to politics, Poe said both he and Guthrie would love to see more members of Churches of Christ seek public office.
“We need more believers in government,” Poe said. “I think that’s something members of the church ought to look forward to. People ask me about it, and I say, ‘God put Joseph in charge of government in Egypt.’”
David Lipscomb, a prominent Civil War-era leader of Churches of Christ, argued that Christians should separate the “kingdom of God” from the “kingdom of the world” and not even vote, according to the Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia.
Two centuries later, most members of Churches of Christ see no problem with voting, said Stephen Morris, a law and political studies professor at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn.
However, Morris said, “I do think a less extreme version of Lipscomb’s views — that politics are corrupt and inherently corrupting, an entanglement in worldly matters, inconsistent with the Christian walk — remains prevalent in the church today. I know I heard it when I was growing up, and it’s a question that is still raised periodically in my classes.”
The United States has a population of about 324 million. The nation’s 12,000-plus Churches of Christ have an estimated 1.5 million adherents — representing roughly one in every 216 Americans. By that measure, two House members out of 435 would be about right.
It’s a matter Guthrie and Poe might contemplate during one of their frequent conversations on the House floor. Or on their next flight to Brussels.
“We spend a lot of time talking about the history of the Church of Christ — things like how it expanded in the 1800s and Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone and those things,” Poe said, referring to two of the early leaders of the Restoration Movement.
The last time Guthrie and Poe visited the Brussels church, Acheampong insisted on one of them preaching.
“To my utter surprise, both of them preached that day, and we had two wonderful sermons in one worship,” the minister said.
During a visit to the Belgian capital, Rep. Brett Guthrie, left, and Rep. Ted Poe, right, pose with members of the Brussels Church of Christ. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY JOSEPH ACHEAMPONG)
When 35 people died and more than 300 were injured in last year’s Islamic State terrorist attack in Brussels, the congressmen were among the first to check on the church members.
“We greatly appreciated their kind, brotherly gesture, which demonstrates that when the love of Christ our Lord and God our Father is perfected in us, it knows no boundaries,” Acheampong said.
Congressman discuss President Donald Trump
REP. BRETT GUTHRIE: “For the last six years, we’ve been doing a lot of work trying to move an agenda forward that we think is better for the country, to move the country forward. A lot of times it would stall on the Senate, until … two years ago when Senator (Mitch) McConnell became the leader instead of Harry Reid. But then we would get stuff vetoed at the White House. So now I think we can put forth (legislation) to move our country forward in a very positive way. I think conservative principles are what built this country, and I think going back to our basics is going to continue the opportunity for our children to have a better life. And I think that we have the opportunity to have a president that will sign bills and move this country in a positive direction.”
REP. TED POE: “”I am optimistic about him. I’m optimistic about his presidency. … the reason being I think he’ll promote more individual freedom, which is what our country is all about. That’s why I’m optimistic about him. And I really like Mike Pence the vice president. I know him quite well. We served together in Congress. He specifically is a strong man of faith. I’m optimistic about the new administration. I really am.”
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