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  • Writer's pictureDanbury Staff

Life & Liberty Forum platforms national leaders urging Christians to stand for truth in the public square

July 2, 2024

INDIANPOLIS – The Danbury Institute’s Life & Liberty Forum, held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting, brought together more than 700 pastors and church leaders from across the country. The forum aimed to educate attendees about pressing issues facing America, particularly those affecting churches and Christians, and to encourage them to lead their congregations in becoming more involved in the self-government of their nation.

Opening Remarks

Scott Colter, Chief Executive Officer of The Danbury Institute, opened the inaugural forum with a passionate call to action. He emphasized the critical mission of The Danbury Institute, highlighting its commitment to mobilizing churches and Christians to engage actively in the nation’s self-governance. “We are Christians, we are local churches, we are organizations coming together into a coalition concerned about our country for the sake of our children,” Colter said. He underscored the urgency of the times, noting, “You don’t have to look far to determine that our country is heading the wrong direction.”

Colter stressed the importance of churches and Christians in changing the course of the nation, saying, “We believe that churches are the way that God will use to change the course of our cities, our states, our communities, our Southern Baptist Convention, and our country.”

The Danbury Institute is a coalition aimed at addressing the two greatest challenges facing the nation today: religious liberty and the sanctity of human life. “We are here to bring people together to stand as a united front for religious liberty and for the sanctity of human life,” Colter explained. He invoked the historical precedent of the Danbury Baptists, who advocated for religious freedom in the early days of America, drawing a parallel to the Institute's mission today.

“The Danbury Institute today picks up that banner and carries it forward as a coalition of churches and like-minded organizations and individuals representing, speaking, and advocating for our shared Christian values,” Colter concluded, setting a powerful and motivating foundation for the day’s discussions.

Brad Jurkovich, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bossier City, Louisiana and member of the board of directors for The Danbury Institute, welcomed the attendees. “We love the Lord Jesus, we love this nation, and we want to see God do great things,” Jurkovich said. “This forum is an encouraging and sobering time to understand the times in which we live.”

Introducing The Leland Project

A significant part of the forum was the introduction of The Leland Project, named after the influential pastor John Leland. This initiative encourages churches to form Culture Impact Teams, which will educate and mobilize congregants on current issues, register voters, and advocate for biblical values.

“We need churches to move off the sidelines,” emphasized Colter. “By forming Culture Impact Teams, churches can be a powerful force for change in their communities and our nation.”

A Call to Action

Marine Tim Lee, a decorated Vietnam veteran and evangelist, delivered a passionate address urging Christians to move from passivity to action.

“America is in trouble,” Lee said. “God cares about nations, and righteousness exalts a nation. We can’t be sitting on the sidelines; we must take a stand for God in every aspect of our lives.”

Lee's message resonated with the audience, underscoring the urgent need for Christians to engage in the nation's political and cultural battles.

Mark Walker, former United States Congressman from North Carolina and current advisor for the Republican National Committee, was a keynote speaker for the Forum. During his address, he underscored the crucial role of political engagement and the power of the collective Christian voice.

“When Christians speak up and stand together, we can influence policy and protect our values,” Walker remarked. “Our voices matter, and they must be heard in the halls of Congress.”

"Our faith calls us to action. We cannot sit idly by while our values are undermined. We must be proactive, informed, and unwavering in our commitment to protect our religious freedoms," the congressman said.

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed the recent resolution on in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the broader pro-life movement, as well as a biblical perspective of the state of the justice system in America. Mohler began by discussing the resolution on in vitro fertilization (IVF) brought forth by himself and Andrew Walker. He argued that the true pro-life victory lies in the complete elimination of abortion and the recognition of the sanctity of life from fertilization to natural death.

"Restricting abortion is not a pro-life victory. It's a means towards an eventual pro-life victory," Mohler said.

He criticized the lack of political will to support life-affirming rulings and called for a consistent pro-life ethic within the church.

"Any intervention with an embryo, any commodification of the embryo, any turn of the embryo into a consumer product is an assault upon human dignity," he emphasized, urging Southern Baptists to support the resolution.

Shifting to the state of the American justice system, Mohler expressed deep concern over the politicization of legal processes, particularly the recent indictment of former President Trump by a local prosecutor in Manhattan.

"America cannot survive a regime of novel prosecutorial arguments," Mohler warned, highlighting the dangers of using the legal system as a political weapon. He pointed out the historical misuse of the courts to achieve progressive aims, stating, "The left in the United States has been mostly unable to achieve its aims by legislative means. It keeps turning to the law."

Mohler called on evangelical Christians to understand the critical stakes of the 2024 election, stressing that the outcomes will shape the nation's future profoundly. He concluded with a powerful reminder: "Understand that it comes right down to life and liberty. And on those two fights, we will not be absent.”

Ryan Helfenbein, Senior Vice President of Communications for Liberty University and Director of the Standing for Freedom Center, emphasized the urgency of the current cultural moment in his remarks at the forum. He expressed gratitude for the gathered pastors and faith leaders, stating, "The hour is late. And I just want to say, first of all, that I am so grateful for each man and woman that is in this room that has gathered for common concern."

Helfenbein, sharing the vision of Liberty University and its commitment to educating the next generation with the truth, highlighted the need for truth in today's society, pointing out that many people do not understand what truth is. He underscored the importance of knowing who Christ is, saying, "Who do you say that I am? That is the most important question." He also praised The Danbury Institute for its commitment to these values, encouraging the audience to be "dangerous men and women who will make a difference and an impact for the kingdom of God."

Helfenbein concluded by advocating for Christian education as a means of evangelism, urging attendees to pursue a Christian education and stand firm in their support for the nation of Israel.

Addressing Key Issues

The forum's panels provided a deep dive into two primary issues: the sanctity of human life and religious liberty.

Sanctity of Human Life

Moderated by Sharayah Colter, Chief Communications Officer for The Danbury Institute, the first panel addressed the ongoing fight for the sanctity of human life in a post-Roe v. Wade America. Panelists included Tom Ascol, Natalie Bowman, David Closson, and Julie Scott Emmons.

Natalie Bowman, director of pro-life initiatives for The Danbury Institute and a licensed social worker, highlighted the courageous decisions made by women facing unplanned pregnancies and the essential role of the church in providing support.

“These women are making one of the most brave and bold choices of their lives by choosing life for their babies,” Bowman said. “The church can be a huge answer to the solution that these women need.”

Encouraging churches to engage in solving the needs of women facing unplanned pregnancies, Bowman emphasized the critical role of supporting local pregnancy help centers and foster care initiatives as churches.

"Pregnancy resource centers really are where it starts for these women," Bowman explained, urging churches to volunteer and provide resources. She highlighted the severe challenges faced by children in the foster care system, advocating for more Christian foster homes where children can "learn about the love of Jesus." Bowman also suggested practical support measures, such as creating emergency kits and meal trains for foster families, stating, "Churches can really help these children" and offering her assistance to help churches get started.

David Closson of the Family Research Council pointed out the need for more education within churches on the issue of life.

“Only 44% of churchgoers have heard a sermon or teaching on abortion in the last year,” Closson noted. “We need to be talking about and teaching on these issues in our churches.”

Citing the findings of a nationwide survey conducted by his Center for Biblical Worldview at the Family Research Council regarding the beliefs of regular churchgoers on abortion, he revealed that while 63% of regular church attendees identify as pro-life, 22% consider themselves pro-choice, and 10% are undecided. Closson highlighted a concerning lack of biblical understanding, noting that only 65% of respondents believe the Bible identifies when life begins, with varied interpretations on the exact timing. He emphasized the need for more comprehensive teaching in churches, as only 44% of churchgoers reported hearing a sermon on abortion in the past year.

"No wonder we're confused," Closson remarked, stressing the importance of addressing these issues from the pulpit to better disciple congregations.

Sharing personal stories of families who chose life, Julie Scott Emmons of Human Coalition emphasized the tangible impact that churches can have on supporting these decisions. "When churches step up, lives are changed," Emmons said. "We have the opportunity to make a real difference."

Emmons highlighted the alarming rise in the use of the abortion pill, which now accounts for more than 60% of all abortions.

"It's not one pill. It's a regimen of medication," Emmons said, detailing how the first stage terminates the pregnancy and the second stage expels the fetus. Emmons warned that the abortion industry is aggressively promoting these pills online, making them accessible even in states with abortion bans.

"Any woman or girl sitting in your church pew can get online and get that pill regimen in her mailbox in several days," she said, urging churches to be proactive in providing resources and support for women facing unexpected pregnancies.

"It's very urgent to love the women and girls in our pews well and to make sure that they know where to turn," Emmons concluded, stressing the need for bold advocacy for life.

Tom Ascol, Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla. and president of Founders Ministries, emphasized the importance of unifying around the goal of completely abolishing abortion in the United States, despite differences in strategy.

"The most important thing is, can we agree on the goal? Is the goal the absolute abolition of abortion in our nation?" Ascol asked. He compared the fight against abortion to a football game, stating, "When you get a first down, you don't spike the ball and go home and say, 'look what we accomplished.' It's not over. We've got to get going."

Ascol expressed frustration over fragmented efforts within the pro-life movement, particularly criticizing the intervention of pro-life organizations that opposed significant legislative opportunities, such as a bill in Louisiana. He called for a unified approach, emphasizing coalition-building to achieve the ultimate goal of abolishing abortion entirely.

Religious Liberty

Moderated by Brad Jurkovich, pastor and Danbury board member, the second panel focused on growing threats to religious liberty. The panel included Ambassador Sam Brownback, C.J. Cavin, and Candi Finch.

Jurkovich said that the role of the church is not just to preach the gospel within its walls but to live it out in the world. That includes being a voice for justice and righteousness in the face of opposition.

Ambassador Sam Brownback, former Ambassador for International Religious Freedom in the Trump administration, highlighted the importance of religious liberty as a cornerstone of all human rights.

"If you can get religious liberty, religious freedom right, it's the one institution, often religion in a country, that can stand up to a government," Brownback said.

He emphasized that religious freedom is fundamental because it enables other liberties to flourish. Brownback warned of increasing religious persecution in the United States, noting that while it looks different from overseas, the suffocating efforts by educational institutions, big business, and the government are aimed at silencing traditionally minded groups.

"We can't just say, well, I'm just going to go away quietly," Brownback urged. "We need to play offense. I'd much rather play offense than defense."

“Religious freedom is under assault worldwide, and we must be vigilant in protecting it here at home,” Brownback said. “Our ability to worship freely is a beacon of hope for oppressed believers everywhere.”

C.J. Cavin, Danbury’s chief legal counsel, practicing attorney, and licensed parliamentarian, emphasized the importance of grassroots involvement in defending religious liberties.

“Every church, every believer has a role to play,” Cavin said. “We must be informed, engaged, and ready to act when our freedoms are threatened.”

The attorney also stressed the importance of church bylaws.

“One of the problems with the culture today and with society today is we're going to pick apart every single thing that you should or should not do," Cavin said. "And the best way to do that and have legitimate grounds to do that is to say, you didn't follow your bylaws. You didn't follow your constitution.”

Candi Finch, dean of women at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and Danbury board member, highlighted the rapid advancement of gender ideology, contrasting it with the slower progression of the homosexual agenda.

“The transgender agenda is happening in just years,” she noted.

Finch emphasized the importance of understanding and adhering to a biblical worldview, stating, “What God created is very simple, man and woman in his own image, but the current culture has gone very far from God's good design.”

She also addressed the indoctrination occurring in educational systems, warning, “We are paying for it with our tax dollars in public schools to indoctrinate in elementary schools.” Finch called for Christians to courageously stand for truth amidst these cultural shifts.

Special Address by President Donald Trump

Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, addressed The Danbury Institute and attendees of the Life & Liberty Forum, expressing gratitude for their support and devotion to God and country. He highlighted his administration's accomplishments, asserting, "We've done things that nobody thought were possible to have gotten done."

Trump emphasized the critical importance of collective action in these challenging times, urging attendees, "We can't afford to have anyone sit on the sidelines. Now is the time for us to all pull together and to stand up for our values and for our freedoms."

Trump strongly criticized the Democratic Party, stating, “They're against religion. They're against your religion in particular."

He called on religious leaders to mobilize their congregations to vote, emphasizing the need to defend religious liberty, free speech, innocent life, and America's heritage. Trump concluded with a message of solidarity, promising, "I'll be with you side by side," and encouraging everyone to vote to ensure a strong future for the nation.


The Life & Liberty Forum successfully met its goal of educating and mobilizing pastors and church leaders to engage more actively in the nation's self-governance. The forum provided valuable insights and practical tools for addressing the pressing issues of our time, emphasizing the critical role of the church in shaping the future of America.

As attendees departed, the message was clear: now is the time for churches to rise and stand boldly for truth, guided by a biblical worldview. The Danbury Institute’s commitment to equipping churches for this mission is poised to make a significant impact on the nation's cultural and political landscape.

“We are stronger together,” Colter concluded. “Together, we can change the course of our country for the better, grounded in the unchanging truth of God’s Word.”




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