I was invited to join a group of pastors and other conservative leaders in Tallahassee for a small get-together with Governor Rick Scott and Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll and their families. Following the small breakfast in a crowded room at Florida A&M we then went downstairs for the Inauguration Prayer Breakfast. This event had approximately 1,500 in attendance and featured my friend Bill Bunkley, the Legislative and Government Consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention and the host of Drive Time with Bill Bunkley that airs in the Tampa area, offering invocation as well as Bishop Vaugh McLaughlin of The Potter's House Ministries here in Jacksonville and other Christian leaders, a rabbi from south Florida and Imam Enrique Rasheed from Jacksonville. (I found it interesting on some news posts that the only featured guest listed as praying was the imam. Some had no mention of any of the Christians on the agenda even though all were bold in their prayers and statements and overtly prayed "in Jesus' name.")
The prayer breakfast was emceed by Pastor Kirt Anderson of Naples Community Church who is the pastor for Governor Scott and family. The FAMU Honor Guard presented colors and then an eight year old young lady named Gina Marie Incandela sang the national anthem. Since she was on the floor, most people could not see her (of course, I was a head above most everyone so I could see her a little.) I mention this little girl because once she started singing, I thought we were on America's Got Talent. Gina Marie has an incredible voice and hit notes I didn't know were humanly possible, reminiscent of Jackie Evancho of the aforementioned talent show.
Ann Scott, wife of Rick Scott, congratulates Gina Marie Incandela, 8, after she sang the national anthem at a prayer breakfast at FAMU today. (AP)
The keynote speaker for the breakfast was author and founder of Prison Fellowship, Chuck Colson. Colson founded Prison Fellowship years ago and has written over twenty books on church and culture. He is featured regularly in the Florida Baptist Witness and other papers and is an active member at First Baptist Church of Naples. Yet, he is probably more well known in our nation for a title he earned decades ago - "Nixon's Hatchet Man." As Colson alluded, his story is now taught in US History classes in our nation as part of the story of "Watergate." In 1974 he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the Daniel Ellsberg Case and consequently was sent to prison. It was there where he came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and was transformed and born again as a Christian.
Chuck Colson speaks at the governor's prayer breakfast. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)
From Colson's talk, a few things struck me as key.
- Governor Scott & Lt. Governor Carroll require our prayers. This is a biblical mandate.
- The political culture we have today is worse than ever in his view, and this includes the Watergate era. This really grabbed my attention. This statement came from a man who went to prison on Watergate-related issues and was on the inside of the Nixon White House. For him to say that our current political culture is the worst he's ever seen speaks volumes. This, too, is why our new Governor and other elected officials need our prayer. (BTW - we, as believers, are to pray for all our governmental leaders regardless of political party and personal likes and dislikes - see 1 Timothy 2:1-4.
- In an anti-government culture, we must remember that God ordained government. I believe this may have come as a surprise to some in attendance. Colson mentioned that God first ordained marriage between man and woman with the creation of Adam and Eve. This obviously was a statement about the sanctity of biblical marriage in a culture that wishes to redefine the boundaries. Secondly, God ordained government. He mentioned the angel with flaming sword at the gates of Eden as the first "cop on the beat." Government, Colson stated, was created for justice as a result of the fall of man. Third, God ordained the church.
- Though many are anti-government it seems, and many were recently elected on a "let's fix government and kick the 'bums' out" platform, it must be remembered that God created this concept. I believe that our grand experiment of a republic in the United States is the greatest form of government around. However, reform does need to take place and that is what has led to the birth of the Tea Party and other groups. Governor Scott and others who are new to the political world (including US Senator Rubio and a couple of friends of mine from other states) have a lot ahead of them. It is a daunting task.
- Then, Colson quoted some very interesting statements from Alexis de Tocqueville. I wish I had written them down. While this probably wasn't an exact de Tocqueville quote Colson used, it sums up the point he was making "Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith."
- These quotes were made by Colson. . ."Freedom can never be sustained apart from the cultivation of virtue. Who cultivates virtue? The government? No. You can’t have a virtue commission (though they tried that in California.) Can you teach character to kids? No. Character is learned, not taught. Aristotle was right 2,500 years ago. It’s learned in associations. It’s learned in your family, in your little platoons in your society, the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and all the structures of society, primarily in the church it’s learned."
I met Governor Scott and his wife for the first time today. They are good folks and present themselves with a calm spirit and a humbleness that is honorable. I also had the opportunity to meet Lt. Governor Carroll and her husband Nolan. Most in our community know of the Carrolls. They live in Fleming Island and I have had the privilege of knowing their youngest son Necho for the past six years. He is a senior at Fleming Island High School and plays on the basketball team. I first met him when I volunteered with the girl's junior high team at Green Cove Springs. Back then, Necho was volunteering as the team manager. Even as a young man, I recognized good character in Necho. Now, he's not perfect - no one is, and he is still a teenage boy, but in my opinion, he's a good guy and presents himself with integrity and humility (and when I saw him today, he looked surprised and said "It's good to see you here Mr. Tarkington." Nice. Respects his elders.) What's my point? Based on what Colson said, virtue is learned in the family, society and church. Necho and his siblings are testimony to the character of his parents.
When Lt. Governor had the opportunity to greet the crowd at the breakfast, she made her beliefs very clear. Here's what she said, "Rick and I, to the core, believe that God is our rock and our foundation. And what’s most important is that we are not ashamed to publicly admit it."
Following the breakfast, we made our way to the Old Capitol Building for the inaugural ceremonies. You may have seen it on television. We had great seats and the opportunity to experience everything up close and personal. It had the feel of a good old fashioned political rally, as I guess it should have, complete with a military band (playing songs such as "The Army Goes Rolling Along", "Marines' Hymn", "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie") introductions of former governors in attendance (It was very obvious that Jeb Bush is still very popular. The round of applause he received was almost as loud as Governor Scott's), introductions of other political office winners from the past in attendance, and Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless the USA."
Then, the oaths of office were taken by our new Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi (she must have had the second largest cheering section), Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll and finally Governor Rick Scott.
Governor Scott took his oath. The crowd cheered loudly. He then gave his acceptance speech. As a businessman, it was apparent that his primary goal is to help create jobs for Floridians. Obviously, this was a hot button that led many to vote for him. About halfway through his speech a heckler could be heard shouting from the back. I don't know what he said, but it brought me back to Chuck Colson's statements about the political climate we have today.
It was a day of celebration and pomp and circumstance. Flags were waving. Bands were playing. Statements were made that were greeted with cheers. Hugs, smiles, pats on the back, congratulations were offered. . .all in all a positive day for most.
Governor Scott completed his speech with the statement "Let's get to work!"
Now, the hard part. Just like any inaugural day, the expectations are high. Yet, when it comes to the state of problems in our government and state, we need to remember that it is just a reflection of the problems within our own lives and hearts. We live in desperate times. Perhaps moreso now than ever before. I close with Chuck Colson's response to why these are desperate days.
“So what’s desperate for us today? Yes it’s desperate that we get good men and women like the governor and lieutenant governor being inaugurated today. It’s desperate that we get people in government that really want to do what’s right,” Colson said. “But even more it’s desperate that in our country there be a revival, a surge of righteousness.”
Pray for our Governor and other governmental leaders on the state level, local level and of course on the national level. Pray for the hearts of people in our nation that there will be a surge of righteousness and a revival of heart (and I mean a real revival.) God is still in control. God bless America and Florida and may Florida and America bless God.