A decade ago, Jason Rapert — founder and president of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers — was in a hotel room in Destin, Florida, at the end of a ministry conference.
The minister and missionary, who, at the time, also worked for a brokerage firm, felt called to run for office. He’d been praying for weeks about whether or not to throw his hat into the political ring.
The answer came to him that night in a Florida Hilton. “God said to me, ‘Why are you not sacrificing to serve at home, in the same way that you serve overseas, when your country is in trouble?” Rapert recalled recently.
Despite the fact that he had a young family to support — his children were ages 8 and 10 at the time — he quit his job and entered the Arkansas state Senate race. And then he won.
Soon after Rapert took office in 2011, he discovered a gap: There were religious liberty groups doing important work. There were different secular associations for legislators like the American Legislative Exchange Council. But there was no association specifically for Christian lawmakers. Rapert felt Christian legislators from across the country needed a way to connect with one another so they could “work together to restore a more godly nation.”
Surprised that someone hadn’t met this need already, he continually asked his conservative colleagues across the country, “Why don’t we have an association of Christian lawmakers?” No one could tell him why but they all thought it a great idea.
So, finally — after several successful reelection campaigns and almost a decade in office — Rapert decided to start one himself.
Creating a movement
Last year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of legislators from across the nation gathered in that same hotel in Destin, Florida, where Rapert believes God answered his prayers about politics.
They launched the National Association of Christian Lawmakers — NACL for short, the chemical name for salt and a very intentional reference to the Biblical concept of Christians as salt and light — with Rapert at the helm as president and founder. They also created an organizational structure.
“In our charter meeting, we installed 23 state chairs,” Rapert said, adding that today, “We have elected officials from 25 states and we have supporting donors and institutions from 46 states.”
The organization, which will hold its first policy conference in Dallas, Texas, next week, hopes to do nothing less than remake the country. Or, as Rapert and others put it, they want to return America to its roots.
“Our ultimate goal and intent is that we restore the Judeo-Christian foundations of our government that were intended from the very beginning,” Rapert said.
Florida state Sen. Dennis Baxley, who serves as the National Association of Christian Lawmakers’ Florida chairman, said the organization fills “a need for a network of like-minded people of faith.” It also tries to direct legislators’ focus “towards what policies and what bills would make an impact in our states and our nation.”
In addition to giving conservative Christian lawmakers a way to connect with one another, the National Association of Christian Lawmakers has two very specific political goals: Members want to help each other pass values-driven laws and fill public offices with Christians.
We enable “local, state and federal officials to discuss and debate the major policy issues of this nation from a biblical worldview,” Rapert said, adding that the organization also arms Christian lawmakers with “model legislation that can be run back in their districts.”
The organization won’t be successful unless it can work “to build constructive policy pieces” in addition to providing a space for dialogue, Baxley said.
The National Association of Christian Lawmakers also wants to fill public offices across the country with Christians.
“We endeavor to have Christians running for every single elected office in this nation from the ground up,” Rapert said.
He added, “We cast the vision to be incorporating elected officials at all levels — whether you are elected to a school board or mayor or quorum court or county judge.”
Model legislation and support for campaigns
Rapert and other state senators involved in the National Association of Christian Lawmakers all pointed to Texas’ so-called heartbeat bill — which was signed by the governor in May — as the sort of model legislation they would like to see duplicated in other states.
The Texas bill bans abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. It also allows Texas residents to bring a civil suit against doctors who perform abortions after a heartbeat is present.
Texas is actually the 14th state to pass such legislation, Rapert noted. Arkansas came first with a heartbeat bill he sponsored in 2013. Although Rapert’s legislation passed, it was later thrown out by a federal judge who ruled it unconstitutional.
Next week, the National Association of Christian Lawmakers will vote on whether to officially adopt the Texas heartbeat bill as its first piece of model legislation.
Rapert and other members of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers said they’ll be looking for ways to support religious freedom, as well.
“We think without (religious liberty) there’s a tremendous loss in the underpinnings of what America is,” Baxley said.
He described the goal of sharing successful legislation as an effort to put “toolsets” in legislators’ hands.
Building a supportive network
In addition to promoting model legislation and helping Christian candidates get elected, the National Association of Christian Lawmakers aims to boost conservative lawmakers’ morale. Vermont State Rep. Vicki Strong said it’s done that for her.
Before the organization was formed, she said she felt like she was “on a desert island” as a conservative Christian in a liberal state often associated with Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I need them,” Strong said of the organization. “I really have been uplifted and encouraged to connect with other more active Christian legislators (across the country) that are trying to have a voice in their states.”
As the National Association of Christian Lawmakers’ Vermont state chairwoman, she’s been reaching out to other conservative Christian legislators in her state to try to get them involved.
In Vermont, Strong noted, much of the legislation promoted by the organization is unlikely to actually pass. But there’s value in having it enter the official record after being proposed, she added.
Strong also believes that having a stronger Christian presence in the legislature could have the ripple effect of encouraging other Christians to run.
Similarly, Rapert said networking opportunities created by his organization will further its goal of getting more Christians in office.
“We’re beginning to network people together in their state so they can run for office,” he said, adding that, “We’ve already had people talking to us about forming super PACs so we can be more engaged in the 2024 election.”
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