Washington, D.C. is no stranger to division, so when unity here occurs, it makes a big splash. Today, as the 2018 Values Voter Summit kicked off from the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, conservatives from around the country were indeed unified around the values that make America exceptional.
Tony Perkins opened the event this morning by challenging attendees to pledge to pray for America, to vote their values, and to stand for biblical truth. But the cost of standing can be great, as David and Jason Benham learned when their HGTV show was cancelled because of their public stand for their biblical beliefs. But as they reminded the VVS audience, when we experience adversity is when we must hold on all the more to what we hold most dear: "It's time to get back to foundations in our country," because God's moral boundaries bring blessings.
What are practical ways in which believers can live out the basics of their faith? Former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann appealed to the audience to sacrifice for what they believe in through the age-old Christian bedrocks of fasting and prayer: "When we fast and pray, our minds are more attuned to the things of God."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised the spirits of VVS by summarizing the multitude of accomplishments that President Trump and the Republican-led House and Senate have been able to achieve, including the incredibly successful tax reform bill: "When we get Washington out of the way of American workers, good things tend to happen." He added that by getting rid of the state requirement to fund Planned Parenthood and with the record number of district court judges that are being confirmed: "Your ideas and your values are turning this country around."
Several local government representatives participated in a "Putting Faith Into Action" panel discussion. Fairfax County School Board member Elizabeth Schultz summarized our current national moment: "We are at a crossroads on values." Fellow panelist Dr. Mark Harris concurred: "This is a direction election." With so much at stake, he added, "there is literally a weight that we feel on our hearts when we vote."
Harris concluded with an important point that many conservatives are uncomfortable with: "Understand the principle of financial giving to candidates." In our current American model, only the independently wealthy are able to run for public office unless "all of us must step up and give to the candidates."
Will Graham, the grandson of Billy Graham, who plays his grandfather in the new film Unbroken: Path to Redemption, reminded believers that our age is marked by a "spirit of rebellion." Ultimately, he reminded believers, the greatest problem the world faces is the human heart, which must be anchored in the heart of the gospel.
This afternoon, in the first ever visit to VVS by a Secretary of State, Secretary Mike Pompeo delighted the audience by declaring that at the heart of the State Department's mission is the preservation of human dignity. "For Americans," he said, "freedom is our birthright, but for many around the world, it is an aspiration." This is why Americans can't afford to "hide your faith under a bushel." As the Secretary pointed out, a sobering reminder of why Americans cannot take this freedom for granted is the fact that more than 80 percent of the global population lives under religiously repressive government.
Secretary Pompeo recalled the emotion of meeting three U.S. citizens upon their return from captivity in North Korea, calling it the greatest moment of his time as Secretary of State. "Religious freedom," he said, "is a God-given right to which all people are entitled." He assured VVS that he is continuing to make religious freedom a priority at the State Department, which will continue to hold annual Religious Freedom Ministerials -- meetings of faith leaders from around the world to discuss the challenges and solutions to bringing an increase in global religious freedom.
Those speakers were only getting the day started. You can watch the rest of Friday's coverage -- as well as all day Saturday's -- of Values Voter Summit for free on our live stream by visiting valuesvotersummit.org.