SALT LAKE CITY — Government may have dropped the ball in modern American society, but religion dropped it first, Gov. Mike Huckabee told Southern Baptist pastors Sunday night.
"The reason we have so much government is because we have so much broken humanity," he said. "And the reason we have so much broken humanity is because sin reigns in the hearts and lives of human beings instead of the Savior."
Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, addressed his contemporaries at the two-day Pastors' Conference, which continues today. The three-day Southern Baptist Convention begins Tuesday here in the heartland of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the city in which the Mormons have their world headquarters.
Huckabee told the pastors gathered in the Salt Palace Convention Center that while the March 1, 1997, tornadoes which struck Arkansas were tragic, at least the devastation could be clearly seen from a helicopter. In contrast, he said, the catalysts for the nation's recent school shootings -- including the one March 24 near Jonesboro that left four students and a teacher dead and 10 others wounded -- were harder to see but were driven by "the winds of spiritual change in a nation that has forgotten its God."
"Government knows it does not have the answer, but it's arrogant and acts as though it does," Huckabee said. "Church does have the answer but will cowardly deny that it does and wonder when the world will be changed."
The shootings were just one more wake-up call to the nation, he said.
"I fear we will turn and hit the snooze button one more time and lose this great republic of ours."
Huckabee said ungiving individuals are responsible for higher taxes.
"I'm often asked why taxes are so high and government is so big. It's because the faith we have in local churches has become so small. If we'd been doing what we should have -- giving a dime from every dollar to help the widows, the orphans and the poor -- we now wouldn't be giving nearly 50 cents of every dollar to a government that's doing ... what we should have been doing all along."
Huckabee also explained why he left pastoring for politics.
"I didn't get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. I got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives."
He compared his entry into politics to "getting inside the dragon's belly," adding, "There's not one thing we can do in those marbled halls and domed capitols that can equal what's done when Jesus touches the lives of a sinner."
The most basic unit of government is not the city council, quorum court or state legislature, Huckabee said. "It is Mom and Dad raising kids and teaching them respect for authority, others and God."
The nation has descended gradually into crisis, Huckabee said, and repairing the damage needs to be gradual, too. He said the solution is simple: faith in Christ.
Huckabee recalled the five occasions he's had to sit by the phone on the eve of an execution.
"It's the greatest sense of helplessness and despair you can imagine to know we've exhausted all help and hope here on earth for that person."
He also spoke of his early misconceptions of his duties as a pastor.
"In one of the first churches I was assigned to, I thought I was supposed to be the captain of a warship leading the congregation into a battle against spiritual darkness," he said.
"But they wanted the captain of the Love Boat. They just wanted everybody to be happy. It was not about how many people were won to Christ or how many teens were pulled away from drugs or how many marriages were saved. Instead, it was about the seniors having a great trip going to watch the fall leaves change, the teen-agers going to a better summer camp than the church across town."
Huckabee concluded his speech by recalling his 10th birthday, when he accepted Christ.
"I went to Vacation Bible School for all the wrong reasons -- I was told they'd give me all the cookies I could eat and all the Kool-Aid I could drink. But that day I got something better than cookies and Kool-Aid. I got the Savior.
"I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."
Before Huckabee spoke, more than 350 copies of his new book, Kids Who Kill: Confronting our Culture of Violence, had been placed in reporters' press boxes in the convention center press room.
The slick cover of the book is a grim one -- a black-and-white, blurry photograph of a young boy pointing a gun at the reader. The most prominent part of the photograph is the round barrel of the gun. At the top of the book, this question is posed: "Are we reaping what we've sown?"
The book was co-written by Dr. George Grant, director of the King's Meadow Study Center and a contributor to World magazine.
The back cover states: "No more hand-wringing, no more finger-pointing. No more sound bites." It also makes a reference to the Jonesboro school shootings. Huckabee has recently been criticized by opponents claiming he has capitalized on the shootings with the publication of his book.
The back cover states: "Just after lunch on March 24, 1998, four school children and a teacher were murdered by two students, ages thirteen and eleven, at an Arkansas middle school. Governor Mike Huckabee was informed of the tragedy en route from Washington, D.C. By the time he arrived, the news media were already waiting -- already polling the pundits and drawing conclusions based on the sketchiest information. The quest for quick answers has robbed us of the truth. Until now."
The paperback is published by Broadman & Holman, a Nashville, Tenn., arm of the Baptist Sunday School Board. It retails for $11.99. Publicists for the book said last week they didn't expect it to arrive at the convention until today.
Huckabee and his wife, Janet, left Salt Lake City immediately after his speech, and the governor did not hold a book signing at the convention. In fact, Huckabee didn't know the books had made it to the convention, said editors of the biweekly Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine who visited with the governor shortly before his speech.
Huckabee, governor since 1996, is a former president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. He has authored one other book, Character is the Issue: How People with Integrity Can Revolutionize America, which was first publicly announced at the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas a year ago and released last September.
Other books given to reporters at the convention Sunday included a how-to boycott book aimed at the Walt Disney Co. by Richard D. Land titled Sending a Message to Mickey: The ABC's of Making Your Voice Heard at Disney. The back cover features an outline of the famous mouse's round ears and the words: "He who has ears, let him hear."
The other book was Mormonism Unmasked by R. Philip Roberts, who examines the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.