National Group Emboldens Pastors to Seek Public Office, Spur Civil Service Guided by Bible

By Nanette Holt
Nanette Holt
Nanette Holt
Nanette covers a wide range of issues, mostly in Georgia and her home state of Florida. She started as a journalist in a competitive, daily-newspaper market, and later launched a community newspaper in a geographic area ignored by other media. She spent many years writing and editing for a variety of national and international magazines, and has been hired to coach best-selling authors for book publishers. When she’s not chasing news, Nanette enjoys cattle ranch life with her husband, three children, and far too many horses, goats, cats, and dogs.
June 5, 2022 Updated: June 7, 2022

Pastor Jack Hilligoss never thought of himself as a political kind of guy.

He was happy leading HighPoint Church in sleepy Lake Wales, a 20-square-mile patch of sunshine in the geographic center of the Florida peninsula. Dotted with old orange groves, it’s home to about 16,000 residents and exudes small-town values centered on faith, family, and freedom.

But a few years ago, agitators from outside the community began showing up at public meetings and events. They used words like “justice” and “equity” and sowed confusion, contentiousness, and division among neighbors, Hilligoss said. He first challenged the rants of Black Lives Matter and LGBT activists from the pulpit in his church.

Then, emboldened by training from a national group that urges pastors to get politically involved, he realized he had to take action outside the doors of his church to try to bring unity to his town.

So Hilligoss launched a mayoral campaign against two other contenders. In May, his son swore him in as his city’s top elected official.

That’s precisely the kind of victory Liberty Pastors seeks to celebrate. Since 2016, the loosely affiliated network has trained more than 1,000 pastors, instructing them on biblical reasons for getting involved in government, and encouraging them to take that message to their flocks. The group also admonishes pastors to approach every area of life with guidance from the Bible.

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Pastors from around the country listen to lessons on the Christian origins of the United States during an Aug. 30, 2020, conference in Grapevine, Texas. (Courtesy of Liberty Pastors)

Four “training camps” for pastors are scheduled this summer and fall in St. Louis; Austin, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. There’s room for up to 100 pastors at each.

The hope is that, through the training, attendees will learn to apply principles from the Bible to every part of daily life, and will train their church members to do the same. The goal is that they’ll all begin to carry a biblical worldview with them every day of the week, and not leave those values behind when they walk out of church on Sundays.

More Christians Living by TV Programs Than Bible

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The work (pdf) released on May 24 by the Cultural Research Center (CRC) at Arizona Christian University found that “just 37 percent of Christian pastors have a biblical worldview.”

“The alarming findings were dismissed by some as not surprising given the degree of ‘wokeness’ that has invaded Christian churches,” the report’s authors noted.

According to their research, “the prevailing worldview among pastors is best described as Syncretism, the blending of ideas and applications from a variety of holistic worldviews into a unique but inconsistent combination that represents their personal preferences. More than six of every 10 pastors (62 percent) hold a syncretistic worldview.”

And that is “just further evidence that the culture is influencing the American church much more than Christian churches are influencing the culture,” CRC Director of Research George Barna wrote.

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George Barna, founder of research organization Barna Group, at the Values Voter Summit in Washington on Sept. 22, 2018. (Holly Kellum/ The Epoch Times)

American society overall is moving away from being guided by the Bible, his group found in a report released in 2021. It found that “almost nine out of 10 U.S. adults (88 percent) [were] embracing syncretism as their primary worldview.”

Liberty Pastors aims to redirect American culture among the faithful to one guided by the Bible, starting with one church congregation at a time.

“The problem is, we have been taught in our seminaries not to preach about certain topics, and that is wrong,” said founder Paul Blair, senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church, based in Edmond, Oklahoma, with a satellite campus in Orlando, Florida.

Blair grew up the son of an architect who also served as a volunteer pastor. As a child, Blair knew one thing for sure: He didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps in that vocation.

After a four-year stint in the NFL, Blair found success in business. When asked, he agreed to volunteer as a youth pastor at his church. Eventually, he was asked to take on a paid top-leadership role. He recalls feeling tapped by God to embrace the challenge. It was a happy life doing what he suddenly felt called to do.

Then one afternoon, while working on a sermon, his heart sunk. In the background, he’d been listening to a rerun of “The Andy Griffith Show,” enjoying the characters’ expressions of traditional values. Then, a new show came on, one focused on crime, with coarse language, and values very unlike his own.

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Liberty Pastors founder Paul Blair (right) kneels in prayer during a conference in Grapevine, Texas, encouraging patriotism within Christian churches on Aug. 30, 2020. (Courtesy of Liberty Pastors)

“It shook me,” he said, to see the change in the country’s values so clearly defined by television programs made decades apart.

He thought about the nation his children would inherit, where they would raise his grandchildren.

“I realized we were in a moral free-fall,” he said. “That slapped me awake. I thought: ‘Someone’s got to do something!'”

Repairing the moral compass of the entire country seemed to him an impossible task. But what if pastors could be enlisted to disciple their own flocks, he mused.

Working together, they could reshape their communities and reject the Marxist policies creeping in, he thought with growing excitement. They could then reclaim their cities, and then their states. He envisioned state leaders working together to reclaim the country, resulting in a new Great Awakening, he said.

Out of that revelation came a pastor-training effort called “Reclaim Oklahoma for Christ.” The mission has since expanded to be called “Reclaiming America for Christ.”

Part of the overall plan is to build a network of “Liberty Pastors.” Since 2016, Blair and allies in that mission have held conferences and two-day training sessions for fellow pastors.

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Pastors from all over the country attend training in Grapevine, Texas, that encourages political awareness and patriotism from church leaders and members on Aug. 30, 2020. (Courtesy of Liberty Pastors)

It’s one of those training sessions that inspired Hilligoss to aim for the top leadership role in little Lake Wales. Other pastors now are reporting back similar successes in battles to secure elected offices across the country, Blair said.

During the training events, compatriots in the Liberty Pastors mission passionately teach about the founding of America. They explain how colonial pastors led the men and boys of their congregations in the fight for independence during the Revolutionary War.

Those pastors became known by what was originally a derisive term—The Black Robed Regiment. It was a reference to the dark robes traditionally worn in the pulpit, which became a tool for recruiting warriors for freedom from England. Many of those pastors took leadership roles on Revolutionary War battlefields, leading congregants to sacrifice their safety for the cause of freedom, historical records confirm.

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Dan Fisher presents “Bringing Back the Black Robed Regiment” about pastors who recruited and led soldiers in the Revolutionary War during a conference for church leaders in Grapevine, Texas, on Aug. 30, 2020. (Courtesy of Liberty Pastors)

Blair’s team explains to pastors the history and purposes of the country’s founding documents. With fiery presentations, they aim to inspire peers to take what they’ve learned to their own pulpits and urge their flocks to work to reclaim and preserve the nation’s original Christian values.

When they leave, pastors are asked to take action in three ways.

They’re advised to adjust their church bylaws to ensure they can’t be forced legally to perform marriages that go against their beliefs. Recommended verbiage from the international nonprofit Liberty Counsel is provided. It’s a way to defend the family, which has come under attack by those who would further Marxist policies in the United States, Blair says. Part of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) mission is to undermine the nuclear family and advance a Marxist society, its promotional materials have stated.

Pastors are also urged to start or partner with a homeschool group to help facilitate a mass exodus of children out of public schools. Public education in the United States has drifted too far away from the Bible’s teachings and often presents materials that harm children’s innocence and indoctrinate them in policies that conflict with traditional values, Blair says.

And pastors are asked to start a Salt and Light Ministries group, where church members can learn more about how to live out biblical principles. The power of those groups can be harnessed to have Christian values and the Christian worldview heard in politics and political decision making, Blair says, carrying out voter registration drives, writing letters to elected officials about concerns, and more.

“We’re discipling pastors, so they’ll disciple their people,” Blair says. “That’s a revival, right there!”

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NFL player-turned-pastor Paul Blair holds a microphone for a pastor asking a question at America at the Crossroads: A 911 Call for Pastors in Grapevine, Texas, on Aug. 30, 2020. (Courtesy of Liberty Pastors)

To date, more than 1,000 pastors have taken the training.

“We don’t make a nickel on this thing,” Blair said. “We lose money doing this. But we consider this to be missionary work of our church. This is a labor of love.”

In office as mayor of Lake Wales for just a month, Hilligoss already sees the potential the position holds to affect the community in positive ways. While many mayors around the country are leading celebrations for Pride Month in honor of LGBT activism, he’ll read a proclamation on June 7 declaring it Responsible Fatherhood Month in his community.

About one in four children in the United States doesn’t have a father in the home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Children born into homes without dads are two times more likely to drop out of school, and fatherless boys are three times as likely to go to jail.

Six in 10 youths who commit suicide are in fatherless homes. Nine in 10 homeless or runaway children don’t have dads at home. But children with positive father-child relationships are half as likely to show signs of depression, and 80 percent less likely to spend time in jail.

The move to honor fathers in Lake Wales reflects a push by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who signed legislation in April that provides almost $70 million for state programs encouraging and supporting responsible and involved fatherhood.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the media in Miami in April 2022. (Courtesy, The Florida Governor’s Office)

As mayor, Hilligoss has also been able to elect a community member to fill a spot on the school board, one vacated by the arrest of the person holding the seat. The person Hilligoss appointed to help make education decisions in the town is a like-minded Christian pastor.

Hilligoss started thinking about becoming more active in the political process shortly after former President Donald Trump asked the country to lock down temporarily to slow the spread of COVID-19.

It didn’t feel right, Hilligoss said. He met with other community leaders who felt the same way.

“We just decided we have to tackle what’s right in front of us,” Hilligoss said. “We can’t go change [Washington,] D.C. We can’t change the whole country. But maybe, starting from where we are in our own communities, we can begin to make a difference. Let’s do everything we can to bring a godly influence on the government, education, and businesses in our county.”

That meeting birthed a group called County Citizens Defending Freedom. It began as an effort to put the governance of Polk County, Florida, back in line with principles ordained in the U.S. Constitution. Since then, that group, too, has expanded its efforts to reach the nation, county by county.

So when a Lake Wales city commissioner was removed from her post after an arrest, Hilligoss accepted an appointment to serve in her place. Four months later, he decided to run for mayor.

“I began to realize that the same leadership, gifts, and abilities that you use to run a local church are pretty applicable to local government,” Hilligoss said.

His swearing-in has caused a bit of a commotion already.

“I’ve been a pastor in this town for a long time, so a lot of my parishioners, as well as members of other churches, showed up—it was a packed house,” he said.

“One nice thing I like about Lake Wales is they still do an invocation before the official agenda. It was an exciting atmosphere—very fervent prayers, a lot of celebration. And there were a couple of citizens who were offended by that. They felt like it went over the top.

“So they showed up at the next meeting, the first one that I chaired, and, during public comment time … made us aware that we were not a Christian nation, our founders were not Christian, that is inaccurate history, and that the invocation was inappropriate.”

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Participants step forward on July 27, 2021, in Edmond, Okla., at the end of Liberty Pastors training to sign their names on a “Muster Roll Parchment,” committing to the group’s mission. (Courtesy of Liberty Pastors)

After the meeting, one of the speakers approached him to say that she “did not move to Lake Wales in order to be in a Christian community,” Hilligoss said.

He knows his appointment will rankle some, but he’s vowed to press on.

“We’re charged to promote things that unify the citizens and promote economic growth, while maintaining our small-town values. That’s what our charter says. It’s making sure the roads are working, and the utilities are working. It’s providing economic opportunity, and doing everything we can to promote the prosperity of the local business owners, and the quality of life of the people that live here.

“Also, to be a champion for our city, to attract the kind of businesses that will make that happen in our city. And then on top of that, just enforce the law, enforce the rules equally. That’s all city government is supposed to do. I say, as a very conservative, convinced, and enthusiastic Christian, that even my faith shouldn’t dominate the [City Commission] chamber.”

But, he adds, “if we’re truly genuine Christians, we should be trying to influence every level of our society, education, economics, business, government, everything. And the Bible gives us guidelines on how to do that. Liberty Pastors was a big part of helping me come to that understanding.”

Nanette Holt
Nanette covers a wide range of issues, mostly in Georgia and her home state of Florida. She started as a journalist in a competitive, daily-newspaper market, and later launched a community newspaper in a geographic area ignored by other media. She spent many years writing and editing for a variety of national and international magazines, and has been hired to coach best-selling authors for book publishers. When she’s not chasing news, Nanette enjoys cattle ranch life with her husband, three children, and far too many horses, goats, cats, and dogs.