Thomas Graham, Pastor Outreach Director at the North Carolina Family Policy Council, discusses a new addition to the Family Policy Matters radio program that will be taking a closer look at the intersection of faith and cultural engagement. Thomas, who will be hosting the segment, is joining us to introduce the segment and himself.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. We are excited to announce a new addition to the Family Policy Matters radio program that we will be unveiling in the coming weeks. Our very own Pastor Outreach Director, Thomas Graham will be hosting a new segment of Family Policy Matters that will be taking a closer look at the intersection of faith and cultural engagement. Thomas is joining us to introduce this new segment and to further introduce himself to you, our listeners. Thomas, welcome to Family Policy Matters, its great to have on the show again.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Thank you, John. It’s good to be back with you again.
JOHN RUSTIN: It’s always a pleasure. Thomas, before we get started, tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to work in the realm of public policy.
THOMAS GRAHAM: I began working as a youth minister in West Palm Beach, Florida in the early 70s, not long after Patrice and I were married. I was barely 20 at the time. My mentor was a wonderfully gifted older man with lots of years of experience as a pastor, both within the denominational setting and the interdenominational setting. He put his arm around me like a father to a son and he helped me focus on both the inward journey of deepening my fellowship with God and also the outward journey of ministering and witnessing to others with wisdom, and reaching out with love into a lost world—living out my faith, as it were, in the marketplace of ideas. His personal example was really quite an encouragement to me to get involved, not only within the four walls of the church that I was privileged to be a part of, but also outside the four walls of that same church. He often reminded us as a congregation, he said, “We are called to be salt and light.” And, to me, he would frequently say, “Thomas, leaders have many responsibilities, and chief among them is to exemplify a confidence and the positively powerful ideas of the Christian faith.” And you know John, he was absolutely right! Simple yet very profound ideas like love, mercy, truth, justice: these are all able to stand up against the very bad ideas of secularism, relativism, hedonism, radical individualism and all the other “isms” that should be was-isms by now according to E.V. Hill and Ravi Zacharias—these all plague our society and fuel its culture wars. As I took note of that and time went by, I prayerfully studied the scriptures and I voraciously read book after book after book and increased my store of valuable resources for my own personal enrichment and also to be able to pass those same truths onto others. And all of this, over time, helped me to relate my faith to the realm of public policy. I concluded that politics is not an evil arena to be avoided. And so my style of pastoral ministry, over a period of 30 years, became one of equipping Christian believers to apply biblical truth to politics with both grace and truth, with boldness and humility. And then, as you can imagine, a few years ago when I found out about the North Carolina Family Policy Council and its vision of a state and nation where God is honored, where “religious freedom flourishes, where families thrive, and where life is cherished” and then, of course, its mission of “equipping North Carolina families to be voices of persuasion for family values in their communities,” I just knew I had to get involved. So after nearly a 12-year run—entrepreneurial run selling real estate, building homes as a licensed building contractor and licensed real estate broker—you were kind enough to invite me to become part of the dedicated and talented team here at NC Family. And I’m very grateful for that. I really enjoy, John, working with pastors and their congregations in North Carolina to help advance the causes that matter most to Christian and also to socially conservative families. And I like to think that I’m helping to bring hope for positive change, both in our state and in our nation.
JOHN RUSTIN: As I mentioned earlier, you will be hosting a new segment of Family Policy Matters that focuses on the intersection of faith and cultural engagement. What is the goal of this segment from your standpoint, and how do you believe it will differ from our regular Family Policy Matters program?
THOMAS GRAHAM: Great question, John. I’ll tell you what, let’s invite our listeners right now to visualize a traffic intersection for just a minute. Immediately in my mind, come a variety of intersections I’m familiar with around the greater Raleigh area here. But I think that’s a good word picture to use because the goal of this segment is to have an in-depth look at what the intersection of our Christian faith and cultural engagement looks like. I like to think about these intersections for Christians in terms of recognizing the numerous moments of opportunity that are everywhere around us every day to speak, to communicate with compassion and confidence about the wonderful life that Jesus Christ offers, not only to individuals but to the entire planet—the whole world in which we live, which is quite broken I might add. And as we consider this, there’ll be questions that will come to mind that we’ll be addressing. For example:
And what we want to do with this broadcast segment is to help our listeners think more clearly about the important issues that are often raised by people that are living around them in our questioning world. And then become informed and speak to them in informed and engaging ways at these wonderful—and I would like to think—divinely orchestrated and divinely appointed intersecting moments of time. So to do this, I’ll be interviewing a variety of nonprofit faith leaders, pastors, church leaders, congregational members and others, inviting them to share what they’re currently doing to engage the culture effectively. And it’s my hope, of course, that their stories will become an example and will inspire others to do the same thing. We won’t be focusing on public policy much at all and the guests will not necessarily be policy experts per se. They’ll just be regular citizens mostly, who have taken the initiative to stand for truth. You know C.S. Lewis said, “The most important thing for each of us to do to save the world is to practice righteousness, to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as yourself.” And that tells me that we, as individuals, if we will do that we can really make a difference.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s great. This is really part of the heart of the Family Policy Council is working with pastors, church leaders, faith leaders across our state, and frankly across our nation, to speak God’s truth into the culture. And of course, our listeners, who are regular listeners to the show, know that we focus a great deal on public policy issues, discussing a myriad of issues. We thought it was important, particularly with your heart and with your passion and background to explore that intersection of faith and cultural engagement and what does that look like. And speaking to people who are out there on the frontlines who are leading churches or who are engaged in being an example to others so that we can really encourage the body of Christ within our state to rise up and to fulfill that mission that Jesus has called us to. I think it’s interesting that portion of Matthew 5—the immediately preceding verses—Jesus basically said, “Blessed are you when you’re persecuted for my sake.” And he said, “In the same way, the prophets that came before you are persecuted.” And I love to make the point, as I have studied that particular passage, what is Jesus saying there? And what were the prophets in the days of old doing? They were speaking God’s truth to the culture, but they were even more specifically, speaking God’s truth to the leaders of the day. And immediately following that, he says, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” And so, I think that is a clear challenge for us and calling for us all to be engaged. And so we’re so excited about this new segment.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thomas, part of the reason we at NC Family believe this segment will be helpful is because we know that engaging in cultural issues, as you have said, can sometimes lead to exploring controversial and divisive topics. That certainly can be uncomfortable for some folks, even pastors and other church leaders. So we do want to give a platform to highlight why engagement is so important. We can know about these issues, but unless we put that knowledge into action, what is its value? We want to give some examples of what effective engagement looks like and offer resources that can help pastors and faith leaders feel comfortable when they’re engaging on these topics. As a former Pastor, Thomas, how did you handle these controversial issues and divisive topics with your congregation and what would your advice be to other pastors and faith leaders as we consider this?
THOMAS GRAHAM: Great question, John. Let me begin by saying that I believe that Christian engagement in the culture is important because the Bible teaches that God is concerned about the physical, emotional and the social needs of all people. In his own ministry, Jesus our Lord went about teaching and preaching and also doing good and healing. Both were expressions of his love and his compassion for people. And both expressions should be ours as well, as we seek to minister in our world, both to the believers and the unbelievers. And Jesus said—you can summarize several of His statements into this—if your religion keeps you from helping people, you’ve missed the point entirely. Every social issue, John, has a human face. I know you know that. The stories that are reported in the news every day, whether it’s about racism or gang violence, political corruption, medical neglect for our veterans, joblessness, poverty, homelessness, abortion, pornography, gambling, gambling addiction…. These are not political issues, but we like to think of them as such. They are human issues that have become politicized. And for those who truly care about the kingdom of God, about family, about freedom, the future of American culture, engagement isn’t optional. We have to look at these human issues and know that every one has a face associated with it, and reach out to them with love. And now most Christians I know listening to my voice would probably agree with me. But it’s when the issues are controversial or political that the church becomes, as it were, a house divided. Now let me illustrate. On the issue of abortion, for example, supporting the work of a crisis pregnancy center or recovery groups for the sexually abused, these would all be considered good deeds, works of mercy. Certainly, everybody should be participating in these good works. Supporting a soup kitchen, volunteering your time for a soup kitchen for the homeless…. On the other hand, campaigns, for example, to overturn abortion laws or to shut down abortion clinics or to prevent gambling or to promote school choice or to pass laws that protect religious liberty…. Now we’re getting into those realms that are often thought to be off limits for Christians. And to me, John, that’s just really ironic because any Christian who has read his Bible, or her Bible, knows from Micah 6:8, that mercy and justice go hand in hand in our efforts to love our neighbor. It’s not just about supplying them with a piece of fish and a piece of bread, it’s about working on their behalf to put in place laws that are healthy and that contribute to their welfare and happiness. The Bible in Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O man, and what is good and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” John, there’s so much more that could be said to build the case for Christian social and political involvement, but once we understand Christ’s Lordship to be as wide as creation, and therefore as wide as public life, we will then be able to agree that the church should be involved—that is, engaged in the culture. There’s no turning back from it. Sure, there’s going to be plenty of questions as to when, where and how, and I encountered many of those during the course of my 30+ years of pastoring. And I had to take each one as it was addressed and to spend time with my people. And, I think, that’s an important element to draw out here. Pastors must, I believe, set the example by leading and getting involved and getting engaged in the culture themselves. Not only will their people be watching them and modeling their behavior and the way that they interact, but also they, themselves, will have a firsthand “view from the pew” as to what’s going on in our world and be able to communicate the need, the pain, and the interest in helping those individuals on a clearer basis. But, if we seek the good of our nation by applying Christianity to the public square—remembering that love always helps where people hurt—I believe we can expect to see positive changes occur in our society.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thomas, that’s just a great summary of why we’re pursuing this new segment of Family Policy Matters, to explore this arena, and to be an encouragement to pastors and other church leaders around the state. Thomas, where can our listeners go to learn more about North Carolina Family Policy Council and about these resources that we are making available for pastors, culture impact team leaders, and other church leaders across the state?
THOMAS GRAHAM: John, I invite everybody to visit our website online at ncfamily.org. It’s a wonderful wealth of resource information that they can use, and I encourage them to visit us as often as they possibly can.
JOHN RUSTIN: Great. Thomas, thank you for your time today. We look forward to this new segment of Family Policy Matters. I appreciate all that you do to contribute to the work of the Family Policy Council and look forward to the weeks ahead.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Thanks so much, John. It’s a privilege, honestly.
JOHN RUSTIN: Excellent! God Bless You.
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