NC Family Pastor Outreach Director Thomas Graham speaks with Dr. Kenyn Cureton, Vice President of Church Ministries at the Family Research Council, in our monthly “Focus on Faith” segment. They discuss Dr. Cureton’s personal story and encouraging pieces of wisdom about how Christians can and should engage in the culture.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Thank you for joining us for this week’s special Focus on Faith edition of Family Policy Matters. Today, I am excited to have as my guest a dear friend and one of our nation’s leading men at the intersection of faith and public life, Dr. Kenyn Cureton. He serves as the Vice President of Church Ministries for the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.
And in his work at FRC, Dr. Cureton has helped grow the Watchmen on the Wall nationwide pastors network from 1,800 to nearly 41,000 pastors and church leaders across the land. He has also been instrumental in the iVoteValues initiative and several toolkits for engaged pastors and community leaders.
Dr. Kenyn Cureton, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show my friend!
KENYN CURETON: Thanks, Thomas! Great to be with you and we truly appreciate our partnership with the North Carolina Family Policy Council. We’re so grateful for the valuable work that you, John Rustin, and the team does to make sure people of faith have a voice and a presence there in Raleigh.
THOMAS GRAHAM: You know you and I have some history of working together here in North Carolina and I know some of your story. But because everyone loves a story and everyone has a story to tell, I’m sure our listeners today would really enjoy learning about your personal story. Kenyn, would you take a few moments and share your story with our listeners?
KENYN CURETON: Sure, glad to do it. Born and raised in Morristown, Tennessee—East Tennessee. My mom met my dad, who was a brawler, an alcoholic, he was not a believer, and she said, “You know what, Pete? If you’re going to date me, you’re coming to church with me.” And she brought him to church and he got gloriously saved. And then of course, I came along and was going to church nine months before I was born, so I was a church brat. But came to a place where I realized that I was a sinner in need of a Savior at age seven. I put my hand in the pastors hand, but I put my heart in Jesus hands and have been a follower of His ever since. Ended up in a liberal Baptist college, Carson-Newman College, that’s Carson-Newman University. It was a negative in one way, but in another way it prepared me, Thomas, for some of the hostility, some of the opposition that I face in ministry today. And it really helped me become rooted and grounded in my faith. And so, that was part of the journey, of course, with these liberal professors. In fact when I was at Southwestern Theological Seminary, there was about half the faculty was conservative, half liberal, and I actually had an ethics professor who debated whether we ought to be completely pro-choice. But thankfully, we had some great leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention who came to power and who basically fought back some of that nonsense and put the Convention back on conservative, biblical foundations again. And I was a part of that movement. It’s been quite a journey and God has led me every step of the way.
THOMAS GRAHAM: We both know, Kenyn, and many of our listeners also, that life isn’t an audience sport that is something to be observed from a distance. It must be engaged. As followers of Christ, we understand that the Christian faith is a shaping force in the world. How did you actually become involved in the realm of public policy?
KENYN CURETON: As I was in seminary and got confronted with some of those issues, I realized that is something that needed to be addressed from the pulpit. I didn’t shy away about preaching on those issues, and really didn’t have a lot of opposition preaching on those issues in my first three pastorates. But when I came to the First Baptist Church of Lebanon, Tennessee, a suburb east of Nashville, that all dramatically changed. I began that ministry on August 1, 2000, and that was an election year—presidential election year. You’ll remember that George W. Bush was running against Al Gore and Al Gore, of course, favorite son from Tennessee. His dad was senator. We had people in my church who knew that family and even related remotely to the Gore family. And so when I came to that church in August, August first of that year, I really was feeling compelled to preach a series in advance of the election. And it was titled, “Issues tearing the fabric of a nation.” And I thought, maybe this is not the wisest way to begin my ministry here. Lord, could you let me have a break here and maybe do this in 2004? Let me get my feet on the ground, get a good foundation made and then…? And it was almost as if the Lord came back to me, Thomas, but it was almost as if He said to me, “I brought you to this church for such a time as this. Preach what I’ve put on your heart.” So, the first message was on the stewardship of our citizenship. And there were people beginning to look at me sideways, “Where’s he going with this?” And then the second message was on abortion, the American holocaust. And Thomas, I literally had people walk out on me during that message. And so we lost probably 20 percent of the attendees in the church. But, we were also on television and those messages went out all across the East Nashville metro area. And people were actually watching the messages and began to come to my church as a result. And we actually gained as many—a little more—than the ones that we lost during that time period. And it was then that Kerry Brown, who was the vice president for Richard Land over at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission— it’s this Southern Baptist public policy arm. But Kerry saw me on TV and that’s how I got connected with the RLC. And they asked me to help pastors get their people engaged, just like you did during that election cycle. “We want you to help us develop the iVoteValues campaign took kits, and all of that,” and that then got me noticed by Tony Perkins. He came and spoke at my church right before a simulcast, and we got connected. He recruited me and I’ve been there almost 11 years with Family Research Council helping pastors do exactly what I did.
THOMAS GRAHAM: What counsel or advice, Kenyn, would you care to offer both pastors and also members of their congregation about the cost that can come with our choosing to engage the culture?
KENYN CURETON: Jesus told a parable about counting the cost and certainly choices have consequences. And so when a pastor or a church decide to choose that they’re going to speak biblically about abortion and sexual anarchy and the loss of religious liberty and all these other issues, there’s going to be pushbacks, sometimes from the community, but also from within the church. So count the cost. Know that it’s going to happen. Know that you can possibly lose some church members over this. It will happen. But also know that when you take a firm stand on biblical truth, God will honor that. And my stand cost me some members. It also gained us some members. And God told Joshua over and over again in the first chapter of that book, “Be bold and courageous….” And I believe He honors us when we obey his word.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Oh I do too Kenyn. And it’s been my observation and my personal experience over the years of pastoral ministry, myself, that when we honor—when we make that decision to honor the Lord, He honors us in some form or another. He bestows His honor upon us. And I’m sure that these have given you personal motivation and strength as you’ve chosen to engage in the culture, particularly in the realm of public policy. Do you have another verse or two that you would care to offer our listeners today?
KENYN CURETON: Sure. Obviously there’s the traditional verses that we point to, but I really like Jeremiah 29:7 “But seek the welfare of the city where I’ve sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you’ll find your welfare.” You see, a lot of people think they can just insulate themselves from the culture. Well, God hasn’t wired this Christian life like that at all. He’s told us from the very beginning of the book of Genesis that we’re to fill the earth, subdue it, that we’re to leave our footprints everywhere. We’re to take charge of it in a stewardship sense. And in Jeremiah that verse, we’re to seek the welfare of the government, the culture that we’re in, because in its welfare we’ll find our welfare. If we really truly love our neighbors as we love ourselves—as Jesus told the second commandment was—if we really truly love our neighbor, we’re going to be concerned about the fact that public policy and government that our neighbor has to endure alongside us—or enjoy alongside us—and we need to be very much involved in that. Now, it’s a tough work. There’s a lot of opposition and hostility. So a couple of verses that encouraged me, finally, would be, Colossians 3:23-24, “And whatever you do, do it heartily as to the Lord, not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance, for you serve the Lord Christ.”
THOMAS GRAHAM: Kenyn, that’s wonderful and it’s so motivating for me, and it’s so reassuring as well. I’m trusting that, right now, our listeners are agreeing with that. As the Family Research Council’s Vice President for Church Ministries, I know you are enormously involved in building relationships with pastors all across America. So as we begin to wrap this broadcast up and bring it to a close, tell us a little more please about Family Research Council’s “Watchmen on the Wall” ministry to pastors who really want to take a stand for faith, family and freedom. Would you do that?
KENYN CURETON: Glad to. Tony Perkins, our president, really is responsible for this great vision that I’m a part of now implementing. He founded the ministry really back when he was a state legislator, back in Louisiana. He was a member of the House, was the author of the first covenant marriage law in America—it’s been emulated several times in other states. But he noticed that as he was doing his job as a legislator, as a representative, that he had people, there were Planned Parenthood folks up there running the hall, you know lobbying. He had people from Human Rights Campaign. He had people from the ACLU and others that were tough on religious liberty issues. And he said, “Man, where is the church?” And so, he decided to have a gathering of pastors at the Capitol annually to show them, “Look, there are people of faith, like myself and others, up here and this is not foreign territory. This is a place where you need to be and you need to have your voice heard as a part of our broader responsibility to be a function of salt and light in our communities and culture. And so, he began to gather people at the Capitol and when Dr. Dobson tapped him and said, “Hey, I want you to lead FRC,” he brought that to Family Research Council. And of course our theme verse, Isaiah 62:6, speaks of the Watchmen on the Wall. What we want is pastors who are going to watch what is going on in the culture, pray for the wisdom to engage it biblically, courageously and winsomely, sound the alarm from the pulpit on the threats to the common good, and then to lock arms with other pastors to advance, family and freedom. And Thomas, we’ve got pastors and churches in communities in all 50 states, and particularly in North Carolina, who are doing that! And it’s making a tremendous difference in communities around the country.
THOMAS GRAHAM: I’m so pleased to hear that. I know that I’ve been a member of the Watchman on the Wall ministry to pastors and have enjoyed so much the information that you all make available to me and to other pastors who have become members. Kenyn, where can our listeners go to learn more about Watchmen on the Wall in order to support pastors and their ministries? Where can they turn to?
KENYN CURETON: Sure Thomas, they can go to watchmanpastors.org for pastors. But, if they’d like to, some church leaders who are listening right now might want to visit cultureimpact.org. They may want to start a culture impact ministry in their church. We’ve got all kinds of ministries in the church: you’ve got the worship team, the finance team, the security team, child care team. Why not a culture impact team in your church, dedicated to helping the church be the salt and the light?
THOMAS GRAHAM: Kenyn, I want to tell you how grateful I am for being with us on Family Policy Matters today, and also how grateful I am for our friendship and for your great work at this intersection of faith and public life. What a wonderful example you have set before others and I appreciate this so much. And I know that those who are listening to my voice right now probably share the same sentiment, in knowing you and knowing how hard you work to bring all of this to light. Brother, may God bless you and those who work with you as you continue this important ministry that God has called you to!
KENYN CURETON: Thank you Thomas! Always a pleasure. God bless you as well.
– END –