What’s wrong with the Right
Lunch and Oral Roberts jokes with a GOP congressional candidate
First Congressional District candidate and Brookside Baptist Church pastor Danny Stockstill
A few weeks after writing an admittedly snarky and pissy column about those Republican candidates vying to replace First District Congressman Jim Bridenstine, I ran into one of them, Brookside Baptist Church Pastor Danny Stockstill, at Mondo’s on Brookside.
“You know,” Stockstill said, “you were right about what you said.”
“You want to sit down sometime,” I asked, pleasantly gobsmacked, “and talk about politics and religion and your candidacy? We won’t agree on much, probably won’t like each other, but it could be fun.”
“I’d love to.”
So, we went back to Mondo’s.
He began with a great joke.
Danny Stockstill: One day a young boy was walking along the street when a young Oral Roberts approached him and asked why he was so sad. The boy responded that his father was ill and the doctors couldn’t cure him. Roberts told the boy his father needed to believe he would be healed.
“Your father isn’t sick; he only believes he is sick.”
A few weeks later, the boy meets Roberts again. When the preacher asks the boy how his father is doing he replies, “My dad no longer thinks he is sick … now he thinks he is dead.”
Barry Friedman: That’s hysterical. Oh! I notice you changed your website.
Stockstill: I did. Once I read your article, I sat down with some of my people and said, “You know, that comes across as somewhat arrogant.” You sit in your room, you write things, and you get in this echo chamber and listen to people who believe like you, who think like you. I don’t think there’s anything wrong when you’re challenged to go back and rethink something.
Friedman: Now I have to change the way I think about you.
Friedman: I heard you worked with Planned Parenthood? True?
Stockstill: I tried to. I know there is nothing I can do about the decision to have the child or the abortion, but I wanted them to know that we will support them. I’d drive by and see people protesting every day, and I thought, “How in the world is that helping us as a society, us in Christian faith, women at all?”
Friedman: The ones protesting or the ones getting abortions?
Stockstill: The protestors. And I realized it’s not. When I first came to Brookside Baptist Church in June 2011, it was the first phone call I made. And it didn’t go over well. I don’t know why they didn’t think a Southern Baptist pastor would have good intentions. (Laughs) We’re always such good partners with everyone we disagree with.
Friedman: On that point, does Christianity work without the exclusivity?
Stockstill: I think it works best without the exclusivity.
Friedman: So you don’t preach the Baptist way is the only way to get to heaven?
Stockstill: Oh, that exclusivity.
Stockstill: Yes, it does work best without it. The breakdown in Christianity is John 14:6, where Jesus looks at the apostles and says, “I am the way, the truth, and the light, and no one comes to the Father except through me.” So, the majority of evangelical Christians believe that that only takes place by confessing Jesus as savior.
Friedman: So you’re saying, “Maybe not”? Isn’t that how Carlton Pearson lost his ministry?
Stockstill: My understanding of Carlton Pearson’s belief is that forgiveness is extended to all mankind regardless of a conscious decision. Romans 10:9—“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”—deals with how we live here on Earth. That the crucifixion of Jesus covers all of mankind, whether you want it to or not—what some scholars might refer to as the “Bridge verse.” The two views of this verse are distinguished between the act of confession, which allows us to call upon the sacrifice made by Christ, and the gift of forgiveness without an actual confession. I believe that we must make a conscious decision to receive the forgiveness that is offered by Christ. This is one area [where] I hope to be proven wrong. I truly hope the grace of God goes far beyond my understanding and all people will be granted access to a God-filled afterlife (Heaven).
Friedman: You want to be wrong?
Friedman: As a Baptist minister, you bring people to Jesus—that’s what you do—but as a United States Representative that’s not what you do—or shouldn’t do.
Stockstill: I think my Christianity dictates how I live, not what I say. I think God calls us to live under the principles of Christ, not force those principles onto everybody else. When Jesus was asked what are the most important commandments, he listed the Shema and to love your neighbor as yourself. There’s nothing in there about sexual preference, stealing, nothing about being moral, nothing about marriage in there. And that’s why I called Planned Parenthood.
Friedman: Is abortion the political issue for Christians?
Stockstill: No, I think for most Christians, it’s—I’m going [laughs] to end my race before I get started …
Friedman: That happened when you agreed to talk to me.
Stockstill: … it’s personal responsibility. So, if you want an abortion, there are lots of people out there who believe, “You made this bed; you have to live with the actions.”
Friedman: But that’s insane and heartless. Fourteen-year-old girl gets raped and gets pregnant—what bed did she make?
Stockstill: I’m not saying it’s practical. But if you look at an embryo, a fetus, the same way you would a two-month-old baby … look, as a U.S. Congressman, where I want to jump into that battle is—how do I work with those organizations so we can either prevent or lower the number of abortions?
Friedman: Will you stand up in a debate and say, “I am a Baptist minister. I’m against abortion, but I’m against defunding Planned Parenthood, considering the work they do with preventative care, cancer screenings, family planning, contraceptives, etc.”?
Stockstill: I’ve said that out loud. I know that if I defund Planned Parenthood, abortion rates are going to skyrocket because they’re stopping more abortions than they’re providing.
Friedman: Can you raise money on that message?
Stockstill: There’s no money behind that message. Nobody is going to come to me and say, “I want to endorse that,” because there is no emotion behind it, but if I can get up and rattle the Bible and scream, “I’m going to defund, defund, defund, we’re going to ... ,” everybody wants to pitch in and be a part of that.
Friedman: That’s not the only message embraced, say, by this president.
Stockstill: I honestly don’t believe our president cares anything about a wall on our southern border. I think early on he decided if we can push this message of hate, of division, people will jump up, so one of his best fundraising messages is, “We hate Muslims and we’re going to build a wall.” The wall is one of the worst ideas we as a country can do. We’ll welcome any Norwegian who wants to come, but Norwegians don’t want to come to the United States.
Friedman: Are you running to marginalize the crazies, as Governor Chris Christie once referred to them, from the GOP?
Stockstill: We’re not going to get rid of the crazies, because the crazies are the ones who run our party.
Friedman: Let’s go back to you and Trump. Is there a breaking point?
Stockstill: When the damage he’s doing with his words outweighs the good he’s doing with his actions. I think we’re getting close. The number one deciding factor [for me to get into this race]: We had our children watching the debate, which in hindsight was a poor idea, and I walked into my daughter’s room later that night—she was crying and she said, “Why are these the only two people we get to vote for?”
Friedman: Okay, so you’re at a debate and—let’s say Pat Campbell of radio station KFAQ—is moderating—
Stockstill: I don’t think I show up at a debate if he’s moderating.
Friedman: Some other moderator says, “Who supports Trump?” Your hand goes up?
Friedman: And then the moderator asks “Who supports Trump on immigration?” Your hand stays up?
Friedman: You will distance yourself from the president?
Stockstill: Correct. At a recent Tulsa Republican women’s debate, in my closing statement, I said, “We have a president who’s very conservative, but he’s very hateful and spiteful in the words he uses,” and I thought someone had let the air out of the room. It was just amazing; there were gasps, because I had called our president hateful. You would have thought I had become a Democrat.
Friedman: What is the mindset—I’ll ask you to speak for them—of those not offended by Trump?
Stockstill: The question becomes, “How does this affect me?” So when Trump says “shithole” about Haiti and Africa, that doesn’t affect me. It has no bearing on my life. I want to be careful using the word “moderate” because it’s a bad word, but it takes a lot of courage to be moderate because everybody in my echo chamber, everybody in my circle, is not one—and they’re the most vocal. My tipping point came this past summer when President Trump was out campaigning and began talking about Colin Kaepernick and used the phrase, “If he’s not going to stand up, that son of a bitch needs to be fired.” And seeing the roar of approval from conservative Christians across the country, even here in this state—I was talking to one woman in my church and I asked, “Do you really think it’s okay we call this guy’s mom a ‘bitch’?”
Friedman: What did she say?
Stockstill: “Maybe his mom is.”
Stockstill: I realized the message I have to tout is the absolute opposite of what he’s doing. Part of it is, the Republican Party honestly—and this is what I don’t understand—feels that for the past eight years of the Obama presidency they were the ones being victimized.
Friedman: Based on what? That’s a bumper sticker. And how do you govern with bumper stickers?
Stockstill: You don’t. You raise money with bumper stickers.
Friedman: Did I hear right? Are you removing “Baptist” from Brookside Baptist Church?
Stockstill: We are.
Stockstill: Because we want to remove any hindrance somebody would have coming to church, and the term Baptist deters more people from walking into church than it draws people in.
Friedman: Tell me about your meeting with Bridenstine.
Stockstill: That was actually an early turning point for my candidacy. It really showed me what our elected officials thought of one another.
Friedman: Are you shocked by the venom of those running against you?
Stockstill: Couple of them, yeah. They’re trying to build on Jim Bridenstine. Anyway, I was sitting in his Capitol office and told him I had attended an Indivisible Tulsa [a progressive organization opposed to Trump] meeting and it reminded me of the experience I had in some of the hard-Right meetings I attended. [Bridenstine] said the Christian Far Right wing of the party had the justification of a “righteous anger.” I told him there’s no such thing. When we, as Christians, justify our anger as righteous or religious or somehow condoned by God, we become the very evil we pretend to hate. I don’t believe the idea of righteous anger is one we get to embrace, and it is for sure not a weapon we have the right or the authority to wield. I will refuse to be the candidate or the congressman that claims righteous anger in my campaign or my policy.