Second Place, Election Reporting, Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists
By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY — As music plays softly and the Quail Springs Baptist Church prepares to sing “Jesus Is Tenderly Calling,” the guest speaker urges the crowd to bow and pray.
“Here’s my very simple invitation,” the fill-in preacher tells the congregation. “There’s a God who loves you and will walk with you through some very difficult things. Are you interested in coming to know him?”
It’s a traditional altar call — the kind offered in countless evangelical churches each Sunday.
What makes this one unusual is the person behind the pulpit: U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a rising political star who mixes a boyish, Opie Taylor-like face with a booming, bass voice.
In the nation’s capital, Lankford’s weekdays consist of Senate Intelligence Committee hearings into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election and frequent cable news appearances to discuss policy questions ranging from national security to health care.
“He’s one of the most respected members of the Senate, even though he’s only been there two years,” said Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats. “He’s deeply respected on both sides of the aisle.”
But each weekend, the former youth pastor flies home to Oklahoma and worships with the Quail Springs church, a large Southern Baptist congregation in this Bible Belt state capital. Here, the senator insists, he’s not “The Honorable James Lankford.” He’s simply “James,” husband of Cindy and father of Hannah and Jordan.
Religion News Service is a national wire service whose media partners include The Associated Press, USA Today and the Washington Post.