A Conversation With J. C. Watts Jr.
February 1, 2002 - Congressman J. C. Watts Jr. was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994, representing the Fourth Congressional District of Oklahoma. Before his election to the United States Congress, Mr. Watts served as a youth pastor and as an associate pastor in Del City, Oklahoma. "Decision" magazine Executive Editor, Jim Dailey, recently spoke with him about the spiritual climate in Washington, D.C., and in the United States since September 11.
by Jim Dailey
Q/ What are some changes that you have seen in the nation's capital since September 11?
A/ September 11 is one of those days you will always remember where you were and what you were doing. I believe that on September 11, and since that time, God must have grieved that He gave us free will.
I once preached a sermon titled "All Suffering Is Not Defeat," and while we have suffered much since September 11, I believe that the suffering has made us stronger. Over the past few months I have seen things that I hadn't seen in my seven years in Washington, D.C. And it started on the evening of September 11, when Republicans and Democrats stood on the steps of the Capitol, which represents the center of our freedom, and sang "God Bless America." I've seen Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, pray together. We donated more money to charities in an eight-week period of time than we ever have in the history of our nation. We have prayed and cried and sympathized with people whom we know, and we have empathized with people whom we don't know. It has been a fascinating and excruciating ordeal.
People ask, "When will we get back to normal?" I don't think I want to go back to normal. I like what I have seen as people have turned to God for comfort and for wisdom. Some people will always try to take every opportunity to separate us into red, yellow, brown, black or white, and into male or female. But in tragedies like September 11, 2001, and April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City, when 168 people died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, there are no Democrats or Republicans, and no red, brown, yellow, black or white, and no male or female. We are Americans. So, while I am deeply grieved and angered at the destruction and loss of life, I am also grateful that we as individuals and as a nation have turned to God in our time of trouble.
Q/ There is more openness in our country now to talk about spiritual matters. Is that something that can continue in our government and in our communities?
A/ I think it can. I not only hope that the conscience level of government officials has been raised, but I also hope and pray that the conscience level of the faith community has been raised. I believe that in Christian circles, in the faith community, we have become complacent. And I think that we shy away from saying publicly, "My faith is important to me. I am a believer in Jesus Christ." But it is OK to say that. We should not apologize for our faith. If I can't be a Christian wherever I am, I can't be a Christian anywhere.
Since September 11, I think that God has given the faith community an opportunity as never before to stand up and be counted. We need not be cavalier about it, but we need to depend on God's grace during this difficult time to love and to nourish people, to encourage them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The silver lining in this dark cloud is that the Church has a new opportunity to witness to God's love and to God's grace.
Q/ With the fear and uncertainty about the future, how can a believer demonstrate the reality of his faith in Christ?
A/ When I was playing quarterback at the University of Oklahoma, we ran the wishbone offense. There were rules that went into running that offense. Whenever you got in a crunch, if you hadn't read a play properly, or if you had mishandled a certain situation, you would go to the sideline and talk with the offensive coordinator. Invariably he would say, "Remember your rules."
So I would encourage Christians at this time to "remember the rules." Our Rulebook is the Bible, and Scripture says that "God has not given us a spirit of fear."* I think that it is a natural thing for us to be apprehensive when we see all that is happening around us. But we need to remind ourselves that God is still in heaven and that He is still on the throne.
My faith encourages me to believe and to trust that God is still in control. I don't understand all that is going on. In difficult times my prayers have often been, "Dear God, I can't see Your hand in this, but I trust Your heart. I trust that You're fully in control. I trust that You are going to navigate us through this." And in 43 years of living, I have never been disappointed in God.
Q/ What do you say when people ask where God was in all of this?
A/ For the past 35 to 40 years many people, I believe, have tried to keep God out of their lives. But when tragedy strikes, we want to know where God is. Well, God is where He has always been—in sovereign, loving control of everything. But we have to submit and yield to Him in obedient faith as individuals and as a nation. We have ignored and neglected God and His principles, and I believe that God is using these circumstances to get our attention and to make us realize that we need to get back to basics.
Lisa Beamer, the wife of one of the brave men on Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, was not a public figure, but during this time she said she believes that God wants to use her to point hearts to Him. She has said, "God really is in control, and I trust Him in this very difficult time."
Q/ It was encouraging to see President George W. Bush call for a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance on September 14.
A/ President Bush has done a great job of setting the right tone. He has never apologized for his faith. He has been respectful not only of other faiths but also of all people, believers and unbelievers alike. The President will do things in his Presidency that Christians won't like. He isn't going to please all of us. But I believe that he is a real believer who prays and studies Scripture, and I believe that his faith is real, and I feel compelled to pray for him regularly. We all need to pray for him, not just when he does something we agree with but also when he does something we disagree with.
However, the government is not in charge of my soul. The government can't save us. That's God's responsibility. We can't save people through changing government. I can never get from the government what I get on Sunday mornings sitting under the leadership of my pastor who nourishes, encourages and teaches through God's Word. I don't want the government doing that, but I do believe that elected officials can set the right tone.
Q/ How did you come to Jesus Christ?
A/ I grew up in a pastor's home. My father was a circuit pastor for 40 years. I was baptized at the age of seven, but it wasn't until December 11, 1988, when I was a youth minister, that I gave my heart to Christ. An evangelist came to our church and challenged us to know what our salvation was in. I realized that I was placing my salvation in being baptized, and I didn't remember a time when I had surrendered to Christ and asked Him to come into my heart and be my personal Savior. So, as a youth pastor, I asked Christ to come into my life that night in Del City, Oklahoma.
Q/ I understand that you travel from Washington, D.C., back to Oklahoma nearly every weekend. Why is that?
A/ I take pride in being a dad, and I do get home just about every weekend. In seven years I have been home every weekend except about four. That was a commitment I made when I first went to Washington. I attend football and basketball games and dance recitals, and I even had the opportunity to attend a parent/teacher conference with my wife. When you are in public service, having a family has to be a team effort. You can't separate the member from the family, or the family from the member. You can't lose your own family in your concern to save America's family. In some respects, it has been challenging and even downright difficult, but my wife is a great partner.
Q/ How do you handle the politics of compromise in Washington, D.C., and still hold to your moral and spiritual convictions?
A/ There is a difference between compromising your policy and compromising your values and principles. For instance, I worked for six years on legislation that would give parents the choice of where to send their kids to school. After six years I finally got it passed. I kept nudging here and there. When you work with 535 personalities and you need 268 votes to win, you won't win saying you want 100 percent or else. If you can get 75 percent of what you want, and then the next year and the next year, you get 8 percent here and there, you eventually will get where you want to go. In the political process it is difficult to get 100 percent of anything. In the political process there is room to maneuver, but I don't think you should ever compromise your values or your principles.