By Mark H. Hunter, Regional Reporter
BATON ROUGE – Presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum told several Louisiana Baptist congregations that God called him to run for the presidency.
Santorum, a Republican from Pa., spoke to packed sanctuaries at First Baptist Church in Bossier City and Calvary Baptist in Shreveport the morning of March 18, and then again that Sunday evening to more than 1,400 crowded into Greenwell Springs Baptist in Central, near Baton Rouge.
“I came to the United States Senate and found the Lord,” Santorum, a lifelong Catholic, said during a question and answer time at Greenwell Springs Baptist, hosted by Dennis Terry and conducted by Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council.
“Through Bible study, finding a great church with my wife Karen, and a small prayer group in the Senate, I opened my eyes to what my faith was all about and where I was supposed to be in my relationship with Him and what I was supposed to be doing – not just in my professional life but as a father and husband. No question about it – it changed my life,” Santorum said.
After being defeated in his second run for the Senate, Santorum told how he discussed with his wife the possibility of running for president.
“I asked her to pray about it and her response was, ‘No way, I will not pray about that. God cannot possibly want you to do that,’” Santorum said as the audience laughed. “After awhile the Spirit moved her to pray about it, and while it’s not something that frankly, either of us felt we wanted – it is something we felt we were called to do and, here we are.”
He also told personal, family details not reported in the mainstream media. He and Karen have been married 22 years and have seven living children, ranging from 20 to their youngest, little Bella, 3, a special needs child.
“We had a little boy, his name was Gabriel,” Santorum said as he tapped an angel pin on his jacket lapel. “When he was born he only lived a couple of hours back in 1996. When we’re asked how many children we have the answer is ‘eight.’”
One of Santorum’s main themes is the free expression of faith in the public square in spite of leftist opposition to it.
“I’ve been attacked for bringing religion into the public square,” Santorum said. “The First Amendment is the trunk all rights branch from. What good is freedom of speech if you can’t talk about what you believe? What good is freedom of the press if someone else tells you what to print? The heart of American freedom is the freedom of conscience.
“Barack Obama’s view is that the state can impose its will on the church but people of faith cannot express their faith in the public square. That is just the opposite of the Constitution,” Santorum said.
He promised to: immediately repeal Obamacare, support Israel, lower taxes, increase jobs, lower the deficit, balance the budget in five years, drill for more oil and support all pro-life legislation.
“This race isn’t about the economy, or jobs or national security. It’s about freedom – what kind of country we live in,” Santorum said. “Are we going to live in a country where a few elite people tell us how to run our lives, what to buy, how to buy it, whatever food they want us to buy, whatever light bulb they want us to buy?”
“Now the government, the elites come in and say ‘we know better.’ That’s what this president believes,” Santorum said. “He believes free markets create too much income disparity – too much difference in people’s success in America, the government has to level the playing field. Margaret Thatcher said, ‘socialism works – until you run out of other people’s money.’”
Santorum also referenced Ronald Reagan’s farewell speech.
“His greatest fear was that Americans would forget who we are – what made us great,” Santorum said. “Not an all-powerful government but limited government, free people providing for themselves, their communities, their churches, building a great country from the bottom up – that is what America is all about.”
After several minutes of standing ovation, Pastor Terry and Perkins laid their hands on Santorum’s shoulders as Terry prayed a blessing while the audience raised their hands toward the three men.
Prior to the Greenwell Springs service, Santorum met with about 50 area pastors.
“I invited all the candidates to come – the Republican candidates as well as President Barack Obama – to come because we want to hear their hearts and let them hear our hearts as Christians,” host pastor, Terry said.
Louis Husser, senior pastor of Crossgate Church in Robert, said, “Rick Santorum comes much closer to expressing our values and sharing the same values as a biblical world view, so we are really hoping and praying that he will be the nominee of the Republican party.”
Carlos Rosalos, pastor of First Hispanic Church, a small church that meets in Florida Boulevard Baptist in Baton Rouge, said, “I’m very excited Mr. Rick Santorum is running. A saint running for the presidency! (Laughs) Santo means saint in Spanish – if you cut the ‘m’ off the end of it and put in ‘n’ it would say ‘Santo-run.’ He is the right person for the country.”
Glen Taylor, youth pastor at Temple Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, said, “I’m excited he is running because he stands up and says what he believes and doesn’t try to be politically correct.”
When Tony Perkins introduced Santorum to the pastors he said, “I know Rick extremely well. He is the real deal. There is every effort lately to silence you and to silence the pulpit. We have to have a presence in the political realm that is keeping back the policies that want to silence the church – and Rick understands that.”
Gene Mills, president of Louisiana Family Forum, said he was impressed that Santorum, unlike the other candidates, meets with pastors wherever he goes. “He has asked to be in the faith community because that is where he is comfortable. I sense the wind under the wings of Rick Santorum,” Mills said.
Wilton McMorris, Greenwell Springs’ youth pastor, said about 80 to 90 of his students attended the service. “Politics is confusing for some students and it is good for the students to hear him explain things like the so-called wall of separation between the church and state.”
Ronnie Langlois, chaplain for local chapter of Christian Motorcyclists Association, said he liked Santorum. “He spoke from his heart. He is 100 percent genuine,” Langlois said.
Earlier in the day, Santorum spoke at First Baptist in Bossier City.
“Rick Santorum shared his personal story of faith and family in a loving and powerful way,” said Pastor Fred Lowery. “It was not about politics but about the faithfulness of God. A full house responded with two standing ovations. I truly wish every family could hear his story.”
Mike Johnson, an attorney and dean of LC’s law school, was instrumental in bringing Santorum to Shreveport.
“It was a better-than-Easter overflow crowd,” to hear Santorum at Calvary, who brought a personal rather than political message, Johnson said. “He was very enthusiastically received. He came across as being authentic, genuine.”