by Beth Townsend
Unity in community starts with a common foundation. Despite our differences, as a body of believers we have a supernatural commonality. There is a firm foundation from which we can build stronger relationships with others based on our belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior.
We are called to unity throughout the Scriptures. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ,” 1 Corinthians 12:12. “So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others,” Romans 12:5.
We belong to one another; to work together, to pray together, to serve together, to worship together, to live together as one body. Together. We are thankful to have had the opportunity to speak with two deeply committed Christians, both servant minded leaders, yet from different political parties. What a unique opportunity to put our differences aside and seek to unify as a body of believers. United States Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) is open about his faith and demonstrates it constantly, as does La. Sen. Sharon Broome (D-Baton Rouge), who asked to open our interview with prayer.
November is the month set aside to be thankful. Let’s come together as we thank God for our country, our differences, our churches, and above all else, one another. We need each other.
Whether by their example at home or in top-secret government meetings, Godly leaders must be unafraid to speak of their faith in Jesus and walk it in their daily lives. They can and must exemplify unity, and as people of faith, set aside political and philosophical differences to demonstrate goodwill. As they lead and pray for us, let us also pray for them, learn from them, and give them an opportunity to speak to our community about their faith, as well as their hopes and dreams for our city, state, and country. As they serve us, let’s serve them by praying for them daily.
Senator Bill Cassidy understands the importance of a strong foundation. From early memories, he recalls tender moments in his family when his faith was nurtured in a home where Christ was not only their savior, but the motivation behind the family’s commitment to a life of service.
“My parents were faithful about bringing my brothers and I to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. I had Sunday school teachers in elementary school who would come and speak to us. I’m sure they thought it was a thankless task, but I remember those Sunday school lessons,” he smiled. Understanding the privilege and opportunity to speak into another’s life has impacted Cassidy so profoundly that he teaches Sunday school at The Chapel on the Campus to children faithfully every week when he is in town.
“We forget the impact we can have when speaking to a child. Speaking to a child about God and the metaphysical, although they wouldn’t understand the term, is profound.” Cassidy’s faith was also shaped early on by his brother. After going away to school in Boston, his brother would come home and speak of his faith.
“I recall praying for the first time in second grade. I am not sure I prayed to receive Christ then, but certainly seeds were planted,” Cassidy recalled.
Evangelism is the call of the Great Commission in the book of Matthew. That foundational instruction should be the central focus that brings us together as a body of believers. Louisiana’s junior U.S. senator was gifted to be around men and women that lived the great commission.
“If evangelism is moving someone closer to God, then hopefully they make a commitment to Christ. But even then we continue to go from glory to greater glory! It is all part of our individual pathway,” he said. “So I look back to those Sunday school teachers, and my brother, and my parents to see how they would continually water those seeds, then plant and water [again].” Cassidy’s later commitment to receive Christ was during a Bible study offered through The One Way Movement while he was in high school. Once again another’s influence impacted and deepened his faith.
“There was a fellow there, Mike Clark, who was an upperclassmen. We would often have the study at his house. It was then I prayed to receive Christ; that would have been in 9th grade. Then after that, of course, we all live through grace right?” He concluded laughing, “Thank God for grace!”
As a physician, Cassidy has the attitude of a servant and the confidence of a professional. His purpose is demonstrated through a series of decisions where he has taken leaps of faith to seek to honor God while serving his community.
“The purpose of people’s life in seeking unity is walking in the fullness of your purpose, fulfilling what you are great at doing. You have to let one decision lead to another.” His ability to lead reflects his early foundation. “My parents modeled serving to others who were less fortunate,” he recalled. “There was a man who use to teach forestry at LSU who was quadriplegic from polio. Just as the polio epidemic was going away he got a case of it. Dr. Tom Keister was his doctor and needed assistance, and my parents were among those who would give assistance.”
“My mother would give people rides to north Baton Rouge to doctors visits who otherwise did not have transportation. My parents had a strong sense of what can we do for those less fortunate.”
He recalled how that affected his upbringing, “Frankly, there were people who were so kind to me when my mom was working. Mrs. Cartwright next door would look after me until mom came home from work. And there was [also] Mrs. Hull; she would be so gentle when my mother was not around. That sense of community as a child [is important], you know that these people love [you].”
Becoming a doctor is no easy feat, yet when you’re driven by a sense of purpose, you can push past ordinary difficulties. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study in college, but after health scare I saw a lot of physicians and realized how rewarding that could be,” he said. Everyone is called to service, yet often there are so many options, choosing one can become difficult.
“We are each called to serve. Be aware of what is being presented to you and seek those opportunities. I think sometimes we want to start a big missionary organization that is going to send 10,000 people overseas. Mother Theresa once said that it’s the smallest act of kindness that truly makes the difference,” Cassidy said. “Do you embrace somebody that others would never embrace? I think Pope Francis was at his best when he hugged the person with obvious illness, then the transgender who otherwise felt rejected. He showed them love. We are best when we show our love.”
There is no doubt one act of service that never returns void is fervently praying for our leaders and our nation. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Cassidy kept it simple yet profound, “Do you believe prayer is more powerful than the physical? Go back to those children. Children believe in prayer, yet we as adults understand that it seems that you pray for something for a long time and it never happens. Then we become discouraged about prayer in general.”
“Let’s go back to this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and the second is likened to it you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ He speaks to all of us that no matter what our role in life. No matter how much we may disagree with someone politically, we should still attempt to love them.”
Cassidy continued, “Sometimes I go to the Episcopal church with my mother on Sunday nights. There they offer an opportunity to pray for our leaders. It is nice as they mention them by name because you have a Democratic Mayor, a Republican Governor, two Republican Senators, but a Democratic President. It is a nice mix there in which it is acknowledged that however much we might disagree, we are to pray for them all. Again, if we take God’s commandments as we should, that softens our heart.” After a brief chuckle he said, “All that said, at times you are going to see me upset and fussing and fuming so I acknowledge that I thank God for grace.”
In discussing how to apply the admonition to pray for others, even for those we disagree with or perhaps are angry with, his response was quick: “Don’t waste your anger on that. Just don’t. Instead pray about it and pray that the person with whom you are angry about would have Godly insight.”
Taking away references to Christianity in public arenas and eliminating school prayer unsettles many and remains a hot topic in the news. On the subject Cassidy referenced foundational principles, “I look at the family and the church as far more important in a child’s spiritual upbringing than I do public institutions. At most times in history there’s been a tension between that which government would recommend, and that which churches believe in,” Cassidy said. “It should not surprise us that government is antagonistic to anything that defies government. Government wants to have control. Clearly we have public policy that is not good. The Planned Parenthood videos are an example. There is always going to be tension. And if God has set that up for us to show our light in the midst of a dark world, then it is a great opportunity.”
Raising Christian families today in an increasingly secular nation seems daunting. Often the news makes Christians feel as though we are fighting a losing battle. Yet Cassidy refers to history as an example, “We can see where the church started and where the church grew despite being what was officially a pagan society in which Christians were actively persecuted. Under an atmosphere of persecution is when the church began to truly flourish.”
Once again, for what my advice is worth, I refer back to my family,” Cassidy paused and smiled. “My parents would take me to church. They modeled giving, they modeled service, it was clear. They had me in Sunday school so I was exposed to others. My brother shared his faith with me. At some point we have to trust that God is moving. If we enter into fellowship as we are commanded, acknowledge him in our actions as he asks us to, and pray for our children as we are encouraged to pray, then our children will grow in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Not sure it is a formula, but it is an act of obedience.”
Cassidy spoke of grace repeatedly, “Once I had an engineer explain grace to me. He explained that we, in our earthly wisdom, think that grace is like a wave. Whereas getting back in touch with God when we’ve drifted and feel separated. ‘Boy I sure want to get back close to God again,’ he recalled the engineer saying. Yet, in his growing understanding of grace over the years, he came to redefine it on a more personal level. ‘Indeed it is more like this, we are with Him or we are not. He is always close to us. It’s just a question of whether we acknowledge and partake or whether we turn our back and don’t.’”
Cassidy continued, “I guess the big spiritual lesson is this: we are only a prayer away from fully partaking in God’s grace. And if we are not [partaking in God’s grace], well, it is our choice, not His absence. That Billy Graham hymn that we used to sing at the Chapel… ‘Just as I am, without one plea?’ Think about that. Without one plea!”
The health of our community affects us all. In seeking ‘unity in community’ we must do our part to bring together the body of Christ as one, regardless of our differences in other areas of life. Nothing matters more than the health of that body across the world, throughout the country, the state of Louisiana, and in and around Baton Rouge.
He added, “All of us have been in a situation where there is someone we know that has a great need. We’ve been in great need. We can pray for sensitivity to help, to meet those persons’ needs, and how to be creative as we meet them.”
According to Cassidy it’s simple, “In God’s economy our principal focus should be the family, then church. If we focus on our family and then our church, the church becomes a living, breathing, growing place where bless each other and that attracts others to come in and be a part. That is evangelism.”
Yet, he acknowledged that it can be complicated, “There’s always been tension between the social gospel and evangelism. Yet, Jesus totally resolved that tension! He would forgive, heal, and feed, always in the context of strengthening the church. As he strengthened the church, that was evangelism. Evangelism is bringing someone closer to God. It might be that you touch someone here, but their point of salvation is there,” he said. “Somewhere along the way people continue to touch them, yet you have just as much a role in a person’s coming to Christ as a person who actually prays with them.
“Christendom is about serving one another. In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus makes it totally clear. If there is a verse that I try to focus on, it’s Mark 10:42-45. Such a powerful statement of how we as the church should differ in how the world approaches leadership and command.”
Louisiana State Senator Sharon Broome looked around at her office; so many pictures and plaques. “When I look back on my life now, the older I got and the more mature I became in the Lord, I can see how God was weaving that thread in my life from when I was a little girl. It’s when I totally surrendered that He was like, ok now I have got you on the path!” she chuckled. Though originally from Chicago, Broome as her destiny dictated is from Louisiana.
Broome’s dad was born in the small community of Ethel in East Feliciana Parish. and her mom in Kosciusko, Miss. They were part of the migration of African-Americans from the south in the Great Depression. Her father was born in 1903 and her mother in 1912; they later met in Chicago.
“I was born and raised in Chicago, but my parents were both products of the South. I was the only child of that union. My dad was 53 when I was born and my mother was 44,” Broome laughed. “I always like to say I am a product of an Abraham and Sarah story, for real, right? The older my dad became the less tolerant he became of the cold weather. After I graduated from college we moved back to Louisiana.”
Senator Broome became a Christian early. Strong family influences made it seem a natural part of childhood. “I accepted Jesus as my savior at the age of 7, but it wasn’t until after I became an adult that I really became a committed Christian,” she recalled. “I’d come to a point of wanting things out of life and recognizing things weren’t happening like I thought they should. Then I realized that I had not made that level of commitment of having Jesus as Lord of my life. That was when everything started changing for me. That was 1980,” she remembered. “Since then I have been a growing and maturing Christian and have loved every moment of it.”
Broome’s “calling” was birthed out of a deep place of frustration in life. Sharon says she felt God was leading her to do something productive with her frustration.
“I think a lot of people associate a calling with five fold ministry or being in the pulpit. But the truth is, God calls Christians to every sphere of influence to be salt and light,” Broome said. “I can remember back in 1988 as I sat in front of my television set, I was frustrated with some of the things I saw going on in the community. Right then I sensed the Holy Spirit saying distinctively to me ‘you can help do something about that.’ From there, without any name recognition or support, I took on the message of being our brother’s keeper. Soon I was walking door to door running for city council. I won in 1988 and that was my entry into politics.”
While many grow up dreaming of being a politician, that was not true of Broome. “You know some people have a plan, I am going to run for this and then I am going to run for that. I never had that kind of plan! All I wanted to do… I get emotional,” tearing up she continued, “All I wanted to do was to serve and do what God wanted me to do.”
“After running for city council I ran for the state legislature in 1991 and I’ve been in the legislature since 1992 when I took office, having been blessed to serve in both the house and the senate. Now I am at the end of my term,” she said. “It has been a very good experience of public service and I’ve worked hard to surrender to God throughout the process and be in step with the Holy Spirit. You know I haven’t been a perfect public servant, but who is perfect? But I’ve tried to be deliberate in wanting to be used by God.”
Though Broome’s term ends soon, she quietly shared her plans to run for Mayor-President of Baton Rouge next year. Though soft spoken, her excitement was evident as she talked about it. “It’s exciting; another step of faith,” she beamed.
Discussing unity in community, Broome feels that the Christian faith should be rooted in a sense of obedience and commitment to the Word of God. “To me it is about obedience. God tells us in 1 Timothy to pray for those who are in authority, those who rule over us. If we would just exercise that first and foremost, I think God would be pleased. I believe in James 5:6, that the effective fervent prayers of a righteous man and women availed much. So if we couple those two together and obey what God has told us about praying, that would be powerful.”
“Prayer is the catalyst for any change that we want to see,” Broome offered. “Whether that change is in our home, in the political arena, or in our church, prayer is the foundation. It’s about being on God’s side,” she explained. “Certainly God gives us choice. We choose to be in one (political) party or the other. But ultimately we have to listen; our intimate and personal relationship with Jesus Christ should be the motivating factor on how we treat others.”
Continuing, Broome shared, “If we as a body can get that right—the common denominator of love—that will take us a long way. We also need to understand that communities rise and fall together. When we understand the interconnectedness that God designed for people—regardless of their race, regardless of their party affiliation— [we see] that His desire goes way beyond those things, [it’s] for us to be unified. And, so we really have to keep our focus on Him the author and finisher of our faith.”
The natural tendency for many is to grumble and complain when watching the news. The polarization of politics can bring out the worst even in the most good-willed people. A call to prayer for our city could serve as an example for other cities, should we come together as a body.
On the subject of political polarization, Senator Broome added, “Amen to that! God has lain on my heart during the month of October to be in a dedicated season of prayer and fasting. If we want to see change, we need to pray. I was just reading yesterday in my journal that all battles are basically spiritual battles. So you don’t fight spiritual battle with earthly or worldly means. You fight spiritual battles with spiritual means and that is prayer.”
When discussing the growth of the secular movement and the resulting removal of Christian symbols in public places, Broome offered words of wisdom.
“I believe one of the challenges is that many Christians have backed down and have succumbed to actions that go distinctly against their Christian beliefs and convictions. I always use Jesus as our model. Jesus was not revered. He was not liked by men, yet he loved all men. His message was not received, but it did not stop him from conveying his message on a consistent basis.” She continued, “He was on a mission and he did not let up on that mission until they crucified Him. We as Christians should not give up. We should not succumb to defeat, instead we should walk in our authority as believers of Jesus Christ!”
“That does not mean that we can’t do it in a loving manner,” she continued. “The Bible talks about ‘speaking the truth in love’. We can have the tendency the let the actions of the world influence how we respond. But we are different; we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. Christ should be our example; Jesus Christ should be our example for everything we do.”
Senator Broome’s passion is evident as she discusses her faith. “I love to study the style of communication of Jesus,” she states. “He talked to people in parables. He made analogies and illustrations so they could understand. And it all pointed back to the Word of God. The Bible speaks to every issue that we face. What does the Bible say about these issues and how do we understand them and become more informed on theses issues? Then we can speak to these issues as informed voters, citizens, advocates, prayer warriors.”
Broome frequently mentions the authority of Christ. While common to strong believers, how to teach that message so that others walk in the authority afforded to believers becomes key. That power is for all who believe.
“Homes and churches should be the teaching center; time spent reading God’s Word as a family; it’s about establishing priorities. When we take care of his priorities he will take care of our priorities. He has given us very clearly in his Word what we need to do. ‘If my people will call on my name will humble themselves turn from their wicked ways, pray I will hear from heaven and will heal their land.’ He has laid it all out in terms of what our role is.”
Most Christians are concerned that the foundation of family is under attack. Yet there are ways to remain focused on raising Godly children. The senator’s perspective is clear, “I believe Godly parental leadership is the key. Parents have to lead by example, to solidify their relationship with the Lord and with one another. And then they have to train up their children in the nurture and admonishing of the Lord. That does not mean they won’t have attacks on their family, but it has to be ingrained into the fiber of that home. Just as Joshua said ‘as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.’”
“It is vitally important for Christian parents to maintain a consistent relationship with their children. Because there are many things vying for their attention, trying to abort their plans of destiny that God has for them. The first role model should be parents,” she said. “And yes, I get it, I know parents are busy in today’s society. Many moms work, dads work; two-parent families have to work. But, I am convinced that when you make God your priority he will help you achieve a stellar career as well as a stellar family.”
As a wife and mom, Sharon speaks from experience. She smiles when explaining how unique her family life has been. “I was single until the age of 42. I’d never been married and had no children. At 41, I met a widower who had been married for 25 years and his wife succumbed to cancer. He was raising three children and lived in another state. We met through mutual friends. Almost a year to the date that we met we got married. When I got married I became a wife and a mom,” she smiled. “A mom in the way of a second mom to our oldest son who was in college. Our daughter was 14 and our son was around 10. But you know what, but for God,” she looked heavenward in gratitude.
“I knew how my mother had raised me, but of course times have changed. So one of the messages that God gave me was the message of not thinking about myself but thinking about them above all else. Not being concerned if they loved me but me demonstrating love to them. I treated them as though they are my biological children. I never called them stepchildren, I always say my children. Because of the love between my husband and I that we have demonstrated to one another and to them, God has unified our family through love.”
Continuing on the subject of marriage, (redefinition, divorce rate, its impact on the family, etc.), Broome summed it up by saying, “Once again pray. Focus on developing yourself more than developing your spouse. We are still a work in progress. My husband and I ironically teach the marriage class at our church, Star Hill Church where our pastor is Raymond A. Jetson. It’s important to be transparent and for couples to be around like-minded individuals. So many times we wait until everybody is on the edge of divorce and we then we say ‘pray for me.’ We should be supporting one another prior to getting to that point.”
In order to build unity in community, the ability to influence others is key. We are called to “make disciples” which means reaching others for Christ. While it may not be easy, it’s one of Jesus’ commandments. Broome smiles at the idea of her influence, “I’m just an ordinary girl that has surrendered to God’s plan for my life. God has a specific plan and purpose for each and every one of us. The sooner we get connected to that purpose, the more fulfillment we will have. But we have to listen to that still small voice. If we don’t have that intimacy with the Lord we end up going on tangents and trying this and that.”
Finding stillness is a key, as demonstrated in the life of Christ, “Take time to be still and know,” she said. “The world we live in this hectic world at such a fast pace with this sense of urgency, and we don’t take time to be still and know that he is God. He wants to communicate with us. Take time do whatever it takes for you to connect to the purpose that God has for you.”