Today I am incredibly privileged to be joined by Dr. Hunter Baker, Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress from Tennessee District 8. Dr. Baker is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is also a research fellow for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
He earned his PhD in Religion and Politics from Baylor University and his JD from the University of Houston Law Center. He has written three books: The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student’s Guide and The System Has a Soul.
I am especially grateful to Dr. Baker for being part of my first ever interview on this website. He epitomizes what it means to enter the public square and contend for Truth in the marketplace of ideas.
ZS: For a little bit of background, I understand that you are an Associate Professor of Political Science at Union University. What motivated you to run for Congress in 2016 in what is I believe your first run for any public office?
HB: My run is motivated almost entirely by what I see as an emerging crisis in religious liberty. The First Amendment contains the establishment clause and the free exercise clause, but the left acts as though only the establishment clause has any force. I knew the Obergefell decision would set off an equality bomb terrifically dangerous to religious liberty. That is proving to be true.
ZS: As a Christian, undoubtedly your faith influences your worldview and the political positions that you hold. Can you speak a little bit as to how that relationship plays out, and how would you respond to the often misunderstood assertion that the separation of church and state means that religious convictions have no place in government?
HB: For me, the Christian faith defines reality. I experience the world through my belief that Jesus Christ was actually resurrected and that the events of the Gospels are part of history. In politics, this helps me to see that human beings are inherently sinful and that it makes little sense to concentrate too much power in human hands. The founding impulse to check, divide, and limit power in a variety of ways resonates with that view. I’d like to move in that direction and away from the centralization currently in fashion.
ZS: You have obviously made religious liberty the focal point of your campaign as the first item on your Issues list on your website. Can you explain why religious liberty matters to all Americans?
HB: If you don’t have the fundamental freedom to follow your conscience, then you have almost no liberty at all. There are obvious exceptions, such as when you disturb the peace through violence or something along those lines, but generally you should be free in matters of faith and conscience. The right thing to do is to accommodate faith and conscience when possible. To do otherwise is to strain our cohesion as citizens and to create greater conflict among ourselves.
ZS: On your website, you point out that America is heading in the wrong direction on the issue of religious liberty. What do you think is the end of the story if this constitutional right is not defended now?
HB: The end of the story is that we allow government to fundamentally define reality. That’s happening with marriage and gender. The government is telling us what is real and how we will determine what is real. Dissenters will be punished and are being punished.
ZS: Are there any signs of hope? Are there certain court cases, movements or organizations that you think are helping push America in the right direction on religious liberty?
HB: I don’t have a lot of hope at the moment. The Supreme Court is moving to the left. Young people have moved to the left. I’m waiting for the recoil. In the meantime, I’m running for office and hoping to join a new movement determined to change the course of events.
ZS: At the end of the day, what is one thing that you want everyone in your district to know about you and your campaign when they go to cast their vote in November?
HB: They should know that our district is one of the most conservative and church-going in the nation. If we won’t send someone on a mission to protect religious liberty, who will?
Photo used with permission from Hunter Baker