At the beginning of the second day of Sen. Max Baucus’s, D-Mont., Faith Summit at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell Tuesday, the senator explained his ground rules for the conference and got some unexpected applause.
The first rule, he said, was to leave politics at the door, causing the several hundred audience members in FVCC’s new Arts and Technology Building to begin clapping. Baucus smiled at the response, but couldn’t resist digressing, a few moments later, into his frustration over President Bush’s recent veto of a bill to expand children’s health insurance (CHIP) that passed Congress with bipartisan support.
Baucus’s other two rules – to give every idea a chance and to bring solutions – dovetailed with his goals for the summit, which aimed to bring faith groups and nonprofit groups together to tackle social problems. The two-day summit consists of a series of speakers and brainstorming “breakout sessions” on issues ranging from drug addiction to natural disaster response to homelessness.
After a performance by the Kalispell Christian Center Choir, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. and a former music teacher took to the podium, praising the performance’s dissonance and harmony. But Tester couldn’t refrain from remarking over the CHIP veto either.
“Folks, let us assure you this fight over CHIP is not over with yet,” Tester said.
Baucus then introduced the morning’s keynote speaker, U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Clayton Black.
Black, who visited Glacier National Park for the first time the previous day, gestured out the window, praising fall in the Flathead.
“I haven’t seen colors like this outside of a Monet painting,” Black said. “Some of this yellow is just off the chain, as they say in my neighborhood.”
Black, a former Navy admiral, went on to describe American freedom as “a flickering flame,” a fragile but carefully tended idea about basic human rights “that needs to be guarded.”
“While our founders intended a separation of church and state, they never intended a separation of God and state,” Black said. “There is a spiritual dimension to who we are and what we are about.”
Black warned that historically great civilizations, like the Babylonians and Romans, “did not so much explode and implode.” He listed pointed similarities between the fall of the Roman empire and present day America, including a decline in religion, an erosion of family bonds, an obsession with frivolous sports and a government that devotes excessive amounts of revenue to the military and armaments.
“Ladies and gentlemen the parallels are frightening,” Black said. “Sin is an equal opportunity destroyer; sin don’t care that your name is America.”
But Black’s overall message was one of optimism that the summit could, through a spiritual perspective, brainstorm solutions to issues facing Montana.
“That’s why we’re here,” he said, “to cooperate with divinity in solving the problems of our time.”
Bozeman climber and writer Greg Mortenson is scheduled as the afternoon’s featured speaker. Mortenson is the author of “Three Cups of Tea” and founder of the Central Asia Institute
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