In 2007, a classic book about the life and ministry of Billy Graham was released entitled “The Preacher and the Presidents.” The book brings to life the significant relationship that this great evangelist and spiritual statesman had on the public and private lives of the most powerful men on earth.
First Baptist Church of El Paso has a very similar tale, but its roots run much closer to home. Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States has direct ties to the history and family of this historic church. For those who know the story of the birth of the church back in 1882, you would probably recognized the name “Baines” because the founding pastor of the church was none other than George W. Baines, Jr., a young courageous preacher to determined to found a church in the wild, wild West.
George Baines’ father was the bigger than life character George Washington Baines, who was a pastor, publisher, and Baptist statesman who at one point served as president of Baylor University. He took this post at a time of great controversy as the school struggled with the issue of whether or not to educate women back in 1861. Baines stood out as a great advocate of women’s education and served well as the president during the dark days of the Civil War.
George Washington Baines also played a huge role in the spiritual conversion of Sam Houston and his famous baptism by Rufus Burleson. Margaret Lea Houston had pleaded with her husband for years to choose to follow Christ, and finally one evening he agreed and opened his heart to Jesus, yet he still had serious reservations about being baptized. Just as Houston expressed those concerns his wife spotted Baines riding by their home on a horse. She ran out the door, begged the preacher to spend the night with them, and the next morning after a long talk Sam Houston agreed to be baptized.
The famous story goes that when Houston was baptized Burleson noticed the old general still had his billfold in his pocket and encouraged him to give it to a friend for safe keeping. Houston rejected the offer saying “No, I’m afraid not pastor, I believe it needs baptizing too!” George Washington Baines stood on the banks of Rocky Creek to witness this historic moment in Texas history.
As you can see Lyndon Baines Johnson, the president thrust into power by the deadly wounds suffered by the beloved John F. Kennedy in Dallas, became a great statesman and champion of freedom. Under his administration the dark evil of segregation began to lose its grip in the South with the passing of Civil Rights legislation. In addition, he led the nation to make significant changes in the immigration laws of the land. You can practically see the blood line of those Baptist preachers running through his veins and decisions.
This Saturday the Tom Lea Institute under the direction of Adair Margo, a long time active member of First Baptist Church, will present this story with the help of Dr. Patricia Witherspoon, Dean of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas El Paso. The title of the presentation will be “Master Persuaders, the Preacher and the President: George Baines and Lyndon Baines Johnson.” I will be speaking on how George W. Baines influenced LBJ.
This event will begin at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, October 12th downtown at the El Paso Community Foundation at 333 N. Oregon. This event and all the other ones this weekend are open to the public. For more information you should check out www.tomlea.net.
Never underestimate the power and the reach of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Its influence turns up in places you might never expect. As you can see it can move from the church house to the White House.