Mississippi Senate OKs first chaplian

Published 12:24 am Thursday, January 6, 2011

JACKSON (AP) — All the Mississippi Senate leadership wanted to do was to authorize the chamber’s first official chaplain, but the proposal touched off debate over whether it’s more important to send a message about Christian values to put the faith in practice through legislation.

The resolution, which passed with no senators voting against it Wednesday, authorizes a chaplain to serve on a yearly basis. The chaplain is selected by Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and will be on duty at least one-day a week, said Senate President Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport.

The Rev. Ben James, pastor of Prentiss Baptist Church, has been chosen for the unpaid position. Hewes said having a chaplain for the Senate “makes a statement.”

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“Our Christianity is under attack and I think this is a way for us to make a statement that faith in our lives is very important,” Hewes said.

Sen. Alice Harden, D-Jackson, was among a handful of lawmakers who questioned the need for a chaplain since each day the Senate opens with prayer from a visiting minister selected by a member. She also said members should have some input in who’s selected.

“I have been insulted in this chamber by ministers who get up and pray for the men in this chamber and made derogatory remarks about some of us in here,” Harden said.

“I think as Christian people we ought to walk the walk rather than talk the talk,” Harden said.

“With the legislation I have seen passed in this chamber a lot of it is unbearable.”

This week, Bryant officially announced his bid for the Republican nomination for governor. Hewes announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor. Both have touted their conservative and religious views.

Mick Bullock, Bryant’s spokesman, said about 30 other states have chaplains who serve in legislatures.

Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, said his concern about the chaplain was that he would have to be able to minister to lawmakers from different background and religious preferences.

“I’m kind of worried if we can bring somebody in that’s nonpartisan that can represent interest across the table. We can’t do that ourselves,” Jones said.

The House does not have a chaplain, but like the Senate, brings in a minister each day to open with prayer. That practice will continue in the Senate.

Hewes said the chaplain will be available if a member needs ministerial counsel during the day. Hewes said the U.S. House and Senate have had official chaplains for years.


The resolution is Senate Resolution 1.