Song and prayer echoed through the third floor of the Capitol this morning as Gov. Sam Brownback, several lawmakers and dozens of residents kicked off the legislative session by asking for God’s guidance in crafting policy for the state.
"Father God, we thank you for our governor," David Epps said as a group surrounded Brownback in the former State Supreme Court chambers. "We thank God that you have placed your man in the governor’s office for such a time as this. We understand that these are critical times that we live in. We understand, God, that you have to have your people in place to accomplish your purposes and plans. We believe that you have done this and we believe, Lord, that is the prayers of your people that have placed this man in this office for this time."
Epps, a National Day of Prayer organizer with the religious organization Transform Topeka, prayed for Brownback to have "godly wisdom."
"Lord we understand that this is not something that can be accomplished in the natural," he said. "But there has to be a supernatural transaction for us to move forward in the state in such a way that will glorify you."
"I thank you, God, that you have given him authority to move in ways that are unusual," Epps said. "Because the authority that he is moving is the authority of heaven. And, Lord, I understand, we all understand, that the authority of men is overruled by the authority of heaven."
Brownback stood among the group with his head down and eyes closed as people gathered, many holding their palms up above their heads.
The governor offered a prayer of his own. He thanked God for his blessings and prayed for guidance. "May this Capitol radiate in your love," he said. "We pray that in Jesus’ name. Amen."
"I love you, Sam," someone said after he finished.
The event was part of the Prayer on the Hill, which was organized by the Culture Shield Network, a Wichita-based faith advocacy group. Like Brownback, the event is in its second year. Attendance grew significantly compared to last year, said Donna Lippoldt, founder of the Culture Shield Network.
"We have people that pray in the Capitol all day, every day during the whole legislative session," she said.
Asked about her groups’ purpose, she compared it to Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos quarterback who is an outspoken advocate of faith.
"We just really believe in calling on God and we want to score a touchdown for God here in the legislative session," she said. "And we think we have a governor who can throw an 80-yard pass."
Afterward, Brownback got rock star-like attention, with some recalling a prayer in his office to kick off last year’s session.
Asked about the proximity of religion and government, Brownback noted that the session starts with prayer in both chambers and that the nation was started in prayer with pilgrims and George Washington.
"The abolitionists that came to Kansas, many were people of prayer," he said.
Brownback said the separation of church and state is intact. But he said people get uncomfortable when religion is dictated to them.
"This is an open state of faith," he said, noting that he also held a Hanukkah celebration.
Asked about how he felt about the prayers for him, he said he wasn’t sure how to answer the question. But he didn’t hesitate when asked about what’s on his mind as the legislative session begins.
"It’s a big session, and it’s really important," he said. "For my thinking on it, this is one that really helps transition the state from a high tax state to a low tax state; from one that’s had no private sector job growth to one with strong private sector job growth and get to a stable school finance and stable pension and stable budget. We’ve got a lot to do."