Search online for “Beryl Amedee” and you’ll quickly find the video, “Freshman legislator Rep. Beryl Amedee invokes scripture on the budget mess” (embedded below). Amedee, standing before her colleagues, used the too-often-perfunctory task of giving an opening prayer to call the lawmaking body to repentance and reform. She employed theological language marked by boldness, sobriety, and grace.
And keep in mind, this was in her first full week of service as the newly elected Representative for Louisiana’s 51st District.
I interviewed Rep. Amedee last week to hear about how the work is going. I especially wanted to hear about the origin and outcomes of this opening prayer.
Knowing and using Scripture while in the public square is becoming a rare thing. And framing a policy matter like debt as something that must be repented of—that is unusual language for a public official. Did you get any feedback from that prayer?
Feedback, backlash—Yes, they haven’t asked me to lead in prayer since. It’s been a year and a half.
The house has a routine. Every day when we open the house floor session, either one of the legislatures or the chaplain who was standing to my right in this video or maybe a guest like someone’s pastor will come and pray. On that day it was my turn. They asked, and I agreed.
My prayer was coming from my heart, overflowing with having the opportunity to now not only pray for the state of Louisiana as a citizen, as a member of the state of Louisiana but to pray from the position of being a legislator. I was going to pray from the position of one who now carried the burden to make certain decisions on behalf of the whole state.
When you pray from your position of authority, that’s when your prayers can be most effective. If you’re the parent of a child, when you pray for that child, your prayers are most effective. I can pray for my neighbor’s children and as a believer, I have some authority. But no one can have greater authority in prayer for that child than their own parent or grandparent.
And so, having the opportunity to stand and pray a public prayer in the house chamber—as a house member—was a beautiful opportunity for me. So I tried to take full advantage of that authority, first by thanking God for all the many and abundant blessings that he has always bestowed upon Louisiana. But secondly for also standing in the gap by taking the responsibility for the years and years of wrong decisions.
I’m not saying every decision was wrong or every legislator had made horrible decisions. And I certainly wasn’t pointing at simply the previous administration. I was taking on the responsibility of saying, “I may be a freshman, but now I am a legislator, and the legislature over the years has made certain decisions that have brought Louisiana to this point in time, to this condition, to this circumstance that we now need to address and repent of and change.” I was asking other believers to join me in repenting of that so that we can move forward.
The effect of that prayer is that many people who maybe never have heard that kind of prayer were highly offended, because they thought that I was calling them out and saying, “You are corrupt. You did this. It’s your fault.” And over the next few weeks after that prayer, if I had a bill on the house floor, it didn’t matter what the topic of the bill was, the questions that came from some members were: “Do you believe I’m corrupt?” Of course, I think that that’s a complete misunderstanding.
Overall, what is it like to be a freshman legislator there in Louisiana? And what are the particular challenges of being a Christian lawmaker?
Well, I came in with certain preconceived ideas, and some of them have panned out wonderfully—and some of them have been a little surprising and disappointing.
For example, in my first session—being faced with a $2 billion shortfall—I thought, “I’m just getting here. What are we going to do?” I looked to a lot of the senior members, some who’ve been there for years, and I was really disappointed that after years of dealing with this budget, they didn’t seem to have more answers than they did.
I was hoping that through some experienced leadership we would have a big plan that I would really be able to jump into and promote. But I was disappointed because I didn’t see any big plan.
In coming to Baton Rouge, I had vowed that I that I would put everything I could into the work. So it was quite shocking to have to figure out where to find $2 billion and to be faced with a budget that is so convoluted and twisted and complicated—more so than probably any other state budget in the nation.
On the other hand, many things were familiar to me because I had done grassroots lobbying for years. I relished the opportunity to come in and debate and explain ideas and share ideas with legislators.
What inspired you to run for office?
As a little girl, I would have never said, “When I grow up I want to be a legislator.” Never even crossed my mind. But back when I was homeschooling three children, some Congressman decided to pass a bill to make what I was doing illegal The proposed law said that in order to teach your own children in your own house, you needed to be a certified teacher. And so, I got involved in the grassroots movement to try to kill that legislation.
So, I got involved in the grassroots movement to try to kill that legislation. This was back in the days before cell phones, before email or internet in our homes. To communicate with Congress meant calling or faxing the member’s office. We organized and were so successful that for three business days in a row, the capital switchboards were shut down because they were overwhelmed with so many calls. Congressmen had to leave their offices, walk down the street, and find payphones just to get any business done.
And …Congress has never attempted to outlaw homeschooling since.
And then, this political activity ended up being an ongoing thing in your life?
Yes, as my sons were old enough to be at home by themselves for a little while, I would run off to Baton Rouge and argue with legislatures any time they attempted to put further regulation on homeschoolers. But while I was there, I found there were a number of topics I could discuss with legislators—life issues, religious freedom, parental rights, and issues about smaller government. I enjoyed it very much as a hobby.
I understand that you attended one of the American Renewal Project events there in Baton Rouge?
Yes, it was the Issachar Training workshop in Baton Rouge that was put on by the American Renewal Project. It was very helpful. I loved the ideas that were promoted and the explanations that were given. The training was very beneficial, and I recommend it.
Now, for me, it came a little bit late because I was already halfway or two-thirds of the way through a campaign at the time. So, I was sitting there thinking, “I wish someone had explained to me earlier.” It’s okay though because I’ll still put to use everything that I learned—in the future.
Did you enjoy the campaigning? Some people they enjoy that. For others, it’s a gruel. How did you take to the campaigning?
It was both. There were parts of campaigning that I truly enjoyed—knocking on doors, doing events and organizing the groups—that’s fun to me. The difficult part was to constantly have to look for places to put up campaign signs!
I was coming in as an unknown. Signs don’t vote—that’s the saying. And yet if your name is not known, signs are a really good way to get your name out there. But it felt like I spent nine months doing nothing but putting up campaign signs from the crack of dawn ‘til after dark. I had mosquito bites to prove it. So that was the grueling part.
Would you encourage Christians to consider run for elected office? And particularly for people who are vocational pastors?
I wholeheartedly encourage believers to run for whatever office interests them, at whatever level of government they could reach.
There is a belief these days in America about the separation of church and state—and it’s a false belief. The Constitution says nothing about churches being separate from the government. The Constitution, when it talks about religion, talks about keeping government out of the church—and there’s a big distinction there.
I believe that if Christians are not involved, if we don’t have a civic voice, if we don’t have any positions of authority, especially those positions that make the decisions like legislative positions, then our voice is lost. Our voice is hidden away.
And so the only way we can hold steady, the only way we can, maybe, make progress at restoring some of the religious liberties that we’re quickly losing, the only way that the church can be an influence in policy, is to be involved.
Sometimes, being involved could simply mean praying. We’re all supposed to do that. Other times it means taking action like showing up at your local government meetings and speaking up that you either feel strongly about because you love it or because you hate it. But other times it might mean just jumping in and running for a particular office. And that could be any office, but especially those offices where the decisions are made.
As for pastors, many pastors—especially the senior pastor of a large congregation—may not have the time to give to serving in public elected office, because it is a sacrifice. It is a responsibility, and there’s always work to be done.
However, there are people who are serving in ministry who may not be the senior pastor of a large congregation, who may not have that everyday, all-day type of responsibility—they could give up a portion of their time to civic and community service in this way. And I do highly recommend it.