In 1994, Forrest Claunch (Midwest City) and John Sullivan (Tulsa) were elected to serve in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Through their service as freshmen legislators and later as veterans, they found themselves working together on several common issues. During an afternoon session, Sullivan came over to Claunch's desk, leaned over, and whispered, "You don't like Catholics do you?"
Claunch, a member of First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, was a bit startled by Sullivan's question. "No that's not true," said Claunch. "But that is not the question. What matters is this: If this place were blown up today and you stood before God, would He let you into Heaven, and can you explain why He should?"
Claunch said when he asked the question, Sullivan's face became ashen.
Sullivan now recalls, "I was confronted with a question I could not avoid: Why should God let me into Heaven?" He recounted that all he could think about was he was a good man who loved his wife and children, and had a religion he participated in from the time of his birth (He was even the nephew of a Catholic bishop). He enjoyed professional success and was viewed by many people as fortunate and favored.
"However, on a day in March, I knew I was confronted with 'Why should God let me into Heaven?' and I did not have a legitimate answer," he said.
On Monday evening, March 8, 1999, Sullivan went to Claunch's office at the Capitol. Claunch explored with Sullivan the claims of Christ in the Scriptures.
"Forrest challenged me to consider the claims of Christ, that Christ alone is the way to God and no person can be good enough to deserve Heaven apart from yielding our lives to Christ," Sullivan said.
That very evening, Sullivan knelt in Claunch's fifth floor Capitol office and trusted Christ as his personal Savior.
After praying and rejoicing, Claunch challenged Sullivan to go immediately and tell someone about trusting Christ. Sullivan recalled, "I went straight to my office and called my wife."
Once Judy Sullivan heard her husband had prayed to receive Christ, she rejoiced with him and then shared with him that just two weeks prior in a ladies' Bible study group, she had done the same thing. She was afraid to tell her husband. Miraculously, God was already at work in her life. Sullivan said he is always amazed when he shares his testimony.
"As soon as I tell the part about my wife already trusting in Christ, people start crying."
The day begins very early for most legislators with breakfast meetings, committee meetings, luncheons, general sessions, and more meetings into the evening. Each year for five months, an Oklahoma state legislator must contend with more than 1,000 proposed bills, thousands of phone calls and e-mail messages, and mountains of paperwork generated by constituents and staffers. Most legislators' constituents assume their elected officials are knowledgeable about every bill and every issue introduced to the state House and Senate.
Despite their hectic schedules, Claunch and Sullivan are faithful participants in a weekly Tuesday morning Bible study at the Capitol. Claunch and his wife, Mary, continue to be faithful members to the ministry of Del City, First Southern. Sullivan and his family are regular participants in an evangelical congregation in the Tulsa area.
Although Sullivan's name continues to surface on a crowded list of hopefuls to run for the U.S. Congress (1st district), he and Claunch continue to serve their constituents in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Like many other Oklahoma legislators, they know they do not have to check their personal lives, nor their personal faith in Jesus Christ, at the Capitol door.
John Yeats is editor of the Baptist Messenger.