By Pat Centner, AFA Journal staff writer
September 2000 – “And to the same Divine Author of every good and perfect gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land.”
James Madison, Presidential Proclamation, 1815
Bruce Barilla is proud to be an American. He makes that very clear. And he’s proud, too, of his legacy as the citizen of a country founded by men devoutly committed to God – men who created a form of government undergirded by principles reflecting that very commitment.
His belief in this legacy is so strong that he has created a ministry through which he works with people who share his zeal to get national, state and local governments to dedicate Thanksgiving Week as America’s Christian Heritage Week (ACHW) each year.
Barilla says he happened to see a state proclamation declaring a Christian Heritage Week in New Mexico for 1991. “I was intrigued by the idea of a state government acknowledging and thanking God for its blessings in a formalized way,” he said. “I immediately thought, wow! What a great idea! I’d love for my own state (West Virginia) to do this; and in 1992, with the help of State Senator Tony Whitlow, Governor Gaston Caperton proclaimed West Virginia’s first ACHW.”
Barilla then began sending copies of the West Virginia proclamation to Christian ministries throughout America. As a result, he was contacted by Rus Walton of the Plymouth Rock Foundation. Walton indicated that his organization and the Christian Heritage Center had been looking for someone to work with them in promoting an America’s Christian Heritage Week nationwide. Barilla agreed to work alongside them, and on August 11, 1992, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia introduced ACHW legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Thus was born Barilla’s own America’s Christian Heritage Week ministry.
Considering his is a “one-man ministry,” Barilla has been quite successful. Thirty-four states and four cities have observed an ACHW since 1992. “I use most of my tithe to fund the ministry; I wouldn’t be financially able to support this work without doing so.
“I really rely on Christian organizations like AFA to help me get the word out about ACHW. Most of my contacts have come from people who read about my work in various publications. I am grateful for the help.”
And it is amazing what one person can do, said Barilla. He has a long list of people who, by using his promotion materials, have single-handedly been able to establish an ACHW for their own state. (Visit the ACHW web site at www.achw.org.)
Barilla is an optimistic man. But when it comes to ACHW, he says there is a very disappointing downside. He feels our state and national leaders are bowing to the pressure of special interest groups who are attempting to diminish any acknowledgment of God in our schools, workplaces, and even our halls of government.
One example he cites is a mailing he made this year to President Clinton, the 535 members of Congress, and the Bush and Gore Campaigns, in which he asked for support in establishing Thanksgiving Week as America’s Christian Heritage Week. Sadly, he has received only three responses thus far (although two states, Illinois and West Virginia, are celebrating ACHW during Thanksgiving Week this year).
In 1997, 1998 and 1999, President Clinton politely declined Barilla’s request to establish an ACHW for observance nationwide. But Clinton did proclaim the month of June, 2000, as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. He also declared a Jewish Heritage Week in 1995.
“America was founded as a Christian nation,” said Barilla. “And when you carefully study the founding documents, you realize our Founding Fathers never intended for there to be a separation of church and state. You also realize they wanted to secure certain precious rights for our citizens, but today, rather than our government securing our rights, they are denying our rights in many ways. When you study our Christian heritage, you realize that we as Christians must live out our country’s motto, ‘In God we trust.’”
Barilla also believes it is imperative for Christians to run for office in this country. He says we must have Christians in government in order to keep America from losing the blessings of God. He believes in it so strongly, in fact, that he ran against incumbent Jay Rockefeller in West Virginia’s 1996 congressional primary.
“Christians need to be salt and light in this world,” he said, “whatever their station in life, whatever their occupation. I was a janitor for 8-1/2 years at Concord College, but I ran against Rockefeller because he is pro-abortion. I figured I wouldn’t win, but I wanted people to know my position as a Christian who is 100% pro-life. I’m back in Illinois now, but I would really like to return to West Virginia and run for the U.S. Senate again because Rockefeller supports partial-birth abortions, and someone needs to oppose that thinking.”
Barilla, the soft-spoken grandson of Polish and Russian immigrants, was born and raised in Chicago’s “Back of the Yards” (stockyards) neighborhood. His father instilled in him a deep appreciation for this country and its heritage. As a boy, he remembers his father telling him the story of how his grandfather came to America and got a job shoveling coal for 39 cents a ton. Barilla says he asked, “Why would grandpa want to come here and do that?” His father replied that grandpa knew he would have a better life in America than he could ever hope for in Europe, because America is the land of opportunity.