Haslam on ‘critical’ need for politicians to have spiritual discipline

Excerpts from an article Gov. Bill Haslam wrote – headlined “Public Service as a Spiritual Discipline” — for Comment, a publication of Cardus, which is described as “a think tank devoted to renewing North American social architecture, rooted in 2000 years of Christian social thought”:

Now, as I begin the last year of my second term as governor, I agree with John Senior who writes in his book, A Theology of Political Vocation: Christian Life and Public Office, that a new view of the theology of political vocation is not only possible, but also critical, as we live out our faith in a morally ambiguous political world.

…While the meek might inherit the earth, what do they do on the campaign trail? As believers we are instructed to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Yet a campaign is primarily about saying, “I’m the one. Elect me and I can solve these problems.” The challenges continue once you are in office. The issues are rarely as clear as they seem, and those issues are discussed in a media environment that is changing faster than anyone imagined. Today’s social-media-driven world has no editors to check validity and rewards taking the low road while it punishes anyone choosing to defend against the crowd.

…a candidate who will support our view of abortion, or the expansion of health-care coverage, or any other issue that we deem worthy is to be supported at all costs. In that view, the ends of power make it worth it to abandon those Christian virtues in order to be elected and thus able to effect change. Lost in the discussions about specific issues is the concept of the “common good.”

…When one is forced to make difficult decisions, with no clear-cut answers, in front of a watching public that will be affected by that decision, the tendency is to find the easiest, most politically popular landing place. This is exactly why a proper theology of political vocation is so important. Courage to make a hard political decision comes from the assurance that God has called us to this position and this challenge. Rarely is the decision as easy as it sounds on Fox or CNN.

…For those of us in elected office, the challenge of political vocation means taking seriously Paul’s call to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). As a candidate and as an office-holder, I experienced powerfully the pull to conform in order to succeed. The best way that I have found to counteract that magnetic pull is to remind myself that I am here because I truly believe that this is where God called me to be. As a matter of fact, nothing in my life has felt as much like a calling as serving in a public role. A campaign for office can either be an exercise in pushing Christ to the side, or a crucible for the formation of Christ in us.

… Bearing pain can frequently mean being misunderstood or publicly chastised for a vote or an action. But it also means the inestimable privilege of being a part of God’s project to redeem society and serve our fellow image-bearers.

…The practice of a political vocation, based on a sound theology of political vocation, has rarely been more difficult, or more critical, than it is today. May God send us faithful men and women to live out that calling in ways that glorify him and in making this world look a little more like the world that is to come.

Note: The Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini read the article and issued this statement:

“Last week Governor Haslam wrote an essay he titled, ‘Politics As A Spiritual Discipline.’ In it, he called on voters to reject the view that because someone agrees with your positions, that makes them worthy of support at all costs. Unfortunately, Governor Haslam has already decided to make partisan politics the priority of his final year in office by leading the RGA instead of focusing on working across the aisle to solve problems in Tennessee. In that job, he is now faced with the decision he called on voters to make. The accusations against Missouri Gov. Greitens and the ongoing criminal investigation are deeply disturbing, and yet, he remains on the leadership team of Haslam’s Republican Governors Association. Will Governor Haslam, as the Chair of the RGA, call on Greitens to step down, or support him at all cost because of their shared political goals?”

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