A Theology for the Vocation of Politician

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What is a faith-inspired framework for public office?

Recently Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam delivered his final State of the State address to the state’s General Assembly. And regardless of your personal politics, we can all likely agree on one of the Governor’s parting comments, as he emphasized a need for all Tennesseans to have meaningful work.

“Tennessee will lead,” Haslam stated, “because every man and woman, created in the image of God, deserves meaningful work.”

The Nashville Institute for Faith and Work was founded on the dignity of work and a desire to further instill that emphasis into our culture. So when we see the themes and purposes displayed in such public places, it’s encouraging.

Haslam’s SOTS address echoes a recent piece for Comment Magazine in which Haslam attributed a great deal of his vocational discernment to both his personal faith and John Senior’s book, A Theology of Political Vocation: Christian Life and Public Office.

As Senior states and Haslam agrees, “Christians should not shy away from political service, but should engage with a spirit of being about God's work rather than the passionate pursuit of our own political success.”

Below are a few excerpts from Haslam’s article in Comment which we found particularly poignant as examples of integrating ones faith into work in the public service realm. We hope you notice the thoughtfulness with which he combined his faith and work to see the flourishing of all.

  • "John Calvin's description of politics as being ‘the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all professions’ has always seemed like a little bit of a stretch to me. However, since I do agree with Senior that all of us are called to be a part of God's project to redeem society, I think that having a political vocation does give us a chance to multiply the influence our work has. I have often remarked that, while I ran for governor thinking I would be the CEO of the state, I more often feel like its senior pastor. I am amazed at how often our work, when done well, can change the course of a life. It is hard for me to imagine ever having a job again that will give me as much opportunity to change lives as being governor."

  • "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."

  • “One of the joys of serving in office has been seeing the impact of various initiatives that contribute to the common good. A program to provide free community college has changed countless life trajectories. New drug courts can provide alternatives to incarceration for people struggling with drug addiction. Job training for adults with disabilities allows them to enter the workforce. These elements of the common good, and many more, rarely make the list on a voter's guide describing critical issues for people of faith. Add to this the historical difficulty of governing in a pluralistic society, and it is understandable that most potential office-holders would just throw up their hands and declare politics hopelessly broken.”

  • "As someone currently called into a political role, I am grateful for the insight that John Senior brings. Given today's political climate, Senior's thesis is an important one: Christians should not shy away from political service, but should engage with a spirit of being about God's work rather than the passionate pursuit of our own political success. However, those of us in elected office at any level could benefit from a further discussion of the practical pulls and tugs that are a part of our lives. 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."

You can read Haslam’s article in full for Comment here.

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