Earlier this week Thom Rainer posted a column about church and state (you can find it here:http://www.thomrainer.com/2011/10/church-versus-state.php. As I thought about his post I decided to try to explain why I am involved as deeply as I am (perhaps too deeply) in government. First, although Oregon is a fairly liberal state (voting Democratic in the last several presidential elections; being the first state to legalize physician assisted suicide just to name a couple of issues) and not very evangelical (which goes against our founding as a state…Jason Lee, a Methodist missionary was crucial in developing Willamette University (est. in 1842) and in the initial steps of statehood), there are strong evangelical undercurrents in the state (I know this is anecdotal, but I was privileged to open the Oregon State House of Representatives in prayer on a couple of occasions and was surprised by how many legislators thanked me for praying ‘in the name of Jesus Christ.’). Douglas County, my home for over 20 years, is solidly Republican and well represented with a wide variety of evangelical churches. More importantly there are evangelical Christians in county leadership positions both elected and appointed. Our Governor has embarked upon a radical reform of education and health care. While many of the elements carry hints of social engineering there are some interesting pieces to his attempts to prioritize budget resources, and to break down barriers between state agencies.
Second, as a result of pastoring the same church for over 20 years and raising our two children here, my wife and I are accorded a level of respect -even from non-believers. The past 10 or 11 years I have been drawn more and more into city, county, and even state issues. Part of the reason is what I call the ministry of just showing up. My wife and I showed up at Parent Club meetings, at Booster Club meetings. A little over 10 years ago two 13yr old boys died (one died as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the other death was ruled accidental though it is believed the young man was playing ‘Russian roulette’ ) I was asked to show up at the Middle School and assist in the grief counseling after these tragic events. I was asked to show up at more and more meetings till now I jokingly call myself the token community representative for the local school district. I can honestly say that numbers of others have now become involved, hopefully because I was willing to set an example.
Another reason I am involved has to do with what I see happening in our state, and to some degree in our nation. Christians have been marginalized, too often because we have withdrawn instead of getting engaged in the issues. While I may not always choose my battles wisely, I refuse to be sidelined. As a taxpayer, as a citizen, as a pastor who has stood besides numerous families in various states of crisis I see a social service system that is rapidly failing. As a pastor to many families over these 20 years and as a parent who sent his kids to public schools (yes, there was a Christian School nearby, but my wife and I wanted our kids to attend public school) I see the dissolution of our school system’s funding mechanism coming sooner than later. Simply put, I want to be there when the system collapses so I can help rebuild a better system.While I cannot agree with every article in our Governor’s platform to reshape education and health care, I agree that the current system is broken. My tiny efforts may not and probably won’t draw statewide attention our county’s systems will be more consumer friendly and more user accessible and more directly accountable for the resources that are used.
Finally, I am involved because too many of the people I serve as pastor have been intimidated by unwieldy state systems and confused by the constant insistence of government agencies to use acronyms for everything (of course I can’t help but think of BYPU; TU; SS; CT; DT; WMU; RA’s; GA’s LMCO; and AAEO for example). If I can disentangle some of the layers of red tape, if I can help explain what the acronyms mean, perhaps others will take courage from my example.
Well, there are some of the reasons I am engaged. I have met some wonderful and marvelous believers along the way. I have learned a great deal about myself and my capacity as well. I have become intrigued by the potential for development even in a rural community that is suffering with an unemployment rate that is staggering. I am encouraged because nothing is impossible with God- not even state social service and education systems!