Sunday, May 10, 2009

Politicians with Faith Can Make a Difference

Does it matter that a politician is a person of faith?

It may sound blasphemous for a Baptist preacher to say this, but: Not always...

Some of our greatest political leaders were nominally religious, some of the worst, very religious.

But it does warm my heart when an elected official is unafraid about such an ultimate commitment. While we don't elect men and women to be substitutes or even extensions of our personal faith convictions, when their public concerns are informed by those deep convictions, significant, meaningful things can happen.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is such a politician. At the Metrocrest Mayors' Prayer Breakfast, Mr. Leppert spoke of his convictions movingly and convincingly, "Our real goal in life is not to satisfy ourselves. Our real goal is to prepare ourselves to be with Him in eternity," Leppert told the crowd. "The message of Christ, I think, is really simple: It is to forgive us for our past, to give meaning to the present and to give us a promise for the truth."

Have I not heard those words before? Of course I have. I've also known several Dallas mayors. So far Mr. Leppert's sensitivity, responsiveness and willingness to listen and engage make him stand out in ways that very few who preceded him have. And while it should not matter, by the way, he is a Republican (and please don't get me started on that!).

Authentic Christian politicians, don't have to proselytize or make their colleagues of different beliefs or no belief feel inferior or wrong. The fact that we live in a pluralistic society means that there is room in the public square for all of us. Politicians who know what they believe, who don't use what they believe to troll for favor, and for whom conviction doesn't mean an absence of compassion, have much to offer our cities and our country. Leppert, has so far, shown himself to be one of those politicians.

Leppert's Christianity also makes him sensitive toward the needs of the poorest sections of our city, "We neglected the southern and western parts of our city. That imbalance has cost us over time," Leppert said Thursday to a crowd of more than 200 people gathered for the annual Metrocrest Mayors' Prayer Breakfast ..."If you're a Christian, you have to evoke an understanding and an empathy ... to address the challenges, the needs in these areas."

But social justice will also be found in economic success.

"The city is not going to be successful unless we capitalize on that great asset in the south in terms of land, in terms of human resources," the mayor said. "We're not going to move forward if we don't have everyone feeling engaged or feel ownership."

There will be time to begin to translate the rhetoric of Christian concern for equality, justice and opportunity for all into concrete public policy and sustained action. But no one I know expects this mayor, or any politician, to do it all themselves. That happens as they work with engaged citizens: believers and unbelievers.

Believing citizens, working with believing elected officials, joining unbelivers and people of different different faith backgrounds to bring progress, prosperity and real change to their city.

Imagine that! What a concept!

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