Rebecca Hamilton is a former pro-abortion activist and leader. As the Oklahoma Director of NARAL, she helped establish the first abortion clinic in Oklahoma, and she continued her activism after being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. After experiencing a profound conversion to Christ, voters returned her to office as a pro-life Democrat and she spent twelve years defending life and families in the Oklahoma Legislature. Rebecca left her political career in 2014, and along with the National Catholic Register, she writes at Patheos on her blog Public Catholic.
America reinvents itself every election. What’s so great about this, is that ordinary people like you and me are part of this process of reinventing.
We can vote, make phone calls, donate money, canvass neighborhoods, talk to our friends and otherwise participate in the electoral process by which Americans chose who will wield the powers of government. If we decide later that we made a mistake, there’s always another election to rectify that.
Perhaps the most important way that Americans can participate in the electoral process is to step forward and place their names on the ballot. Filing for office is the first step. What comes afterwards is usually a marathon.
The winner suddenly finds themselves with a lot of new best friends and a boatload of responsibilities, the complexity of which will daunt and overwhelm them at first. The loser ends with nothing but memories.
As we say here in Okieland, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. When it comes to elections, the winner takes all and no apologies.
Two people just learned that hard fact in Steubenville, Ohio. Kimberley Hahn, who is a prominent Catholic author, as well as the wife of the even more prominent Catholic writer Scott Hahn, won an election yesterday. She is the newly-minted member at large of the local city council.
She is now experiencing the euphoria of the win and the sudden influx of new pals. The complexities and headaches of public office are just around the bend, but they probably haven’t shown up at her door just yet. Her opponent, on the other hand, now inhabits the world of phones that don’t ring and new-old best friends who don’t remember who he is.
It’s enough to give a person the emotional bends, on either side of the experience. Win or lose, running for office is a meat grinder that leaves the participants twisted out of shape.
People who walk into office in a state of confusion are doomed to be bulled, baffled and led around. Too many people enter public office with beliefs and understandings that are about as deep as a saucer.
They can do the 15-second sound bite, rattling off slogans as well as any ventriloquist’s dummy. But if you sit them down and really push at them about what they believe and why they believe it, you will quickly find that they don’t know. They may be sincere, but sincerity without understanding is pretty much useless in elected office.
Their beliefs are getting ready to go to the rodeo. If they’ve never been confronted with the twists and turns, confusions and obfuscations of full-speed, grown-up politics, they will be stomped flat before they make it out of the chute.
No one who hasn’t been through it can understand the way that things get turned on their head in the pressure cooker of elected office. No one who hasn’t been through it can understand how hard it is to see through the lies and past the pressure to the right thing to do.
The decisions of governance sound simple when you’re sitting at home play-acting at making the decisions. It’s all so simple from a distance, where there are no consequences. But when you actually hold the lives and future of other people in your hands, and when you are confronted with the complexities of the full range of potential outcomes that are inherent in every decision you make, it’s a lot tougher.
If you don’t walk in the door of public office with a rock-hard understanding of who you are and what you believe, you are going, as we say here in Oklahoma, to get twisted every which way but loose.
That is why it is so important for committed Christians, in particular, strong Catholics, to belly up to the bar and run for office. Having said that, I need to emphasize that these people must have fully-formed consciences on the whole range of issues that will confront them.
I do not mean that they must walk into office with a database of prospective votes. That is a practical impossibility. What an effective Christian lawmaker needs is a clear understanding of what Jesus meant when He spoke of the “least of these,” and a commitment to the common good that supersedes his or her personal ambition.
It takes guts to vote in ways that run counter to the demands of those who helped you get elected. It takes even more guts to stand up to your colleagues and vote in ways that cross party lines and loyalties.
No one will repay you for doing this. On the contrary, you will end up with your allies gunning for you, and the other guys watching and taking notes while they do it.
The devil comes at you when you’re in elected office, and the more you stand for Christ, the harder he’s going to hit you. It’s a lonely business, following Christ in the halls of power.
You may have support among your family and friends, but they can’t go with you into elected office. You walk in alone, and you have to face what happens alone.
My experience — and I have quite a lot of it — is that if you truly follow Christ and put whatever happens in His hands, you will come through with your soul reasonably unscarred. That is why we need people who have been walking that walk of trusting Christ for a long time before they enter public office.
Trusting Jesus gets easier as you do it. You learn that He will never leave you and forsake you by experiencing it first hand.
I don’t know Kimberly Hahn, but from what I’ve read, she’s had a long experience of trusting Jesus, first with her conversion to natural family planning, and then to the Catholic Church. She’s followed Christ in critical areas of her life, and I’m sure she’s paid a price, as well as reaped rewards, for doing it.
Public office will introduce her to a different level of following Him. She will encounter the hostility of those who hate Jesus and everything He stands for. At the same time, she will also encounter the smooth manipulation of people who are paid a great deal to “educate” her on the choices she must make.
There is nothing quite like it.
America reinvents itself every election. Given the extraordinary depth of our country’s recent plunge into nihilism, we should take comfort in that and consider how we can play our part in reversing the trend.
At the same time, we must not — ever — confuse political activity with conversion. The call to political office is a separate anointing that not every Christian is given. However, the call to convert the world is a universal Christian commission given to us by Our Lord Himself.
That means that it does not matter what you do or where you find yourself, your call is always in everything to consciously work toward the conversion of those around you. This is not an aggressive act. It is by far the most loving thing you can do.
Conversion to Christ means that you are offering them the free gift of eternal life. You are offering them ongoing fellowship with the God Who made them and Who loves them beyond our finite comprehension of love.
Conversion to Christ is the gift of abundant life for all time, beginning today. There is nothing you can do for anyone that is more loving that to introduce them to Jesus Christ.
The call to political office is a call to exercise the power of government on behalf of the governed. That means that elected office, if it done with integrity, is never about the office holder. It is always about the people.
Nothing anyone can do in office is more valuable to the people than to follow the teachings of Christ. I am not talking about passing laws to force businesses to close on Sundays or to make contraceptives illegal.
What I mean is the exercise of government according to the teachings of a God who says that every human being is made in His Image and Likeness, and that we are called to care for one another and bind up one another’s wounds.
I am referring to following Jesus Christ, which means, among other things that we may not lie, steal, cheat, slander, or kill other people. It means that family is a life-giving, life-long sacrament of love and fidelity between one man and one woman, and that men and women are equal and beautiful co-authors of life with God.
Following Jesus while holding public office means always acting on behalf of the common good.
I do not envy anyone who holds public office today. But I do pray for them. They need prayer. They are in the hot seat.