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Ark. governor seeks to remain ‘fresh and vibrant’ in faith

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–During his re-election campaign last November, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee held a news conference with a pile of hamburgers at his side. His opponent, he said, had “served up more ‘whoppers’ than Burger King.”

As a former Southern Baptist pastor in Texarkana, Ark., Huckabee said he has experienced gossip in the church and even “unfair comments and evaluations.” Political life, however, is much tougher, he said, and nowhere was that more vividly displayed than in the gubernatorial campaign last November.

“When you wake up every day knowing that there are people who woke up a little before you did with the sole purpose of destroying you — not just getting you defeated in an election, but literally destroying you and not caring what it does to your family or to your friends — that is a very unsettling kind of experience,” Huckabee said during a recent interview.

What made the experience more unsettling, he said, was that he had no real advocate in the media. “The press was so eager to publish everything that was negative and to be absolutely indifferent to a balance of truth. … That’s what it was like. It was like a very brutal contact sport in which fouls were never called, so the other team felt free to foul.”

The attacks did not produce the election defeat for which Huckabee’s opponent had hoped. He secured another four-year term as governor with his reputation and character intact. In the process he was reminded of the importance of his faith.

“The greatest spiritual challenge is remaining fresh in my faith every day, not coasting on yesterday’s devotion to get through today [and] to remind myself that I can’t assume that because I had a relationship and fellowship with the Lord last week that somehow that’s going to carry me through today.”

To remain “fresh and vibrant” in his faith, Huckabee said he relies on his friends and pastor to hold him accountable, all of whom “feel empowered to confront” their governor and friend.

“If all else fails,” Huckabee said with a laugh, “my wife is probably the boldest of all to tell me how it ought to be. She has the gift of correction. I’m not sure it’s a New Testament gift, but she’s added it to the list of spiritual gifts.”

Remaining accountable to his family and peers means that it is easier to remain resolute in his faith, Huckabee said. And faith, he believes, is important in governing the people of Arkansas. “I think there’s an overwhelming sense in which my Christian convictions drive a lot of my policy decisions,” he said.

For instance, Huckabee said he is willing to allow the church to provide some of the services government offers — such as welfare — because government programs have been ineffective.

“You don’t just create economic models and tell people, ‘If you work harder you’ll prosper.’ You realize that some people have worked really hard and they still haven’t prospered, and what they need is not just a handout but a true ‘hand up,'” he said.

Huckabee said the church can offer that helping hand. An example he cited is Vivian Webb, a black single mother who was on welfare until she began to participate in the Church at Rock Creek’s welfare-to-work program in Little Rock. Her life was transformed spiritually, and soon she found herself working for the governor’s office.

When Huckabee invited President Bush to see firsthand the church’s welfare-to-work program, Webb, Huckabee and the president all sat on the same platform.

“I guess one of the greatest thrills I’ve had in six years as governor was sitting on the platform with President Bush at my church in June 2002. Tommy Thompson, the health and human services secretary, was to my left and the president of the United States, who I’d just introduced, was at the microphone speaking.

“I looked over and there was a young, single mother — African American — Vivian Webb. And I thought, ‘Three years ago she was on welfare, a single mom, no job, no hope, no income, no future. Today she works for the governor of the state, and she’s sitting on the stage with the president of the United States of America on live television across the world. What a great country.'”

Webb was there because a church was willing to reach out and help lift her out of hopelessness, Huckabee said, adding that he also was proud as a member of the church to be a part of her spiritual pilgrimage.

Still, there are some in the state of Arkansas who remain fearful of faith in government, Huckabee said. He recalled that when he became governor six years ago, many in the state assumed he would “replace the capitol dome with a steeple and start holding prayer services every Wednesday night.” Criticism was even harsher when he and his wife discontinued the serving of alcohol in the governor’s mansion. “You’d have thought we turned off the water for most of central Arkansas,” Huckabee said.

“I find that because I take stands, whether it’s a stand on that or on gambling or a stand for the sanctity of human life, sometimes I also then find it necessary to show that it doesn’t mean that I’m a bigot or that I’m close-minded about other people,” he said.

That openness to people with different values is important, especially when dealing with people of other faiths, Huckabee said. While he avoids validating or accepting as equal non-Christian beliefs, Huckabee said he seeks to build relationships with non-Christians in order to be a witness.

Huckabee said he believes that his position in Arkansas is significant because he has been able to have a greater impact as governor than he did when he was a pastor.

“When I got up to the pulpit and I delivered a sermon, first of all, most of the people who heard it already believed in what I was saying, and the ones I might have influenced still have this perspective of saying, ‘Yeah, but you’re supposed to say that stuff. After all, you’re getting paid for it.’

“When, as a governor, I share my faith or I give a true witness of my relationship with Christ and how it has affected me or impacted me, whether it be in the aftermath of a tornado or when I talk with a family who has just lost everything — maybe even a loved one — and I can as governor play a pastoral role, sometimes I really believe that has a more dramatic impact than had I walked through that same debris as the pastor of the church.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SEEKING A VIBRANT FAITH.

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  • Gregory Tomlin