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How to be a Daniel in the Lions' Den of Politics

  • Thomas Pearce
  • Published Nov 04, 2016
How to be a Daniel in the Lions' Den of Politics

I had felt a pull toward public service for much of my adult life – a pull that I truly believe was from God. When the opportunity for me to run for the State House fell into place a few years ago I shared my plans with friends, one of whom responded by asking “are you sure you want to do that? I think being in the legislature causes brain damage.”

I didn’t listen – at least to that friend. Feeling that God was directing my path, I ran and was elected, and in doing so became a student of the biblical characters who God had placed within positions of government. The story of Daniel became a driving force as someone I wanted to emulate. Here is just a little that I learned from him:

In the first chapter of Daniel, he and other young Jewish men become a part of an ingenious plan of King Nebuchadnezzar, which had just defeated Judah. The King’s plan was to bring these young men from Judah into his palace, lavish them with all the delights of leadership and while doing so indoctrinate them into the culture and ways of the Kingdom. Which meant they’d be Jews by birth, yet Babylonian in thought and deed.

The first event recorded in the chapter has the young men being invited into a dining room where they will experience what it is to dine like a King. Scripture doesn’t tell us what was on the menu, but based on Daniel’s reaction I’m guessing it was a honey baked ham – or something else that was a clear violation of what these Jewish boys had been taught what should be eaten.

Resolving not to defile himself with the King’s food and wine, Daniel faces his first challenge in this new government setting. (Here lies a crucial point in anyone’s life, but particularly for those working in the public sector: to purpose in our hearts to be true to the tenants of our faith).  Daniel knows he won’t come out ahead by loudly proclaiming the food as unholy, or denouncing the King’s wish that he eat it. He knows he needs to find a better way.

First, Daniel comes up with a plan and builds a coalition of likeminded individuals who will help that plan succeed. Scripture tells us “where two or three are gathered in my name there I will be also”. By enlisting their support, he increases the importance of what they were asking for – which is very much like the “coalition-building” that supports most successful public policy victories today.

Second, Daniel approaches the right individual, in respect to the chain of command.  I have learned over the years that it is important to understand the process of government and to work within its structure.  This passage also speaks of the importance of relationships. In this particular case it doesn’t appear that Daniel would have had much time to build a bond with anyone, so God intervened by causing the official to show favor to Daniel. I believe this also relates to public policy, which requires us to build relationships with others.

Third, Daniel lays out his request in a respectful manner. Rather than picketing the dining hall or standing on his chair shouting his defiance, he and his three friends simply request they be allowed to eat vegetables and drink water. (Please don’t mis-understand, there are times for open defiance as exampled later in this book. However, even in that circumstance great effort is shown to offer respect to the King.)

Fourth, when the official voices concern that the policy change will be unhealthy (the thinking being that meat builds strength and that vegetables won’t provide enough nutrition), Daniel proposes a research project to establish the validity of the change he is proposing: let us try this diet for a short period of time, and then we can assess together whether or not it has made us stronger.

Most of you know where this is going. At the end of the research period Daniel and his fellow “researchers” were shown to be healthier than others who had consumed what the King had wanted them to consume. And because their health and fitness was shown to serve the public good, they were permitted to keep eating the way they wanted.

I lived this lesson again and again as a member of the Michigan State House of Representatives. In fact, every policy win I supported was achieved by building a coalition of like-minded individuals, recognizing who we need to convince, making a respectful and reasoned case for what we sought, and providing evidence it would be effective.

Today I have the privilege to serve as the National Director of an organization of evangelical pastors and ministry leaders who use this same approach to advocate for policies at the State and Federal level that strengthen families and communities.

In recent years we’ve lent our voices to a number of efforts. We have asked policymakers to expand opportunities for children in struggling families to experience high quality early learning so they’re prepared for success in school. We have supported voluntary home visiting programs that enable young and expectant mothers in poverty to be mentored by older women who help them prepare to be better parents (Titus 2:4). And we work day in and out to form strong partnerships that enable our members to be mentors to struggling students and schools.

I believe there is a great need for the faith community to be engaged in the public policy arena.  As evidence of that, simply search the Bible and see how many individuals God placed in positions of influence within governments.

I hope I’m not among the minority – hope that men and women across the faith community will continue to voice their support of public policies and practices that strengthen families and communities.

Equally important, I hope they do so by recognizing their ultimate success may depend on courting respect among lawmakers, making intelligent and faithful cases for the causes they champion, and joining hands with allies who strengthen their arguments.

In other words, I hope there will be many more Daniels who step with me into the lions’ den of politics and that together we can Shepherd the Next Generation toward better lives for years to come.

Thomas Pearce is the National Director of Shepherding the Next Generation, a nonprofit organization of more than 850 pastors and ministry leaders.

Publication date: November 7, 2016

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