When a politician talks about religion, most people think he is just panhandling for votes, so I never mentioned when I ran in ’78 that I had a spiritual experience the previous summer.
I had become an agnostic after a childhood in which God had been real to me. I made an agreement that if God would become real to me again, I would recommit my life to his service.
He did, and I did. Within months, I was running for county executive. One day I asked my mother if she thought the truths taught by Jesus could be demonstrated in the political arena. She said, “Absolutely.” She was so emphatic, I believed her.
Immediately after the election, an old political enemy surfaced. Jack Mayfield had a reception at his Ooltewah farm for all the newly elected county people but left me out. Instead of striking back, I just made a plea for unity and let it pass, relying on “the other cheek” principle to prevail.
It did not — at least not immediately. Jack continued to oppose me.
One morning, he was scheduled for open-heart surgery. I called his wife and said, “Jack may or may not be happy to know I will be praying for him today, but he should be glad to know my mother has promised to pray for him. She is a wonderful Christian and does not know all the nasty little political tricks Jack and I have played on each other.”
Let it be enough to say that after Jack voted to fire me when I was county manager, I exacted revenge in several ways, and he responded accordingly. We were both wrong.
When Jack recovered, he came to my office, quietly closed the door and said, “I have been a fool. You have reached out to me over and over trying to make peace. We need to have peace so we can get some things done for the people of this county. Let’s shake hands and open a fresh book in our relationship and get to work for the people.”
We didn’t shake hands. I hugged him, and we both cried a little.
Jack had been a skillful politician for many years. I had supported him all the way back to his tentative run for the 3rd District seat in Congress. He had developed some kind of health problem after his announced intention to run, and I remember he put a strip across his billboard saying something like, “Maybe later.” He was plagued by poor health and had lung problems all his life and a couple of open-heart surgeries.
I do not hesitate to say that this old political warrior played key roles in many of the projects that were part of the renaissance of Chattanooga. He was a vital part of the county team. He not only had the guts to stand up for worthwhile projects, he had the wisdom to know one when he saw it.
Mother told me the truth about the principles Jesus taught being demonstrable in the political arena. We don’t apply them well in the political arena because we mistakenly think it is an unworthy place for a spiritual person to be.
Someday we will come to see politics as the science of using government to improve the life of the people.
Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.