COLUMN: An open letter to all who would run for office

Published 9:00 am Sunday, June 2, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The birds in the air, the temperatures, and the plants and trees on the ground all herald the turn of a corner we call Spring as it now moves over into Summer. Pick a sign, and you can tell where we are on the calendar. 

Oh, and speaking of signs, the silly political season is upon us, too. Yards and roadsides are replete with candidate signs as the Fall elections grow near. They litter the landscape as the latest crop of ambitious leaders jockey for our attention. 

Today, I am writing an open letter to all running for office. This will be candid and quite direct. I’m sure those wiser than me would counsel me to save my breath. Yet, here I go in my optimism that one politician will heed something I say. 

On its surface, this might look like a precarious task. You see, by nature of my job, I have been instructed to remain politically neutral. No matter the level of politics, as a pastor I am supposed to stay out of it all. The very search committee that represented the church and brought me here from Atlanta told me as much. 

Still, I think there are some things that are fair to ask of candidates. All of ‘em, no matter their political persuasion or party. This will include all those who already occupy office and may seek reelection again soon. 

The first thing I could ask of you is that you run a fair campaign. I know, I know. Everyone says that’s the way things should be. But somewhere, there must be data that proves slinging dirt actually works. Because people sure do enough of that. 

Why don’t you be the one who rises above telling untruths. Why don’t you be the one who tells us more about yourself rather than half-truths or lies about your opponent? Does your opponent have weaknesses? Be sure you tell us more about your own strengths, then trust us to work it all out for ourselves. 

Second, and this is a big one, please don’t magically show up at our church (or anyone else’s) just before voting day. Let me be clear. You are welcome at our church on any of fifty-two Sundays every year. Our doors are open. 

But candidates who run around hopping from church to church right at election time must think that voters are dumb enough to fall for that. I once had a campaign manager here call me and ask if his client could come to worship at our church that Sunday. My reply was this. “Of course they can. Any Sunday. But my advice would be to not do that. Because that tactic is so transparent, it only makes your candidate look bad.”

Of course, the candidate and manager showed up anyway. I still don’t understand what the payoff is. Everyone knows they’re just campaigning, and using a church’s sacred gathering on the Lord’s Day demonstrates either an integrity problem or a judgment problem. 

Next, please be sure you represent yourself in a way that you can deliver once the election is over. If you tell us something, please keep it relevant and realistic. We’re all hoping that great idea you pitched comes to fruition. Don’t make promises that you know you can’t truly have any impact on. Keep it real. 

Want to know what truly entertains me? Candidates who campaign on being “outsiders.” By definition, the moment you file and begin campaigning for votes, you are a politician. Please accept that, and we will do so, too. 

By the way, this has to do with who you are as well. We’re all hoping that the nice, kind person who begged us for our vote will still take our phone calls or answer our emails after the election has been won. Show us who you are as you campaign. 

Finally, please don’t be a single-issue servant. Because whether or not I live in your ward or district, once elected you are representing all of us. We’re all hoping that you’ll have the greatest good at heart. 

We understand the moments when your home constituents need for you to deliver. But if they are all you are concerned with, then I would argue you don’t understand the job. Rise to the moment, please. Rise to the level of service that benefits the larger area you serve, and on balance your own voters should recognize that. 

This is all I can ask of you. I wish you the very best.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.