How does your Christian college education [Biola, '83] impact your work today?
I think it builds a good solid foundation, not only in my field of study which was business administration, but also the Bible courses that you take. The solid instruction and having a worldview that helps you see things in context give me a grounding and a foundation on which to make decisions. And frankly it helps shape the decisions that I make in my life, whether that's in my professional life or my personal life. But having gone to Biola was a great foundation.
How does being a Christian make a difference in how you do your job?
Having a Christian worldview shapes my decision-making with respect to all aspects of my life. I always respect people in public life who are principled, and those principles have to be connected to something. And my faith is what serves as the anchor and directs my actions.
Who are some of the influential thinkers, writers, and other people who have helped shape that Christian worldview?
I was a staffer on Capitol Hill back 20 years ago now. And there were some people who were instrumental in helping me, who inspired me in public servicepeople who were good, strong Christian examples. Bill Armstrong had a great Christian witness. He was a senator from Colorado.
I'm a big, big reader of pretty much everything that Chuck Colson has written. And I consulted with him when I was making some decisions about running for the Senate in the first place. Chuck Swindoll is somebody who I've read a lot over the years and have used his curriculum when I've taught Sunday school classes. I guess if you go back a ways, C. S. Lewis as well. Those are just a few off the top of my head.
Do you find fellowship with other legislators?
I do. There are several different Bible study groups on Capitol Hill. I've not had an opportunity yet in the Senate to really get immersed. But when I was a member of the House, there were a couple of organizations, one called Christian Embassy that is affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ whose mission it is to reach out and reach and disciple people in the legislative branch, the executive branch, and in the military at the Pentagon. And also the C Street ministry, which initially came from Doug Coe. Coe was influential at Chuck Colson's conversion too. But those are a couple of ministries that are active out there. And there are other members of Congress who come to those events. There are a number who are very serious about their faith. I do have a chance to interact with them.
Is this something you do behind closed doors, a "members only" sort of thing?
It can be. I mean the Bible studies are, yes, sort of, members only. There are also Bible studies that are available to staff. When I was a staffer out there, I used to attend a staff Bible study that was conducted by Christian Embassy as well. But yeah, there are other times where you [fellowship] with other members of Congress. I have, over the phone even, prayed several times with Senator Jim Talent from Missouri. You tend to seek out the people who are interested in being involved in a faith community or having relationships with other believers on Capitol Hill.
I think of some of the most outspoken Christians in the Senate, such as Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania and Sam Brownback from Kansas, and they're Catholics. Is there an ecumenical spirit on Capitol Hill?
Yeah, it bridges denominational lines. The common denominator is there are people who are serious about their faith and are really serious about growing in their walks with God, drawing closer to him, seeking his direction and guidance when it comes to the decisions that we have to make and the issues that we have to grapple with. That tends to be the thread that sort of ties everybody together.
I don't have a real good sense yet for the Senate. I had a lot of friends in the House that were regulars in the Bible study there, [Sen.] Tom Coburn [Oklahoma] comes to mind.
You're coming off a harsh campaign that had a difficult tone at many points. What can you, as a Christian, do to ease partisanship?
I don't think you run away from [differences]. We have to be in the arena, contending for the truth. But we Christians should be doing it in the right spirita spirit of love, concern, and compassion. I think that's how you can sometimes take the partisan edge off, with just the style and the way you go about the work that you do and the positions that you take, and the statements and beliefs that you share with the public.
Isn't that difficult, though? Has there ever been a time when you've been disappointed in something you've done? Perhaps you've thought, I didn't do that in the most loving manner. I could have done that better?
Washington is a town where there are a tremendous number of temptations and a tremendous amount of pressure that push you toward kind of the same old way of doing business and the hard-edged partisanship. And you have to constantly be fighting against the hostility and animosity. I think one of the things is you have to consistently pray for humility, and not lose sight of why you're really there. And that leadership is about being a servant. You have to constantly anchor yourself in the truth, seeking God's counsel and prayer, getting input from godly people around you, and being involved in these different Bible studies and activities that help you keep things in their perspective.
In the campaign, you sharply criticized those who blocked the President's judicial nominations. What's ahead?
To shut off a filibuster, you have to have 60 votes in the Senate. We still don't have 60 votes. But we have new leadership on the Democratic side. I hope members of the Senate who previously had been held hostage to their party's leadership will now feel more freedom to vote their conscience. I don't know, maybe they did. But it seems to me that some of these guys who represent states that are more conservative than their national party, might now be thinking twice and might be more inclined to support not only legislation but also judicial nominations that are more in line with their state's interest and their state's fundamental beliefs and values.
When can we expect to see the Federal Marriage Amendment again?
I don't know when there'll be a vote on it. But I know there will be a number of us who intend to be engaged in the debate over protecting traditional marriage. I would hope we are able to get that on the floor to be able to discuss it, debate it, and give the people a voice. The way that the courts have acted of late has pre-empted the legislative and the executive prerogative, and basically the people's voice. I think the majority of people in the country and certainly a clear majority of people in South Dakota very much want to protect traditional marriage. And that's why I think the Federal Marriage Amendmenta Constitutional amendment that takes [marriage] out of the realm of judicial activismis a very important approach.
Why not then seek a state ban in South Dakota first before going after the Federal Marriage Amendment?
That's something I would not be surprised to see surface in the state legislature this year in South Dakota. But I think we have discovered that individual states can take those steps, but if those state laws are challenged in federal courts and the courts say they're unconstitutional, the only way to really fix it permanently is to mend the federal Constitution.
The President's second-term agenda seems largely focused on economic issues and foreign policy. What about the so-called values issues?
Social Security, tax-reform, and the war on terror are very important to me. But we cannot overlook the voice of the people in this last election when it comes to issues like the sanctity of life and defending traditional marriage. Those issues need to be a part of this agenda. It was certainly clear from last fall's election that those issues were important to the people in this country.
Skipping back to foreign policy, why might Christians have a special interest in seeing democracy spread in the Middle East?
Christians obviously want to see people come to the Christian faith, but they want to see people have the choice to be able to choose. Religious freedom, political freedom, political liberty, and economic freedom all tend to go hand in hand. Liberating Iraq from decades of tyranny and dictatorship, bringing about political freedom, will create an atmosphere of where religious freedom will come to Iraq. And that opens the door, obviously, for the Christian faith there as well.
Christians look around the world and want to see people who are in a position to be able to make decisions, to have the freedoms that we enjoy in this country. That is, like the President says, our birthright. Our Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers said, "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." And those rights are endowed by our Creator, they're not bestowed by any government.
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More about John Thune's history is available from his Senate page.
Earlier, we covered John Thune's campaign against Tom Daschle.
Biola University is proud of its graduate, and is highlighting Thune in advertisements.
Other recent Christianity Today political coverage includes:
More Culture of Life, Please | We like what we heard, we just didn't hear enough of it. (Feb. 03, 2005)
Iraq's Christians Disenfranchised at Home and in U.S. | Assyrians are fighting for survival in a region that has long sought their ouster. (Jan. 31, 2005)
No Compromise? | Calls for restraint and civility work both ways. (Jan. 28, 2005)
Opportunity of a Generation | Five issues will test the strength and unity of Christian conservatives in the new term. (Jan. 20, 2005)
Faith-based, Results-focused | Jim Towey says Bush will push hard for compassion initiative in second term (Jan. 20, 2005)
Same Song, Second Term | It is a unique political moment for Christian conservativesor is it?A Christianity Today editorial (Jan. 10, 2005)
The New Civil War | Christians must be driven by the common good, not by any ideology. (Jan. 19, 2005)
Full Court Pressure | The battle for marriage shifts from voters to lawyers and lobbyists. (Dec. 30, 2004)
Dobson on the Gay Marriage Battle | The Nov. 2 election was the first step in a long fight for traditional marriage. (Dec. 30, 2004)
'Moral Values' Tops Voters' ConcernsBut What Does It Mean? | Sexual morality probably trumped social justice concerns, say observers. (Nov. 04, 2004)
Evangelicals' Political Power: From Question Mark to Exclamation Mark | Activists say same-sex marriage ban, abortion limits, and judicial appointments top agenda. (Nov. 04, 2004)