July 13, 2017 9:51:27 AM
There's nothing wrong with being a Christian. In fact, I highly recommend it.
There's also nothing wrong with people allowing their faith to inform their decision-making, in any sphere.
One shouldn't kill or steal, for example, and the Golden Rule is a fine guideline for those who boldly practice it, Christians and non-Christians alike.
It becomes an issue, however, when elected leaders justify public decisions based on someone's profession of Christianity. Not only is it an issue, it's downright troubling.
In Oktibbeha County, residents now have a new road manager. Fred Hal Baggett won a split vote (3-2) from the board of supervisors over four other applicants for a job that will pay $60,000 per year plus benefits.
What put him over the top? To hear Board President Orlando Trainer tell it, it's because Baggett talked about his "spiritual relationship" during the interview process and was apparently the only candidate who did.
"You're going to need God to help you make it through this mess that we have in this county," Trainer said at the board table Monday. "You're going to have to be a praying man. None of the rest (of the applicants) gave me any indication they have another area of recourse to deal with things that are bigger than them."
Perhaps President Trainer, the other candidates felt it was inappropriate to flaunt their religion in the interests of getting a job.
I certainly hope Mr. Baggett gives 10 percent of that public salary to his church. We wouldn't want anything to besmirch the spiritual example that qualified him to be road manager.
That's not to say Baggett isn't qualified for the position. He may make a fine road manager. But at least two supervisors -- John Montgomery and Bricklee Miller -- thought the other applicants did a better job explaining how they would build a better-trained workforce in the road department and, by extension, better improve the roads.
There is a real problem, I think, with public officials using religious arguments as an excuse to either ignore practical evidence or to conceal other motives for making public decisions. For some, though, it seems easier to reach for the "I like the cut of his spirituality" line than it is to say "I know the guy. I like the guy. I think he's the best choice for the job, and that's why I support him."
This is far from the first time these "religious" arguments have fueled a public decision in the Golden Triangle. There are two glaring examples of how that tactic can backfire over time.
When Columbus City Council hired Police Chief Oscar Lewis in 2016, much was made of his spirituality as a reason to hire him.
By the end of that same year, however, a comment he made in a press conference about the city's high crime rate being "a sign of the end times" -- a statement that implied he was punting the department's duties to serve and protect to the will of a higher power -- was among the mayor's and council's cited reasons for spending $19,000 on a consultant to, among other things, strengthen CPD's flailing staffing numbers and its officers' relationships with citizens.
Then look at Starkville, where five aldermen voted in 2013 to fire then-Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill. Only one of the five, Ben Carver, gave a reason, and it was that God told him to.
Four years later, Starkville voters re-elected four of the five, including Carver, who had voted to fire Spruill. But they also elected Spruill mayor.
So much for the idea God didn't want her in City Hall.
Such "God" arguments in the public square introduce two unfair dynamics to the discussion: They paint any opposing argument as anti-God when that may not be the case, and they set up any alternatives to the "God"-invoker's preference as "ungodly." For instance, are we saying the other candidates for Oktibbeha road manager aren't "godly," or at least "godly enough," because they didn't talk about Sunday school during their job interviews?
Also, on the faith-based side, does an insincere or unexplained "God" argument to get your way not amount to using the Lord's name in vain? And if so, how does using a public post to violate one of the Ten Commandments advance the cause of Christ? Just asking.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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