I sat down with my close friend and former staff member to discuss his presidential bid, the remaining candidates in the race, the challenges our country still faces, and that other race.
JR: Gov. Huckabee, it’s a privilege to talk with you. We’ve been friends since you began working with me back in the mid ‘70s. You’ve become a highly influential, very valuable voice in America. How are you and Janet and the family doing?
MH: We’re doing fine. It’s been a long journey through the process of the campaign. Obviously it didn’t end like we wanted it to, but God is good. Often our detours become our destination. I think it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the whole idea of winning and losing that they forget there is something bigger going on than any candidate, political party or even an issue. It’s about whether or not we are obedient to the specific task God calls us to. That constitutes success.
“I think sometimes we almost act like a person who is elected must be our savior, and he’s not.” Mike Huckabee
JR: I’ve been blessed, Mike, because I don’t endorse candidates. I try to endorse principles that have been proven effective for the sake of freedom and in harmony with biblical truth. As a result, I’ve been able to talk to the candidates, and I tell every one of them that I know they are running what they consider to be a very important race. I remind them the most important race is the one Paul the apostle referred to as the one our Lord has set before us. Find san diego gym. I think you just emphasized the importance of keeping the focus on that race.
MH: I thought the more valid reason that I ran for president had nothing to do with the fact that I’d been a pastor, or denominational leader. I thought it had to do with the combination of convictions and also life experiences. But we are living in a time when people are not necessarily looking at resumes and bios and saying, “This guy is really prepared.” They want someone they feel will express their sentiments, emotions, feelings and passions, and do it with urgency. It’s a very different election cycle than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, going all the way back to the 1960s when I first became cognizant of elections.
I was born in the 1950s and grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, got politically active in the late ’70s and beyond. I think sometimes we almost act like a person who is elected must be our savior, and he’s not. That’s not how this works. If people really want to change the country, electing good leaders is a part of it, but it’s not all of it. That’s how a lot of Christians want to pretend it works: we elect somebody and we turn it over to them. The way it really works is we get on our faces before a holy God and we personally repent, and we live as salt and light and God hears the prayers of His people. Then God changes the nations and He moves the leaders in answer to the prayers and influence of dedicated believers.
JR: When you came to work for me in the mid ’70s, as you know, I organized a meeting called “The National Affairs Briefing,” which you promoted where 17,000 people attended. Some of the media reported that it impacted 50 million voters nationwide. We invited all of the candidates to speak and only one accepted and that was Gov. Reagan. We made it very clear that we wanted him to share his concerns with active evangelicals and other people of faith, but we would not endorse anyone because we only endorse principles that we think are best for the American people and a part of freedom’s foundation.
Gov. Reagan spoke to those leaders and said, “I know this is a non-partisan gathering and you can’t endorse me. But I only say that because I want you to know that I endorse you and what you stand for.” The place exploded with a standing ovation and that statement “I endorse you” was headlines nationwide. In an unbelievable fashion, Reagan actually became the President and we lost our Sunday school teacher. It seems obvious from a historical point of view, America gained a great leader and freedom gained a great victory. We watched the collapse of the Soviet Union. We saw the Berlin Wall come down. We saw taxes lowered and the economy move forward to the point that it really exploded because of what it set in motion in the following years, even the Clinton years eventually. So do you think the direction we tried to point believers in was correct, positive and appropriate?
MH: I do, and I remember that event very well. I also remember the criticism you and a lot of other people took because there was, as you said, a southern Baptist Sunday School teacher who, by the way, has a very clear, compelling testimony of salvation. There’s no question in my mind about Jimmy Carter and his relationship with Jesus Christ. I’ve actually been at the church in Plains, and heard him teach Sunday School. He gave as clear and effective plan of salvation as I’ve ever heard in my life. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the best person to be president of the United States.
You got criticized because Ronald Reagan had gone through a divorce. He had once supported abortion and, in fact, pushed for the most liberal abortion laws in America when he was governor of California. He also pushed for no-fault divorce laws, which I think was one of the greatest disasters in the social fabric of America. It was easy for people to say, “Look, this guy you can’t support. He doesn’t meet the criteria.” But he became one of the greatest presidents of all time.
He helped deconstruct Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. He brought a renewed economic vigor to America. He brought strength and peace, and was a great president. How do you put all of that together? Well, again I go back to what I said before. It has more to do with people who lead according to principles that are effective in governing, surrounding himself with people who know what they believe and who can take the things that are delegated and go get them done.
I think that was a seminal moment for America. I’m not sure America would have lasted as long as we have had it not been for those years of Ronald Reagan helping turn the country back around, not only financially, but helping turn the country back around morally, even though there were many people who questioned whether he was the guy to do that.
Josephs for Today
JR: I think in the political realm you’ve got to have someone to lead and inspire people to take the right step. I am deeply concerned about the people who have been taught to depend upon government as their provider, and not see it as primarily a protector. I think that dependence is reminiscent of Israel making the mistake of totally depending on Pharaoh, and ultimately finding themselves in bondage.
As I look through all of history, it seems the more people depend upon a government that is no longer limited and controlled by the people. When government gets in total control, people lose their liberty and live in bondage. I am witnessing that today and it breaks my heart that people would think government is the solution. It’s got to be one that protects with limited power the freedoms that we’ve been blessed to enjoy because of the principles on which we must stand.
MH: Let me mention something that I think a lot of people fail to understand about how politics work. Having swum in these waters now for 26 brutal years, there is a great lesson to be learned from what happened with Reagan back in 1980. Because many of the spiritual leaders, and many who didn’t endorse him, by simply being seen with him and listening to him, he listened to them. What I want to point out is that the most effective thing people of faith can do is to be in a position where their views and passions are listened to by the leaders. They may not necessarily share with the same level of enthusiasm those views, but what you don’t want to do is put yourself in a position where you write off someone and then have no ability to access that person and influence them.
Let’s take the story of Joseph. Joseph did not share any spiritual connections with Pharaoh. None. But God uniquely put Joseph in a place where he was able to influence Pharaoh, and Pharaoh respected Joseph because Joseph was faithful not only to his faith, but he was also faithful to the task Pharaoh had assigned to him. As a result, the nation of Israel was ultimately saved from the disastrous effect of a deadly famine. Joseph, who had been left to die by his jealous brothers, helped save the nation. That whole experience was used to put him in a place of authority and a position of power and influence.
JR: Yes, because of the wisdom and the principles shared by Joseph, the entire nation, as you said, experienced blessings and they were saved basically from the famine and destruction by wise actions. In my opinion, that’s the role of the faith community and church leaders. Christians, evangelicals and Catholics, must hold freedom’s standard up. But then, sadly, Israel made the mistake after observing the effect of wisdom, sound practices and principles, they sold out to that power base and found themselves subject no longer to the wisdom that spared them and gave them a future, but actually sold out to a power base that took them into bondage and slavery.
One thing I hear the American people saying is, “We’re sick and tired of the failure of Washington.” My concern in prayer is that we not tear everything down that needs to be torn down without any understanding of what has to replace it and the foundation that must be restored and the walls of protection that must be rebuilt.
Frustration Over Washington
MH: The frustration we see in America, is not just anger. It is seething rage. Part of it goes to the fact that many people have worked really hard to get Republicans elected to Congress or various positions and nothing ever changes. Washington is still the same. Things may change in their states, but in Washington, nothing changes. You elect Republicans; they don’t make any changes even though they promise they will. You elect Democrats, they don’t make any changes and if they do, they are sometimes changes we believe actually damage people and freedom.
So we say, “We’ve got to get Republicans,” but neither party makes positive correction. The Republican establishment seems not to understand or recognize the challenges of the poor, minorities or middle class. There are three words that explain this failure: “Follow the money.” The reason we have such a disastrous political environment is because the people are often so indebted to the donor class, that when they get there, the people they answer to are not the voters, it’s their donors. Money will speak louder than anything else when it comes to politics. I wish I could tell you that’s not true, but I just know definitively, it is true.
JR: I do know that it has to change. I don’t think that Sen. Ted Cruz has been bought by that establishment crowd, and it seems evident the way they resist him. We can appreciate that fact, but the thing I really believe must occur is that every one of these candidates, if they’re going to be a great leader, they must recognize that disagreement and discussion is not something to be so resisted and rejected so that you never allow the “iron to sharpen the iron.” I think if arrogance and pride is the prevailing spirit of a candidate, they will fail. We didn’t see that with Gov. Reagan. He was a man that was being shaped by the events of his own day and his own observations. They were deep, deep convictions that had come to him to change his views. He didn’t come across with arrogance. In my meetings he was as humble as Billy Graham. He was so very teachable. I think that’s really important.
However strong our convictions are, we don’t try to take out every person who disagrees with us, and we don’t try to destroy them. That’s a very dangerous practice. Pride goes before a fall. Exalting yourself is damaging. So I would caution any candidate to get off that high horse. You can either choose to dismount or you’re going to get knocked off! “God resists the proud.” I would say to every candidate: “Get off your high horse and let’s get back on principles and let’s ride that wave.” That’s our hope and people need to pray for that.
We really need to be praying for these candidates. As people of faith, we need to speak clearly and loudly so that the principles we are exalting are recognized. We must make certain that everyone who seeks leadership understands how critically important these principles are and how actively involved people of faith are going to be. If people of faith (evangelicals and Catholics) would stand together addressing their common concerns, standing on common ground, we could literally help correct our nation’s perilous course. I think the two of us join together in that prayer. Joseph and Daniel were faithful to give wise counsel to very bad leaders, as were all the prophets and New Testament witnesses, including the apostle Paul. This benefited the people God loves.
MH: And I think the point you made about the teachability of Ronald Reagan was an important one. There was a certain winsomeness about him. He brought out the best in us and he made us feel good about America again, and he did it with self-deprecating humor that helped people take the country and the principles of America seriously, but not to take ourselves so seriously that we somehow thought that any of us were singularly responsible for America’s success or failure. I thought that was one of the most powerful qualities that not only he brought to the office, but it was a quality that he had when he left office, which is pretty rare. A lot of times people change dramatically from the moment they go in, to the moment they go out. Something changes dramatically in the bubble of that experience.
JR: When you were talking then something welled up in my heart, the famous statement, “Tear down this wall.” I feel like we need a leader that will say, “Tear down the walls that government has erected to keep the people in bondage and set the American people free again. Get Washington off our backs and let us stand on freedom’s sound foundation, and build a house upon the Rock that will withstand every storm that is sure to come.” Does that make sense?
MH: Absolutely it does.
JR: Thank you governor. I know both of us will be praying for wisdom and I think both of us as evangelical Christians, we would encourage everyone to be inspired by what we have, be well informed and actively involved. A poorly informed voter is potentially a dangerous voter.
MH: No question about it. I hope people will recognize – if you’re looking for protection, go to the Cross. Politics will never deliver that for you. You’re going to have to find that in Jesus Christ.
JR: That’s what we believe, but I do believe we can help correct our nation’s perilous course. It’s not too late, but it’s later than most people think. We must fall on our face before God and then stand on our feet for God. This is not the time to opt out!
* Abridged from a longer conversation.