Touching Reflection

Love and Power: The Spiritual Dangers of Government Work

In some ways, DC is a city designed to strip you of humility. Longtime Executive Branch staffer Ben O'Dell discusses how to live counter-culturally with Rev. Charles Garriott.

Rev. Charles Garriott has ministered to men and women in government for twenty years. His latest book, Love and Power: Glimpses of the Gospel for those Addicted to Self, explores some of the biggest challenges he has seen men and women face during his time in DC. Christian Civics Executive Board member Ben O’Dell, who has worked in the Executive Branch at the intersection of faith and government for over 15 years, recently discussed the book’s vision for how the gospel “defined and applied” can foster a humility that is starkly counter-cultural in the US capital.

Ben: I love that you picked the Rich Young Ruler—who you refer to in the book as “Mr. Ruler”— as the prototypical leader, and especially as a leader in DC. Both for myself and those with whom I have worked in DC over the past 15 years, we are about getting things done. We are high achievers. What drew you to the story of the Rich Young Ruler or, as you call him, “Mr. Ruler” in thinking about leaders that you have met and ministered to in DC? What similar traits do you see in him that you see as you minister to “Mr. and Ms. Rulers” serving in Washington DC?

Rev. Garriott: Over the past forty years, I have taught and preached on Mark 10 regarding “Mr. Ruler” various times and to various groups. Surprisingly there are no songs or Rembrandt paintings depicting the sad story of a man who is exposed to the gospel and, in the end, rejects it. We hope that there is more to the story, but such details are not provided. Mr. Ruler acknowledges Jesus’ presence as one who is a “good teacher,” but not as God. He sees Jesus as one who can provide a “Google Answer” to his burning question. Yet, he does not see Jesus as the “answer.” He leaves still intoxicated with self, with no hope, and sad.

After living in DC for the last sixteen years, I believe that, although our capital city has been and continues to be exposed to the gospel, in the end, it rejects it. I am speaking on a macro level. Sure, there are churches, and there are people who serve in our government who have embraced the gospel. Those people and sub-communities represent the exception. The ethos, heartbeat, conversation, and personality of the city and its power function does not represent the gospel.

I find that the story of Mr. Ruler serves as a reasonable model when thinking about Washington, D.C.

Ben: So while I saw myself and others in light of Mark 10, I had not previously thought about how the ethos and culture of DC at large reflects Mark 10 as well. How do you have hope for a town that is characterized by someone who turns away from the call of Christ? Where do you draw hope and encouragement in a town like Washington DC—or any other town or culture that reflects Mr. Ruler? For me, I need to find small, micro ways rather than the big macro ways that the gospel gets defined and applied. Over time, my hope and prayer is that enough micro changes add up to a macro change every once in a while.

Rev. Garriott: The number of people who work, serve and live in Washington is large. I know there are those who I would not count as overly narcissistic. Yet, even the most giving and gracious person struggles with being addicted to self. When it comes to our hope, to witnessing the gospel change a community or city, it will always start with the individual—the individual seeing the need for repentance and living out being other-oriented. It will start by surrendering to Christ, followed by a demonstration of the fruit of the Spirit. My hope is in the ongoing work of the Spirit, who is applying the finished work of Christ to the hearts of men and women. When change takes place, it will happen one person at a time.

Ben: Whether it is serving a political appointee, or advocating for a particular political party, or even working for a cause for which you are passionate, life in DC demands a lot from Mr. and Ms. Ruler. I know it has demanded a lot from me and from the people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. How does the gospel “defined and applied,” as you put it in the book, help answer those demands? Might it make Christians more suited to work in DC rather than less suited?

Rev. Garriott: Yes, it is true Washington, and any other capital city, views itself as that which is responsible for pushing our policies, laws and presidential orders, all designed to address the needs and concerns of its constituents. Generally speaking, you may function as one who is elected, serving the elected, or desiring to influence those in various positions of power.

Obtaining those kinds of positions can lead someone to a very high and exalted view of themself. In many cases the conversation focuses on a person’s ideology or political views. The gospel defined and applied overshadows this context with a distinct world- and life-view that centers on the life, work and teaching of Jesus. Love and Power does not address how the gospel speaks into specific policy. That is another conversation. It does speak to the person, personality and character of those who are part of governance.

A primary component of the gospel is humility. That means that a person serving in government will do so with an understanding that they function under the example and lordship of Christ. In Christ, they have both the pattern and power to serve their constituents or their office. Not as one who is addicted to self, but in the humility afforded us by the gospel.

Ben: Throughout the book, you note how radical it may look to others who are not Christians in DC to see the gospel at work in their lives. For me, sometimes “being different” has served me well. For instance, when leaders recognize servant leadership and appreciate that posture of service. But other times, “being different” puts you on the outside of the key decisions. How can a Christian look and act different in DC while at the same time maintaining influence and power to achieve the goals and ends of their job and/or vocation?

Rev. Garriott: As a Christian, our sense of stewardship defines us in a way that our world may find confusing. We do not just work hard or smart or with the best degrees with the goal of obtaining the most influential positions. That may be true, but it should not define us. What should define us is that, as we serve in the various areas of government, we ultimately serve Christ. As a person in a defined position, we carry out our work in such a manner that demonstrates a high degree of excellence and, at the same time, demonstrates a gospel personality that is modeled by that which we see in Christ.

Ben: What practices and actions have you seen be effective for Christians that keep the gospel defined and applied so that we are able to follow the call of Christ rather than follow Mr. Ruler’s path of disappoint?

Rev. Garriott: Persevering one’s dependency on Christ through personal and corporate worship; spending time in the Scriptures; prayer and gospel rest are key components for anyone who is tempted to be intoxicated with self. If our relationship with Christ is not being well-developed, we will lack the needed resources to live out the gospel in our work and community.

Secondly, we all need friends and mentors to speak the truth of the Scriptures into our lives and we need persistent prayer from them.

Ben: Informed by this book and your ministry here in DC, what is your prayer for Mr. and Ms. Ruler in DC? What can we all pray for them so that they can follow Christ when they are called?

Rev. Garriott: The three problems that were disclosed to Mr. Ruler during his dialogue with Jesus pertained to his self-sufficiency: First, he believed that he just needed some help and guidance from Jesus when what he really needed was impossible repentance. Second, he was blind to how his ways were offensive to God. Third, he rejected Jesus’ love. I believe those three problems revealed in Mark 10 can outline the content of our prayers for those who live and work inside the Beltway and in government beyond.

Personally, I pray that I would be given the grace and insight to cry out to Jesus for his mercy. Not just a request for help to fix that which is broken. I pray that I would see my sin in its fullness. I need God’s mercy to see the horrific offense against him that exists in my heart, words, and action. And I need his incredible wide, expansive and spacious love. And last of all, I pray for the humility of Christ as I serve others with whatever position given me.

Order Love and Power Today

Rev. Garriott’s Love and Power: Glimpses of the Gospel for Those Addicted to Self is available today at www.loveandpowerbook.com and at Amazon.com.

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  • Ben has worked with the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (formerly the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives) for over 15 years. Over the past two administrations, Ben has had the opportunity to advise and support partnerships between the federal government and faith and community partners. He resides in Centreville, VA, with his wife and their two daughters.

  • Chuck Garriott pastored in Oklahoma City for over 20 years before being called to Washington, DC, where he launched and continues to develop Ministry to State, a ministry to people in government in our national, state, and international capitals. He is the author of several books, including Work Matters and Prayers for Trump.

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