Mr. Walker Goes to Washington

Mr. Walker Goes to Washington
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Mark Walker, a freshman congressman from North Carolina, is no stranger to the church.

At age four, Walker became a pastor's kid.

"I never wanted to be in ministry," Walker told RealClearReligion from his Washington, D.C., office. "In fact, I always said I wouldn't be that because I saw how emotionally taxing it was on my mom and my dad."

So Walker pursued business.

But it didn't last long. By the time he was in his 20s, Walker felt the call to be an ordained minister, most recently serving as the music and worship pastor of Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In December 2013 Walker again changed course. He resigned from church leadership to run for Congress.

Walker "committed the whole year of 2014 to run for office. I just felt like, ethically, there needed to be some separation."

Walker said his desire to compassionately share the "message of hope and opportunity" with people of all cultures and communities drove his campaign.

"I felt like there were some in our circles that were taking that message and using it more from a condemnation standpoint rather than one that was driven by compassion," Walker said, "and that was what really motivated me to say, 'Maybe there's room in this arena for me.'"

A friend of Walker and Lawndale Baptist Church's senior pastor, Joe Giaritelli, said he never doubted Walker would make it to Washington.

"I didn't care what the polls were saying," Giaritelli told RealClearReligion. "I just knew in my heart that he was going to win that, that God was going to open up doors."

Though Giaritelli lamented losing his worship pastor, his support for Walker has never wavered.

"I believe he's been prepared for such a time as this," Giaritelli said. "It takes someone with a very strong character, which Mark has, and incredibly perceptive leadership skills, which he has, and also an understanding of people to go through the in-and-out roads of Washington."

Walker's move from pastor to politician was not so difficult.

"I think it's a very easy translation in the sense that the parallel or the common thread is that both are kind of in the people business, so to speak," Walker said. "Sometimes [as a pastor] you're standing next to someone passing at a deathbed, or there may be counseling of a marital breakdown, financial situation, people who are having issues and problems, much like this country at a larger scale of the different issues and concerns that we're facing."

Just 7 of the 535 seats in Congress are held by ordained ministers -- 4 identify as Baptist -- and Walker said there's a precedent for pastors becoming politicians.

"If you go back to even some of our original governors of William Bradford and Roger Williams...These guys were governors throughout the week, but they were ministers. They are people very involved in ministry or ordained ministers who also spoke about political things."

While Walker refused to endorse politically-charged pulpits, he said lack of engagement in the politics may be one cause for the country's moral shift.

The American Renewal Project is recruiting evangelical pastors to run for elected office at the local, state and federal levels. David Lane, founder of the project, has set his goal at 1,000 pastors in the 2016 election.

"Somebody's values are going to reign supreme: our values or their values," Lane told The Washington Times. "If our people are not voting, and are not being salt and light, and not engaging at the public square, the other side's values are going to reign supreme."

Walker said recent decisions by the government have spawned an "awakening" for churches to find their voice.

"I think the church needs to have a voice in this -- not one that's harsh or critical, necessarily, but one that kind of leads by example."

Anna Dembowski is a 2015 National Journalism Center intern at RealClearReligion.

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