Public Service and the Common Good

An Interview About Why Christians Should Consider Running for and Working in Public Office

Lindsay Nicolet

Seeking to serve the public while one’s life is on public display, especially as a Christian, is not an easy decision, but it’s a worthwhile one. And it is a choice that both D.J. Jordan, who ran for public office in Virginia and is the chief of staff for the Virginia Office of Attorney General, and Gov. Bill Lee, currently serving the state of Tennessee as the 50th governor, prayerfully made in order to help the communities around them. Government engagement can be complicated as partisanship and differences of opinions threaten to tempt public servants toward hostility and division. But the way of a Christian must be different. Below, Jordan and Lee reflect on the call to public service, the importance of loving our neighbors, and a Christian’s motivation for both. 

Lindsay Nicolet: What led you to decide to run for public office? Did you feel a specific calling toward it? 

D.J. Jordan: I decided to run for office in 2019 because I felt called to be involved in government and public policy. I had already served on Capitol Hill for about 10 years, but I wanted to be even more involved as a legislator. Public policy is something that I’m really passionate about. I love bringing people together to analyze situations and develop policy solutions to community problems. 

Gov. Bill Lee: I had a wonderful life that really had nothing to do with politics or government. I ran a business. I had a beautiful family. I’ve been in the private sector all my life and very engaged in my church. But when I was about 40 years old, my first wife was killed in an accident. I had four little kids, and it really turned my life upside down. But God used it in a really powerful way to challenge me about my life going forward, how short life is, and how important it is that we live it well. 

So I got really involved in nonprofit work, especially with my kids who went to Africa, Haiti, and Mexico. And I went to the Middle East and served people in very difficult circumstances and got a lot of purpose out of that. I also got involved in nonprofits close to home, worked in the inner city with at-risk youth and worked in prison reentry ministry with men coming back from incarceration.

Those close-to-home nonprofit efforts got me connected to public policy. I became very engaged in underprivileged or underserved children’s educational issues, which led to an appointment on the Higher Education Commission. I got involved in this reentry work that got me appointed to a governor’s task force on recidivism and sentencing reform. So I started having interactions with state government and functions of government that were very intriguing to me because they were around issues that I was passionate about.

That’s what started the prayer that my [second] wife and I had about being engaged in public service. It came at a time in my life when I could do that. My children were grown, and my business was in a good spot, so we made a decision to pray about it. In fact, I told my wife I was going to pray about it every day starting on Jan. 1 of that year. I would ask God to speak to me about whether or not I should do this. And we did. And God did. And we made the decision and ran for governor.

LN: What benefit can Christians, specifically, bring to public service? Why should we serve in public office?

DJ: Christians are called to be salt and light in the world, that includes every aspect of society, even public service. I think the characteristics of our faith should be conducive to successful public service. If we have more elected officials and government leaders who try to model the same humility, love, wisdom, and grace of Jesus, then the better our government will be overall. 

GBL: As believers we are really compelled by God. We’re challenged by God to love our neighbors as ourself and to serve our neighbors. And to me, if we love our neighbors, then that means we’re called to serve them. Everyone should take stock of how it is that they’re serving their neighbors. It looks like a variety of ways. And I’ve often said your profession really doesn’t determine how you best serve your neighbor. It’s just whatever your profession is, wherever you spend your days, and however you spend your life that serving your neighbor is a possibility and is an obligation that we have. 

So the reason that believers can and should be engaged in public service is because it’s a great opportunity to serve your neighbors, as is being in the private sector and or working in nonprofits. They’re all pathways. One of them doesn’t have a higher calling than the other, in my view. I think it’s just an opportunity to serve neighbors. I don’t know if that’s the [only] reason to get into public service, but if you have someone who has a particular interest in it, then it’s certainly a way to serve.

LN: As a Christian, how do you advocate within your party? And how does it shape the way you interact with members of the opposite party? 

DJ: The two-party political system is the system that we must work within, but it doesn’t mean I like it. I really don’t like the hyper-polarization and tribalism that our nation is experiencing right now, from both major parties. If Jesus lived as a human in America today, I don’t think he would be a Republican or a Democrat. I think he’d be an Independent who challenges all parties and governments to a different standard.

LN: How does your faith make you different from a non-Christian in both political parties? 

DJ: In many ways, I should have more commonality with a follower of Jesus from another political party. For a Christian, we can be united around our common faith and purpose. For example, we can look at Isaiah 1:17 and want to seek justice, defend the oppressed, and take up the cause of the fatherless and discuss ways to work together on these goals. We may have different policy prescriptions but we can come together on solutions. 

LN: What traits are important for Christians who serve in public office? And how can those be developed in the Christian life? 

DJ: My faith is an important part of who I am. The convictions that I have, as a Christian, guide me in how I serve my wife, kids, and community, but also guide how I engage in politics. Because I believe that every person is created in the image of God, I believe every person is worthy of respect and value. I try to look at each person as God sees them, no matter if I agree with their politics or not. 

John 13:34-34 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

The trait that should be most well-known among Christian government leaders is our love for people. Jesus did not say, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you judge one another, or if you show your Bible to one another.” No. It’s about how you love other people.

GBL: Every day Christians have a challenge to live according to how God calls us to live—to be responsive, to be obedient, to live according to his principles. It’s a challenge, and we all face that challenge every day—the struggle between our perfection that comes from the blood of Christ and our desire to be holy, which is a pursuit that each of us has. And it’s particularly challenging in the public square because you are a public figure, so your life is on display. 

And people who are not believers have perceptions about those of us who are Christians. We’re no different than they are. The fact is that we’re broken, flawed, and have our weaknesses and our frailties, yet we’re forgiven and made perfect in him. Nevertheless, to the rest of the world, we are walking along as flawed human beings, which is why I have often said the more public a person’s life is as a believer, the more ardently we should pursue and think about the life of a believer on display. 

Think about the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Scripture. When you’re walking in the Spirit, here’s how it will be evidenced: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. If believers walked in the fruit of the Spirit in a very consistent and public way, how different would the political environment be in our country? I believe it would be substantially different. We all recognize we don’t just pull up our bootstraps and start walking in the fruit of the Spirit. But as we walk in obedience, as we pursue the Lord, as we are truly committed to our personal relationship with him, then out of that flows the fruit of the Spirit. 

If Christians are not walking in the Spirit, then there has to be a real question in their own self evaluation. Am I in fact walking closely with the Lord if the fruit of the Spirit is not a natural outflow of that walk? I oftentimes challenge myself to judge whether or not I’m bearing the fruit of the Spirit. For example, I ask myself, in this interaction with these people, in this press conference, in standing before this group of people who may or may not agree with me, and in this public policy dialogue am I exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit? It’s something that I challenge myself with on a frequent basis. Regardless of if believers are in the public square or not, we should be challenged by that Scripture. But it’s particularly valuable for those in the public arena.

LN: As an elected official or someone running for office, how do you keep in mind that politics is important but not ultimate—and not the end goal? 

DJ: It’s important to remember that Jesus should be Lord of every aspect of your life, including your involvement with politics. When you believe in a God who rules the universe, it helps put everything in perspective. If political success is your identity, it may bring you happiness, but it will also bring about great sorrow and embarrassment. 

GBL: We should ask, is the kingdom of God and my obedience to that kingdom the most important thing in the world? God uses those most traumatic moments in our lives and makes them the most transformational. He’s very good at that. He’s a redeemer, and that’s what he does. He takes the worst and uses it in a redemptive way. When my first wife was killed, it obviously was a very traumatic and challenging season for me. I had four kids. I was 40 years old. It just turned my whole life upside down. 

But one of the things that I realized was, when one of the most important things in my life was taken from me, it made the reality of what matters and what doesn’t matter much brighter. Suddenly, the things of Earth just didn’t matter much anymore. When the most important thing on Earth is gone, then the things of Earth don’t seem to have the importance that they used to. And the things of eternity become much more evidently valuable. I think that we have to view everything in our life that way. Those moments where we’re forced to are rare and difficult at times, but wonderful. But once we learn that lesson, I think you never forget it. 

I find myself in this job frequently remembering that there are things more important than winning a political battle. There are things more important than getting a piece of legislation passed. And yet, it’s all in the framework of valuable things on Earth. But the things on Earth fade away at some point. And to the extent that they are connected to things eternally, they’re valuable. But even those diminish when considering what ultimately is the most valuable thing that was lost.

LN: Do you have any advice for a Christian who is praying about running for public office?

DJ: I would advise them to seek counsel from a group of wise and spiritual people. There is safety in much wise counsel. If you’re having trouble discerning direction from God, it’s helpful to have trusted people around you to discuss this decision. You want to have people around you that can keep you humble and grounded. If you don’t have that type of support system and Christian friendships in your life, you’re missing out. If you decide to run for office, you’ll definitely need that for encouragement, humility, and wisdom. 

GBL: I think my encouragement for them would be that this is a tremendous opportunity to serve people. And it is a tremendous opportunity to serve people. And if God is calling you and inspiring you to do so, it is a very worthwhile endeavor. It is, however, like any pursuit, wrought with challenge and difficulty. It is not for the faint-hearted. And, in my view, it requires a very steadfast commitment that should be accompanied with a very strong desire to pursue God in the midst of what you’re doing. It isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly worthwhile. And yet that can be said of being a stay-at-home mom, a schoolteacher, a physicist, a welder, or a holder of public office. 

I don’t hold this job at any higher calling or higher value in the kingdom of God than any other job. And that’s the one thing that I would remind believers that are pursuing this. Sometimes the world around us puts people in influence and power on pedestals that are not particularly pedestals of the kingdom. In the world’s eyes, it can be very attractive because it can look like a position of power and influence, which it actually can be. But that’s no reason to pursue an endeavor. But if God calls someone to do that and wants to put that person in that position, because certainly God appoints leaders and people and authority, [remember] it is not a job more worthy or more holy than any other job, or even more effective for the kingdom. It’s just another pathway that God uses us flawed people to make a difference in the world for the kingdom.

D.J. Jordan is the chief of staff for the Virginia Office of Attorney General.

Bill Lee is a seventh-generation Tennessean and the 50th governor of Tennessee.

Lindsay Nicolet serves as the editorial director for the ERLC. She oversees the day-to-day management of all content and resources from the Nashville office. Lindsay completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is married to Justin and they have a daughter and a son.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24