Winter 2003
Volume 7 Number 2
 

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And Forrester was not the only PTS alum with previous government service who was running for national office in New Jersey this past fall. Buster Soaries (Class of 1989), 51, was the Republican nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives in the district that includes Princeton Seminary. He is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey. Soaries also served from January 1999 to January 2002 as New Jersey’s secretary of state. (Forrester lost his senate bid by 10 percentage points; Soaries lost by 23.)

 

Buster Soaries

So how does a commitment to Jesus Christ come into play for Christians in politics?

“If it is a Christian’s calling, as I believe it is, to be listening to what those on the underside of a political system are saying,” says Mark Taylor, PTS professor of theology and culture who has been involved with many grassroots political movements, “and if one works to critically engage that, then it is going to be very difficult to translate those concerns into political practice in the present system—because the present system is so beholden to the powerful.”
“Yes, it’s difficult, with the money and power involved,” said Forrester in the midst of his high-level campaign, to which it is reported he contributed millions of his own dollars earned from a pharmaceutical drug-related business. “No question about it. So one of the marvelous things about Christian spirituality is that it always presses us, precisely when we feel like we’re being faithful, to acknowledge there’s always more to it. One of the reasons I’m thankful for my theological education is that it gives me tools to help guard against feelings of self-sufficiency or self-satisfaction.”

Both Soaries and Forrester advocated taking this type of self-reflective posture, while also sticking to firm principles.

“I am open to compromise around process,” said Soaries. “If someone says to me, ‘Listen we are going to fix the road first, and then we will fix the park second,’ I am willing to say, ‘Well, if fixing the road first will guarantee me that you will fix the park, then I will support your fixing the road first to buy support for fixing the park that otherwise wouldn’t get fixed.’”

“But,” he said, “if compromise challenges my core beliefs, then I would rather lose than compromise.”

“You almost can’t avoid a utilitarian sort of decision-making, at least at certain moments, even if that is not your way of making decisions across the board,” says Nancy Duff, PTS associate professor of theological ethics. “But where you draw the line becomes so significant. How much compromise? And I think the temptation to keep pushing the line back is so enormous. I don’t think this is all that different for politicians than for others of us working in different arenas. Except that for politicians, their vocation, their daily job—who they are—puts them in a world where that might be required of them more often.”

Forrester acknowledged the difficulty of ethical decision-making in the process, but said the spiritual demands go beyond that. When asked what, based on his first-hand experience, he would like to share with seminary students and professors about the political process, he said, “Politics is the most sophisticated predatory environment we have. It’s important to prepare people, if they’re going to be involved in politics, to better understand the nature of this environment.”

Because of the demands, Forrester said prayer has become his “most important” spiritual support. “And not just my own prayer,” he said. “I have been affected immensely by the awareness of the prayers of others—more than at any other time in my life. I’m aware that I’m not alone in this enterprise. The support of those who have shared this kindness has been important for me.”

“I would say it’s important for politicians to have an active spiritual life of prayer and Scripture reading every day,” says George Hunsinger, PTS professor of systematic theology, “as well as to connect with thoughtful voices like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and George Kennan [a historian and former top U.S. diplomat]. It would give them an ethos, a mind-set, that would help with the difficult questions.”

Martin Luther King Jr. has been one of those thoughtful voices with whom Soaries stays connected, particularly King’s lessons in the Civil Rights movement. “Even in the most extreme adversarial situations, I was raised in a tradition that really taught us to love our enemies,” Soaries said. “Now that might not work well in politics at all. But I would rather lose and remain committed to my own personal ethic than to employ tactics that turn me into someone I am not. I am a minister first. Politics for me has got to remain an extension of my ministry and not as a separate vocation that could in fact nullify my ministry.”

Though they both graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary, neither Soaries nor Forrester listed God as one of their endorsers! Avoiding this impression is, in fact, a matter both take very seriously.

Continued on page 3
 

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