Reading Danny Westneat's Sunday column in The Seattle Times about City Council candidate Tim Burgess' religious faith, I was struck with a sense of deja vu. That's because a column very much like it had already run in the Times in 2005 – written by Burgess himself, titled "Question what you're told about faith-driven voters." In that piece, Burgess defended religious values expressed in politics and also tried to redefine that away from being the preserve of the religious right. It was a plea for Blue, secular (and comparatively godless) Seattle to have a broader understanding of faith-based citizens like himself:
We're leery of politicians who use God-words and quote Scripture. We can sense the natural sincerity of religious expression that comes from a deep, abiding faith. Yet, we have no problem with religious influence in our culture; in fact, we value it. Our religious pluralism is our strength.
Prior to the election, we held some classes at my church on Queen Anne Hill with the title, "How Would Jesus Vote?" We discussed God's special affinity for the poor and what that means for economic and social policy. We examined God's demand for justice. We talked about our responsibility as environmental stewards.
Is this what you thought so-called "values voters" talked about? Does the profile here fit with your notion of faith-driven voters?
In his column, Westneat says that Burgess was "nervous" about "how Seattle voters might react to an entire article about his religious faith a week before the election." The evidence suggests Burgess shouldn't be nervous about something he's already aired so publicly and consistently. He's already "out" as a Christian and person of faith. The question Westneat raises is, will Seattle hold it against him?
I won't. I respect Burgess for his previous editorializing in the Times about values, most importantly during and after the 2003 Strippergate scandal when he penned a series of powerful guest commentaries detailing why the scandal was a big deal at a time when many insiders were still dismissing it as either penny ante or the result of prudery about the strip-club business.
Strippergate matters because our City Council recklessly allowed convicted felons with links to the corruption that permeated our city for decades to bully their way to positions of influence.
In a September 2003 Times column before the fall primary, Burgess called for a "shake up" of the City Council and a pleaded for "values-driven" leadership:
Seattle needs a City Council that is focused on what really matters, instead of circus animals, tearing down dams, or figuring out how to milk more campaign money from strip-club operators.
Here's what should matter to our City Council: the dangerously-stretched-thin level of staffing and equipment in our police and fire departments in this age of terrorism; the equality and fairness of criminal justice; the vibrancy and attractiveness of our local business environment; the effectiveness of our social services; the infrastructure of roads, bridges and transportation services that holds our city together; the education of our children; and the openness and integrity of government. These are things that matter to all of us and enhance our quality of life as a community.
Fortunately for all of us, we have a long list of City Council members who have provided this type of effective, focused, values-driven and mature leadership – George Benson, Tim Hill, Phyllis Lamphere, John Miller, Norm Rice, Sam Smith and Jeanette Williams, to name a few.
I'm not sure whether Jesus would vote for roads and bridges, or whether he would be so dismissive of circus animals and salmon-killing dams, but with his writings about values and council reform, Burgess outlined four years ago what he expects of a council member and who his role models are. He's set a high bar for himself. Let's hope he can keep faith with himself and the voters if he wins.
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