Often, when we talk about Christians entering the public square and running for office, someone will challenge that idea along these lines: “With those core beliefs and worldview, how could they ever expect to get elected?”
The assumption being that only conservatives with shallow convictions can raise support or win elections.
Another myth worth challenging is that lawyers are most qualified to serve as legislators. Or likewise, that former teachers and school administrators make the best public school board members.
If you tend to believe any of the above, then here’s a story that may change your mind. It’s about a pharmacist who was also a pastor and a homeschool father. But here’s the kicker. He also won elected office and served as a member of the Texas Board of Education.
Richard Watson, a pharmacist by trade, has faithfully pastored the same congregation in Gorman, Texas since 1978. As a result, he knows both his congregation and his community well.
Early on, Watson became active politically on a local basis, with party politics and state conventions. But in 1983, a conservative on the Texas State Board of Education approached Watson and asked him to consider running for a seat on the Board.
“I laughed out loud at that idea,” Watson said. “I told him that I didn’t think I would be electable. The man challenged me on that, asking me why I thought that way. I said, “Well, I’m a homeschool Dad. How is a homeschool dad going to get elected to the State Board of Education?”
But Watson took the matter to his family. They prayed and talked about the idea. They weighed into their decision-making “all the flack we were probably going to get.”
Watson ran. First, he had a challenger in the primary (which he won), and that enabled him to get his campaign organized early. Then, in the fall’s general election, he ran against a retired school superintendent.
Now, just so you understand what this seat represented, Texas divides itself into fifteen districts for the education board. Each district covers the area of about two U.S. Congressional districts. And, of course, they do everything big in Texas. So, the winner of this seat on the Board would cover a district comprised of 56, mostly rural counties. That meant a total of 210 local school districts.
During the campaign, Watson heard some strong opinions against his candidacy.
“I went to one of the school districts and spoke to a teacher’s group,” Watson said. “One school principal stood in front of everybody and said, ‘Just the very fact that you’re running is a slap in the face to every teacher in this room.’ She was opposed to my running on account of my being a homeschool father.”
Watson learned quickly to appeal more directly to the voters and the Republican organizations. “Just let the school folks do and think what they wanted,” became his strategy. “I never would have made it otherwise.”
Watson is no longer in elected office, but he is still active in political party activities–including the local Tea Party meetings, along with county and state conventions. He also served for two decades on the Board for the nonprofit group Wallbuilders. Over the years, he has attended many conservative political and Christian conferences put on by groups like Wallbuilders and the American Renewal Project.
One final myth that deserves being challenged is that pastors should avoid politics at all costs. It should come as no surprise that Watson has a definite and formed opinion on that subject.
“The fact that pastors and the church have not been involved is one of the major reasons for the mess we’re in,” Watson said. “I guess one thing that’s really helped me realize that is my association with David Barton’s WallBuilders and having a grasp on the real history of our country–learning about the influence of pastors in the Revolutionary Period and before. They set the tone and prepared people for what was coming. We’ve forgotten that history.”
As for the charge that a conservative pastor who addresses political issues will simply be a voicebox for the GOP, Watson disagrees. “I just deal with issues and what’s right and wrong with this issue. Just show where this candidate stands or what this platform states–and compare it to the other platform. Deal with the principles.”
So, can a full-time pharmacist be a faithful shepherd of a flock? Yes.
Can (or should) a pastor run for an elected office? Yes, if the Lord leads in the direction. The Scripture certainly does not prohibit it, and even can be understood to encourage such leadership.
Finally, can a homeschooling father get elected and competently serve on a school board consisting of huge geographical boundaries?
Richard Watson did.
Pharmacist. Pastor. Home Educator. Elected Official. Phew!
Watson’s golf game and trophy fishing mounts might not stack up to other men in East Texas–but he has certainly done more than his share to lead and improve his local community.
To paraphrase Pastor Rob McCoy, Richard Watson has been “Taking care of his bean patch!“