Pastor & Politician?

This opinion piece appeared recently both in the Bellingham Herald and the Ferndale Record




Centaur “Newton”

The first hybrid beast I remember was the cartoon centaur Newton— the half boy/half horse creature from the 60’s cartoon The Mighty Hercules.

There’s the Egyptian sphinx  (lion’s body/human head).  Google up “hybrid animals” and you’ll find these cross-bred oddities:

•the beefalo (cow/bison)

•the liger (lion/tiger)

•the camas (camel/lama)

Hybrid "zonkey"

Hybrid “zonkey”

•the zonkey (zebra/donkey)

They’re funky looking and turn heads. Just as odd, perhaps, may be the “pastortician”—the pastor-turned-politician. There aren’t
many.  I became one.

Politicians emerge from diverse professions and no one blinks:  law, education, business, sports, farming, entertainment. But when a member of the clergy runs for public office some do a double-take.

Soiled by politics

Over the holidays a county council member’s spouse wrote me,  “Why one would entertain both a church vocation and a political one is beyond my comprehension!” This morning a friend asked a similar question.

Some believe there is something too lofty about religious work and ministers shouldn’t get soiled by politics.

Others express a distrust of preachers and would feel safer if a used car salesman were elected (no offense to salesmen!).  While in public office I’ve been called, in writing, a “cult” leader, a terrorist “mullah,” and compared with Hitler. Recently, a stranger barged into our church and lectured a group of church ladies on how their pastor couldn’t be ethical, since he was in politics.

I am questioned more often about my dual responsibilities than my positions on critical issues like the Cherry Point terminal or the jail proposal.

My art and canvas

My work and career is church pastor. My craft and art is the soul-care of my congregation.  If developing healthy lives is my “art,” then the canvas where I practice and apply that craft is our community. And politics (public policy) is part of the process that supports, defines, and stretches-out that canvas.

Religious or not, our community is the context and environment where we express our lives and service.  Like everyone, we want it to be safe, healthy, free, and vibrant. So of course I care about it. Our church is part of our community.  And our city is part of our church.

Jon on city council, Sept 2015

Jon on city council, Sept 2015

Taxes, economic development, jobs, safety, schools, and the environment.    We’re not so “heavenly-minded” that we don’t care deeply about these “earthly” things.  They impact our families—maybe more than any sermon!

Religious agenda?

“But Mutchler, you must have a religious agenda!”

Here it is:  We want people to excel. We want families to be safe and prosper.  We want citizens to have the freedom to make thoughtful and healthy choices to better themselves. When those choices don’t pan out we want people to take responsibility. And we want the successful to show patience and generosity toward those struggling.

Church life is like city life:  a mixture of good and bad, joy and hurt, success and failure. We are made up of households of families, single parents, widows, students.  I see folks at their best (a wedding day, birth of a child) and at their worst (at the jail, the tragic 2 A.M. call, a disintegrating family, a job loss, or terrifying doctor’s news).

I’m not perfect. Draw up a list of “sinners,” and bump my name near the top.  The “holier-than-thou” caricature of the classic fire-and-brimstone preacher makes a great punching bag in the movies, but I’ve found few in real life.

My vocation teaches me to respect people.  I trust folks and give them the benefit of the doubt.  I listen well and approach issues with an open mind.  I try to understand the core concerns of my opponents and recognize and affirm that we live in a free and pluralistic society where my ideas have to compete with yours.

Like anything, politics can be a distraction, an idol. It’s easy to lose one’s way. It’s fraught with temptations that can damage our character and hurt our friendships. It’s a challenge to practice it with integrity and charity.

The front door

Pastors know we live in a complex, multi-cultural society.  Perhaps the most important part of the church is the front door:  it separates the realm of the church from the world of a free, democratic society. I’m a church pastor, not the city chaplain. But I have the responsibility and right to influence what happens in my city. For now, politics is one way.

I’m a pastor and a politician.  I am confident that my pastoral experiences have made me a better elected official. But unexpectedly, my city council experiences have also made me a better pastor and a better man.

Jon Mutchler is the pastor of the Ferndale Alliance Church, a two-term Ferndale City Council member, and member of the Whatcom County Charter Review Commission.

He is married to Diane, 30 years, father of seven, and recent grandfather.


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