10 Minutes with . . . Tim Goeglein (web exclusive story)

by Adriane Dorr

Tim Goeglein thrives on communication. An Indiana University, Bloomington journalism graduate, Goeglein kickstarted his career at an NBC affiliate station in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He later worked in Washington, D.C. as deputy press secretary and eventually as communications director for Indiana Senator Dan Coats. He then served as special assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison under George W. Bush from 20012008.

Following his work in the capitol, Goeglein accepted the position of vice president for external relations for the Colorado-based organization Focus on the Family, a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive (www.focusonthefamily.com).

He is also the author of a recently-released book entitled The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era. Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to George W. Bush, wrote the forward to Goegleins book. At any given time, a handful of people–several hundred out of more than 311 million Americans today–are called by a president to serve on his White House staff. For seven eventful years Timothy Stanley Goeglein was one of those select few working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, says Rove. This book is his story of his time on the White House staff in years of controversy, conflict, and war.

Goeglein and his wife, Jenny, have two sons, Tim and Paul, and are members of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Va. The following is an edited Lutheran Witness (LW) interview with Goeglein (TG):

LW: What led you to choose a career in communications? What do you love about sharing ideas and knowledge through varying mediums to a large audience?

TG: Ever since I was a young boy growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind., I knew I wanted to be in journalism. I loved both the print and electronic media. Ernie Pyle, a fellow Hoosier, from little Dana, Ind., was my favorite reporter, and I came to see that his evocative, crystalline writing made him the best reporter and observer of World War II. I also admired the anchorman duties of Walter Cronkite. I came to see, many years later, that I disagreed with his worldview, but as an anchor and observer, he was definitive and the best of his era. But I was inspired by Pyle and Cronkite, and as I say in my new book The Man in the Middle, I came to a juncture in my life where I knew that, although I loved the world of ideas, I did not want to live encased in them, and I was not an intellectual because I loved people more than ideas. And so I decided on a life in journalism, which I still believe is the ultimate profession.

When I graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, I became an executive producer at the NBC affiliate in my hometown. A year and a half after I began working at the TV station, Dan Quayle became Vice President, Dan Coats became a U.S. Senator and the latter invited me to join his original staff as the deputy press secretary.

We were a staff that loved God and country, and I came to see, through their examples, that public service could be noble. So this was a vortex of communication, ideas, principles, and service, but all underscored by my love and passion for Jesus Christ who is the center of my life without peer.

My vocation had become people; relationships matter, beginning with my relationship with Christ. And so many years later, when I came to the White House, I saw that this combination was a way to live my faith by living my ideas.

LW: Your career has taken place largely in political realms. In these high-stress, high-profile arenas, is it difficult to contend for your Lutheran faith?

TG: I am tempted to say yes, but the answer is no. Luther is more relevant now than ever. His Augustinian view of the two kingdoms has served me well as I have negotiated this pathway between Athens and Jerusalem, between government and God, between faith and public life, between faith and reason. Luther makes it clear: There are two realms. We are citizens of our beloved country but our ultimate destination is heaven. The city of God and the city of man are two different places. We must respect and even love that bright line of difference.

All vocations have equal dignity and worth. The church is strongest and best when it is the church; government has its separate realm, which is also God-ordained. The purpose of government is justice. We need Christians in public life, in the arts, in the military. We have to be salt and light wherever God puts us, and we must be salt and light with joy and contentment. And no matter where we are, we must struggle to be prepared to be, in Wordsworths great line, Surprised by joy–impatient as the wind.

It is indeed considered bad manners by some to speak of faith in the public arena. We live in a time when our country, culture and civilization have become more secular. But our exceptional country is not like Europe, where the secularization there is almost suffocating. We remain, as Michael Novak has called us, a religious republic.

Our marvelous country was founded by dissenting Protestants. We Lutherans have had a giant role in the shaping and forming of our country; we must continue to impact our country and world for ends that are pleasing to God. That boldness will sometimes result in a serrated edge of criticism. But lest I mix Calvinism with Lutheranism, the Westminster Shorter Catechism is right: Mans chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

LW: How has your understanding of the Lutheran idea of vocation given value and brought joy to your work?

TG: C. S. Lewis was right: Happiness is not joy. Pleasure is not joy. Joy is joy, and it is mostly a Christian internalization of sheer contentment in Christ, despite our circumstances. I learned, having put myself into a crisis, that when you are clasping the cross with both hands and holding on for dear life, you come to know Jesus in a way that is not theoretical or existential or elevated. Ours is a personal God who loves us unyieldingly. There is a kind of boundless, depthless, endless love that Christ sheds on us daily. When I ascend our parish altar and eat Christs body and drink His blood, I know I am partaking in a joyful, singular meal. That is joy, even transcendence.

When I kneel down in my parish each Sunday about 10:05 a.m., and tell God that I am confessing the evil, wretched, horrible things I have said, done and thought, I am confident He is hearing me and then absolves me. It is all bound up in His real presence; there is no symbolism there, like Christmas lights and the confetti of New Years. He is Christ; He is with us. Now.

And when I depart my parish, I always pass the baptismal font, and I dip my fingers in, and then cross myself with the water that evokes floods and rains and the washing away of dirt by the very hands of Jesus, and I think: This is not happiness or pleasure or exhilaration. It is joy. It allows me to go into the world and to perform with confidence and peace the vocation and work God has given me to do. Joy and vocation are inextricably linked, and when that mix is most potent, one feels a sense of elevation rooted in the humility of our fallen nature made pure by sheer grace, mercy, and love. I have found joy in my work because of my relationship with Jesus Christ; He goes before me despite the fact I am a poor, miserable, failed sinner.

LW: Why do you believe it is important for Lutherans to be involved with politics specifically and the culture in general?

TG: All Christians are called to be salt and light. Our first duty as Christians in the secular realm is to vote. That is just good citizenship. But we are called to shape, form, impact and enmesh our faith into every realm of life. Politics is very important; our worldview is wrapped up in all kinds of policies that are decided by judges, senators, governors and presidents: marriage, the sanctity of life, adoption, the justness of war, and so on. We must be involved. But politics will never save us, and politics, in my view, is downstream from culture.

A very great senator said the principle difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives believe if you want to impact politics, you have to impact culture first. He also said liberals believe that if you want to impact culture, you have impact politics first. That is astute and true. As orthodox Christians, we must vote; we must work in campaigns; we must hold public office; we must serve those who hold political posts; we are to be judges, governors, state legislators and serve on city councils. But just or more importantly, we are to compose music, write screen plays, teach in universities, create poetry and verse and serve in symphonies and foundations. That is, we are to impact culture. Culture grows from religion, not the other way around. We must bring our Christian worldview to the arts, to government, to all the various walks of life.

LW: Your book points to the vital nature of strong, stable families in revitalizing a civil, moral, ethical culture. How can the church assist in this effort?

TG: There is no more important institution in any culture, any country, any civilization than the family. The family is the foundation without peer. That is why I am spending my professional life at Focus on the Family; we place families, marriages and parenting in the center. Jesus Christ is our pillar. Show me a country with strong, stable, confident nuclear families, and I will show you a strong, stable, confident country. Show me a country with weak, fractured, broken families, and I will show you a weakened, fractured country.

We are, in America, at a key precipice. Forty percent of marriages end in divorce. Forty percent of Americans are born out of wedlock. Cities like Detroit have 400 liquor stores in the city limits and none or virtually no supermarkets. This is measurable social and moral decay.

But I am not dour or pessimistic. I believe that a renaissance or rebirth is indeed possible; we must re-fuse faith into our public life and culture, but we must focus like a laser beam on family health and strength. The role of the church in this endeavor is not only important it is crucial. Government cannot cause a family to fall in love again. It cannot save marriage. It cannot tuck a child into bed at night. The task and challenge is tall. We must revitalize our civil, moral and ethical cultures. The way forward is a robust Christianity that brings to all the avenues of life a worldview of grace and compassion that is mercy-based. Lives change when Jesus is at the center. He is what Eliot said of Him: The still point of the turning world.

LW: If readers are interested in ordering your book, where can they find it?

TG: They can purchase The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era from www.amazon.com, Books-a-Million, Barnes and Noble, the Broadman and Holman website and in most Christian bookstores. There are all kinds of easy links to the book, including the Focus on the Family website.

LW: Finally, in The Man in the Middle, you describe several historic events (e.g., the stem cell debate; September 11, 2001; the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, etc.) that occurred while you worked at the White House. Does one event in particular stand out in your mind?

TG: Yes, the event that stands out most in my mind is the greatest grace that was ever extended to me. In fact, the grace and mercy that President Bush extended to me, in the midst of the greatest and gravest crisis of my life, is the purest sense of mercy I have ever experienced, and it was rooted in his own compassionate Christianity. I actually begin The Man in the Middle with this story, and I will save the details for those who will read the book. But suffice it to say that, in public life, I have rarely if ever known any president of either party to go so far out of his way to extend such genuine forgiveness to a White House staff member in the way George W. Bush did to me. My prayer is that Christ would be honored by my sharing this story from my life and that everyone who reads that chapter, and the book, will internalize a story of redemption that I think is animated by the best of the Christian life.

About the Author: Adriane Dorris managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.

November 2011

The Lutheran Witness — Providing Missouri Synod laypeople with stories and information that
complement congregational life, foster personal growth in faith, and help interpret the
contemporary world from a Lutheran Christian perspective.

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