Pastoral role

Saturday, August 2, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.

The way Charles Jackson sees it, there is little difference between his job as Missouri's state director of public safety and his calling as a minister.

At work, Jackson oversees about 15,000 employees, including members of the Missouri National Guard and the Missouri State Highway Patrol. At the Guiding Light Missionary Baptist Church of Christ, his oversees a flock that grew from five members in 1996 to 70 today.

"I think that it's all serving the people," says Jackson, a 26-year veteran of the Highway Patrol. "As a trooper, that's what we were about. As a pastor, I'm trying to address people's needs and be encouraging to them."

While heading a state agency with a total budget of $349 million, Jackson also finds times for Sunday services, midweek services and Bible study along with various campaigns aimed at young people in Fulton just north of the capital city.

"I think being involved in society overall is important," says Jackson, 51. "I don't consider myself an activist; rather, I want to carry forward the principle that Christ set forth. He died for the people, not for himself."

At times, Jackson's pastoral role seems intertwined with his political beliefs.

In April and June, Jackson wrote letters -- which he signed as the Rev. Charles Jackson -- criticizing the Republican-led Legislature for opposing Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's budget plans. Jackson personally paid for the letters' distribution to almost 300 Missouri newspapers through the Missouri Press Service.

Holden, seeking to boost sagging revenues and help fund state services, had been pushing lawmakers to refer higher taxes on such things as casinos and tobacco to statewide ballots. Republicans refused to do so.

"If the Legislature continues to shun their responsibility, their actions will result in serious cuts in services and place an undue burden on citizens," Jackson wrote in his April 17 letter. "Legislators should support Governor Holden and at least, give you the citizen, an opportunity to decide."

In the second letter, distributed June 26, Jackson criticized Republicans for failing to accept a tax increase.

"So therefore, it appears that if the legislative leadership has their way, the state by divine standards will be in a sick condition because the youth and elderly will be suffering," Jackson wrote. "WHY have they turned their backs on the teachings of the Bible?"

A few days later, Holden cut state spending after lawmakers failed to embrace the tax increases.

Jackson, who was appointed to his current post by Holden in 2001, said he has the same right as any private citizen to express his opinion. Neither of his letters made any mention of the writer's official state title, but signing them with his pastoral title made sense, he said.

"I think that I could have just done it as a citizen, but I don't think it would be proper for the director of public safety to write the letter," Jackson said.

"I didn't want people thinking, 'He's just sucking up to his boss,"' he added. "The Bible talks about supporting your leaders. He's there by divine purpose and we're to support them."

Jackson is not the only public official to raise moral issues in a state budget battle.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has said a $1.2 billion tax measure passed by lawmakers and headed for a Sept. 9 public vote would bring fairness to "an immoral tax system" that has treated the poor unfairly for generations.

Some political observers in Alabama say the morality argument used by Riley, a Republican and Southern Baptist who holds Bible classes at the Capitol, could appeal to conservative Christians.

Back in Missouri, Holden saw no conflict between Jackson's opinion as a pastor and his duties as an agency director.

"I think any citizen has the right to send letters to the paper if they want," Holden said. "I didn't ask him to do it, I didn't ask anybody to do it. It was his choice as a citizen."

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau, who has often sparred with Holden over Missouri's budget, said he wasn't willing to get into a shouting match over the comments made by Jackson in his letters.

"He has the right to express himself," said Kinder. "I think religion and politics are a volatile mix. I suppose they can be separated."

Kinder disagreed with Jackson's arguments for increased taxes and continues to believe higher taxes would do more harm than good. Kinder said Jackson "almost sounds like a combination preacher and pundit."

Like Kinder, some political observers in Missouri don't believe that Jackson crossed any ethical lines between his official duties and his pastoral ones, although that line may be somewhat blurred.

"Things like this are not unusual, and there are things that stretch the line between public and private," said John Petrocik, chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "Nothing here represents a red flag in my mind."

But at least one state worker publicly expressed opposition to Jackson's April letter, which was published in the Jefferson City News Tribune. In her own letter to the newspaper, Marilyn J. Seaton, who works for the Missouri House, said Jackson's concerns about budget cuts were nothing short of hypocritical.

While programs and services would be cut without a tax increase, Seaton wrote that "directors will not be the individuals who will lose their jobs if the budget crisis is not resolved."

Seaton, who lives in Jefferson City, declined a request by The Associated Press to elaborate on her letter.

Jackson, whose salary went from about $63,000 at the state Highway Patrol to about $96,000 in his current job, said he hasn't bought a new home and still drives older cars. He said he is proud of his accomplishments, both as a state worker and a pastor.

As for criticism of the kind leveled by Seaton, Jackson says plainly: "People have their opinion."

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