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Posted by on Apr 25, 2016 in 2016 Presidential Election, History, Politics | 9 comments

If we can’t elect a Garfield, maybe we each can be a Garfield

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On Saturday, returning from a daylong meeting with church members, someone mentioned the name of an Ohio town. “Isn’t that where Garfield was from?” I asked, realizing in an instant that people would think I was referring to James A. Garfield, America’s twentieth president, and not to the orange cat in comic strips.

Garfield doesn’t come up often in conversation and the only biography I’ve read of him wasn’t very good.

But most people who know a little about him remember that he was assassinated. (That was the subject of an excellent recent installment of the PBS series, The American Experience.)

Others will know that Garfield was an ordained minister, the only such person to ever be president.

None of that came up during the Saturday drive. But having briefly mentioned Garfield one day, I was surprised the next day to find an article in Christianity Today‘s The Local Church about Garfield.

According to Brannon Marshall, the writer of the piece, Garfield also exemplified humility, being one of the few people elected president who didn’t actually want the job. (I’ve talked before how much I would love for us to elect people to public office who aren’t desperately grasping for power.)

In this, Marshall asserts, Garfield has a lot to teach modern Christians (and, I’d say, others):

Garfield’s modesty would make him seem wildly out of place in today’s political arena, but it fits his role as a lay-minister well. Of the church leaders I’ve known, those who have contributed the most to those in their care have achieved their influence as a result of character that’s unseen and humility that’s steady. It’s never been done through declarative muscle; instead, like Garfield, they faithfully followed the humble path and have inspired others to do the same. They’re the pastors who hang around after everyone’s gone, get out the mop, and clean up red Kool-Aid stains in the church kitchen without thought of recompense or recognition. They’re the tired-but-tireless Sunday school teachers who are in their fifth decade of helping children understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” They’re everywhere—but rarely rewarded. And that’s probably how they want things to be…

Garfield’s relative anonymity in history shouldn’t surprise us—an
assassin’s bullet tragically ended his life less than seven months into
his term. His legacy, however, is important because his story relates an
enduring lesson: true, dignified influence is often achieved not
through force or compulsion, but through quiet humility.

In the midst of this year’s wretchedly depressing presidential campaign, as we watch more than a few candidates pander, grovel, assault, and misconstrue the records or beliefs of others, it would be refreshing to be surprised by the nomination of a Garfield, a candidate not seeking the office, but seeking to do the first thing all leaders must do, serve. It’s something to pray for.

But barring that miracle, maybe we who follow Christ could pray that, like Garfield, we could learn what it means to humbly follow the crucified and risen Jesus. We probably won’t ever be elected president. But filled with the power of our Lord, God may use us to change the lives of the people we encounter each day for the better. And doing that would be a great ambition for each of us to hold.

[This was cross posted at Mark Daniels’ blog.]

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Copyright 2016 The Moderate Voice
  • President James A. Garfield was a Republican. I would not object to a Republican being in the Oval Office again.

  • “…true, dignified influence is often achieved not through force or compulsion, but through quiet humility.” This reminded me of the principles of servant leadership that we use at the Texas Rural Leadership Program in our Leaders in Action curriculum.

  • JSpencer

    A fine and dandy sentiment (the humble candidate) but not very likely in today’s dog eat dog political world. Funny how modern day republicans never (or rarely) invoke the names of past republicans who left worthwhile legacies, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln… none of them are current role models for the GOP, that’s for sure. As to whether or not a candidate (or president) is “religious”, I couldn’t care less. This isn’t a theocracy and was never intended to be one. If my president is guided by reason and conscience, that’s more than enough – and more than we often get, regardless of well tailored religious trappings. Examples abound.

    • Neither my post nor the article to which I linked advocated theocracy. I would be opposed to that as well. Garfield wasn’t a theocrat.

      • JSpencer

        I realize that, I was just pontificating. In any case, we don’t hear much about Garfield so thanks for the education!

  • dduck

    Yea Garfield and all “real” people like him. I am an agnostic, but I have known a couple a religious folk who really care about people.
    I know most folks around here don’t like McCain, but I think he fits into the humble category; it didn’t help him much. Other factors often come in to erase the humble positive, such as selecting that idiot Palin. Every period of time sets up a new scenario; I wonder if Garfield approved of abortion, gay marriages, etc.

    • JSpencer

      I’m sure McCain rues the day he decided to bring Palin on board. If he had a do over I expect he’d do it in a heartbeat.

      • dduck

        The point is he has a heart.

        • JSpencer

          Agreed. Whereas Cheney only has a sump pump. But I digress.

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