Lighting The City
Originally appeared in Plain Truth
By Joel Rissinger
Bret Schundler has been
re-elected twice as mayor
of Jersey City, New Jersey, by as much as 69 percent of the vote. He has taken major steps towards revitalizing the city economy. He has clamped down on crime, and he has waged an all-out war for religious freedom.
magazine noted: "What makes him stand out in Jersey City is his accomplishments.... In a mayor's office so corrupt that one of his predecessors' desks was actually rigged to drop bribes into visitors' laps, Schundler's fiscal proposals present a national model for urban reform... lower taxes, less government and "voucherizing" city services so that people decide for themselves who sweeps their streets and educates their kids." Mayor Schundler, his wife Lynn, their daughter Shaylin and their son Hans Otto are letting the light of Christian faith shine for all to see. Plain Truth spoke to Mayor Schundler about his life, his political success and his faith in Jesus Christ.
Joel Rissinger: Tell me a little about how you came to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Bret Schundler: I grew up in a Presbyterian family. In the 9th grade, I attended a Bible study with other high school students at a Baptist friend's home. It was there that I began to understand the meaning of my faith and how it must be tied to actions. I was born again and understood that I needed to begin living in obedience to Jesus as Lord.
What was your background before you were elected mayor?
Planning on becoming a minister, I studied sociology at Harvard, studied one semester abroad at the University of Haifa in Israel and worked with and studied an inner-city church in Washington, D.C. While in Washington studying that church, I also took an internship on Capitol Hill to learn a little about how government works. That led to a job offer and to my working for a congressman after graduation. Next, I worked for a year and a half with Gary Hart's first campaign for president. When the Hart campaign ended, I got engaged and considered going to seminary. I felt called to be involved in evangelism and in working for social justice.
A brother of mine who is a minister told me that parish ministry is about helping a particular body of believers in their Christian walk. So I figured, like St. Paul, I would answer my Christian call to ministry through avocational service and do something else professionally. A career search led me to Wall Street where I worked as a bond salesman for Salomon Brothers and as an equities salesman for C.J. Lawrence.
My wife and I got involved with our church, working with its food pantry and with a coalition of churches that sheltered the homeless in Jersey City. I became an elder in the church and taught an adult Bible study. My wife is an attorney.
We both saved and did well with our investments and decided to take a year off from our jobs so we could travel around the world before we started a family. We spent the spring of 1990 in Eastern Europe watching Communism crumble and gaining first-hand knowledge of why some systems of government work and others do not. When we got back to Jersey City, I decided to run against what I considered to be an abusive political machine in Jersey City. I ran for State Senate and almost won. In early 1992, the Mayor of Jersey City was convicted of various felonies and sentenced to jail. A special election was called, and I won, defeating 18 other candidates.
Did you feel that God was leading you to become Mayor?
No, I just felt called to run. I did not presume that God intended for me to win. The Bible says that God's word is a lamp unto our feet. It also says that all things work for the good for those that love God. The first scripture suggests to me that God lets us see what our next step should be, but not necessarily what lies ahead for us in the more distant future. The second scripture suggests that we should trust God in that regard, knowing that whatever comes in the future is for good. I have always felt that the faithful and good fight is itself the good life, not the attainment of any desired position or place.
What would you say to those who believe that Christians should never be involved in politics?
I believe that the body of Christ has many parts, and we all have our calling. A politician who does not feel called to continue in public office should give it up and pursue his new call. A businessperson who feels called to public office should give up business and run for office. Being faithful is all about commit-
ting oneself to what one believes is God's will. Personally, I feel called to try and make this world a better place. The Scriptures say that along with loving mercy and walking humbly with God, doing justice is a key part of any acceptable offering to God. One can do justice outside of government as well as from inside government, but I believe a lot of good can be done by faithful Christians going into public service. The important thing for a Christian is always to put God first, not personal ambition.
Tell us about the award you won: the Becket Fund's Canterbury Medal for Religious Liberty.
Jersey City is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. It is the home of Ellis Island and fittingly remains a city of immigrants. Over 50 per-cent of our people don't speak English at home, and over 20 percent have been American citizens for less than ten years. To develop a sense of unity amidst this diversity, my administration focuses attention on the fact that what makes us one people as Americans is not race, religion or national origins but our shared belief in the principles of equality, inalienable rights and constitutional democracy.
To focus attention on these principles of American nationhood, the City sponsors a year-long series of ethnic celebrations called the Slice of Heaven Festival. We celebrate the beauty of our people's diverse cultural heritages even as we celebrate our oneness as Americans. The ACLU is suing Jersey City because in the course of these celebrations we erect cultural displays at City Hall without "whiting-out" religious symbols from these displays. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is defending the City in this case and has awarded me its Canterbury Medal because of my willingness to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Our readers come from diverse Christian backgrounds, yet they all face the challenge of living in an often-hostile world. Sometimes they become discouraged by all of the evil and counter-Christian activity in government and in the media. What advice or encouragement can you give them based on your experience as an influential believer?
We must remember that God's kingdom is not of this world. We are called to do justice in this world in spite of this fact. But we must remember that this is a fallen world and that perfect goodness and justice will never reign here. We have to see our objective not as getting to or arriving at some certain worldly place, but simply as being faithful to God throughout our journey here. We are but sojourners in this life.
Our efforts to live faithful lives may sometimes result in worldly success, but I take great consolation, as mentioned earlier, in Romans 8:28, and the knowledge that whether or not our faithful actions lead to worldly success, all things work for good for those who love God. We need never feel defeated or discouraged.
You have so much to give and share. I also know you've written articles on the topics we've discussed as well as others. Is there a way people can find out more about your views?
I welcome people visiting our website at www.schundler.org to read articles I've written or to hear some speech clips. There are numerous articles on religious freedom, on faith, on empowerment-oriented public policies intended to move people up from dependence, as well as articles on other topics.
Freelance writer Joel Rissinger pastors the Worldwide Church of God Congregation in Hartford, Connecticut.