The Pastor, the Flack, the Messianic Leader, God’s Anointment — and Jeremiah 14:14

This essay turned out to be much more serious than I had expected it would be when it began.  Part 1 involves a minor semi-political event that some fool is trying to elevate to the level of a “game changer.”  That’s practically comic.  Parts 2 through 4, though, involves a politician’s reaction to that event — and why, at least for now, pending any satisfactory explanation, her statement has given me the chills.

Jeremiah 14-14

Portrait by Michelangelo of the Prophet Jeremiah on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel. “Then the Lord told me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I didn’t send them, I didn’t command them, and I didn’t speak to them. They’re proclaiming to you false visions, worthless predictions, and the delusions of their own minds.’ Jer. 14:14, Int’l Standard Ver.

(1) Changing Styles

Weird things are going on in Chumleytown.  I’ve been participating in the conversation there, but even I’m having trouble following it anymore.  But, it’s definitely political, and Chumley seems to think that it’s a turning point in the Anaheim Mayoral campaign, so I guess we need to cover it.  (It will be more pleasant to discuss here than most places, because Chumley refuses to post here.)

Here’s the introduction to Chumley’s post:

TheLiberalOC has learned that Pastor Stephanie Stieler, who served as a field operations manager for Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait’s re-election effort, has resigned from the Tait team and has joined the campaign for Lorri Galloway for Mayor.

Lorri Galloway sent us this statement this morning:

“She (Pastor Stieler) has offered her total support, but most of all her prayers for our success.  The reason that I share this is not to boast but to share a window into my world and the reality of our campaign’s purpose.  For me, politics have never been about power and influence, but it is what I know to be God’s will for my life of service. 

Before I ever announced my intention to run for Mayor of Anaheim, amazing people of faith have come to me, not by my asking, but by their own will and they have surrounded me and covered me as powerful prayer warriors.   They pray for my family, my home, my business – The Eli Home for Abused Children, and anything that may come under attack because of my calling. 

Along with my wonderful prayer warriors, people of all ages, color, nationality and belief, have joined with us in knowing that our great city of Anaheim, after 157 years, is on the cusp of change in many more ways than one.  Many people ask me how and why I have the will and energy to take on this battle.  The peace in my heart tells me that the battle is already won, and my most important task is to walk humbly with our God.”

Lorri Galloway

Unfortunately for the story presented by Chumley and Galloway, Pastor Stieler had this to say about her departure from Tait’s office:

I left for health reasons, I had to go through extensive medical test for the last three weeks, and the long hours in the campaign office drained my energy. Tait campaign knows that. Tim [Whitacre’s] letter does explain that they do not need more volunteers. I quit for no other reason than my health.

I do not know why you think I work in Lorri Galloway’s campaign office, that’s not true at all. I was asked to pray and keep her in my prayers and counsel her when it’s needed. She has my full support. I worked with her assistant for many years.

Lorri Galloway and Tom Tait are both good people. We do not have to black smear people we work with, no matter who is Mayor, we need to work with both these candidates.

There are no secrets to share from one office to the other office.

To this I say, “GOOD!”

While ceasing work for a candidate is almost always OK, switching to an opposing candidate with three weeks before the election is treachery.  Going to a campaign in a different race is generally fine.  But betraying the person you’ve supported, to whose confidences you claim access?  That’s not OK.  The exception would be if you discovered something truly heinous going on in the campaign at which you had been working — but clearly (judging from the above statement) that was not the case here.

By the way, I’d apply this same rule even to someone trying to switch from a campaign I actively dislike — such as Lucille Kring’s or Kris Murray’s.  You find out that they’re all watching porn videos in the back room?  Go ahead and quit.  If it’s heinous enough, you can go to the press and report it.  But, if it’s not illegal, what a leading staff member DOES NOT DO is actually go over to a rival campaign when the original campaign is still a going concern.  You’ve used up your allotted choices for this race at that point; go get involved in a different race.

Chumley claims that his story was correct and directed me to Pastor Stieler’s Facebook page.  So I went.  (I’m not going to link to it; those who want it can find it.)  I scrolled through, by my count, literally 50 inspirational posters being shared in less than two days — which seemed like a good point at which to stop.   I’m not opposed to inspirational posters; my wife has been known to indulge in them.  But I’ve never seen her (nor I think anyone else) engage in that sort of output.  It seemed to me to be a sign of distress; as such, I would prefer that everyone leave her alone.

That’s not intended ironically; I’m only writing this story at all just because Chumley is breathlessly hawking it as a “game changer.”  I include Pastor Stieler’s comment just above simply because it seems suited to that end.  Her story appears to be that she left the Tait campaign for medical reasons.   Tait’s campaign manager wrote her a warm and kind farewell message.  Stieler says that Tait’s rival Lorri Galloway then told her that Tim Whitacre was bad-mouthing her behind her back; it’s not clear whether that communication, and whether its content was incorrect if so, and whether it did or didn’t ethically have to be passed along.  If Stieler even knows what he allegedly said, she hasn’t said so.

Pastor Stieler did say (belatedly, as of Sunday morning) that she’s voting for Galloway — but that’s no surprise given that the blazing religious tone that Galloway takes in her statement (as opposed to the more quiet religiosity of Tait and the pretty decent joke that I have omitted here about Kring.)  Sunday evening, she clarified that while she was not working for Galloway in any way that would normally be considered “political campaign work,” she was praying for her and counseling her — which, she suggested, is a kind of work — and so that did not mean that it was wrong to say that she was part of Galloway’s team.  (She also said that she’d have done this for any candidate, but that Galloway asked first.)  So … let’s not pursue this too much further, shall we?  Let’s leave the Pastor alone and in peace.

What prompts me to write, at any rate, is not what Pastor Stieler has had to say, nor even Chumley’s saliva-flecked jabberings, but Galloway’s statement about her …. um, doing whatever it is she did — and what that statement means about religiosity in politics.

[2] Religion from a Minority Perspective

I really don’t like to mess around with other people’s religious beliefs — and I do think that religious belief has a fair, though not at all mandatory, place within politics.  I am, as I like to say, “unfashionably religious”; I do personally believe that humans have a higher purpose as independent agents with free will.  I cannot defend my belief as compelling on rational and scientific grounds; all I can say is that it makes sense to me.  Even though I can’t pretend to feeling certain about any of it, to the extent that it feels true to me it is as a matter of faith.

Having this kind of faith is entirely compatible (and is even encouraged) within my own religion — the religious minority of Reform Judaism.  A Reform Jew can also be a devout follower of the 613 Commandments, or an agnostic, or even an atheist — although, most would say, not an adherent of another religion.  Whatever you are, you’re supposed to have given some real thought to your cosmological beliefs and to live in accord with them.  I can live with that.

My wife is Catholic, and her religious faith clearly guides her moral views.  Previous girlfriends that I’ve had from other faiths were guided by them in similar ways.  I find my faith personally useful, and I try to respect it in others without considering it to be in any way mandatory.  This personal belief is, I think, a very good approach to politics as well — because it reduces sectarian political fighting, which has an unfortunate tendency to become deadly.

Most religious rancor within the context of U.S. politics has come from clashes between Catholics and Protestants.  Part of being a religious minority is that you know that, outside of a courtroom with a very fair and principled judge, you have no chance in a political fight against the religious majority.  This is especially true when it comes to an election.  That’s a big reason why it is generally a good idea to keep sectarian religion at some distance from electoral politics: we don’t want a situation where someone can rally a political majority simply on the basis of their professing allegiance for one or another religion, completely apart from the policies they favor.

Do you know why this is?  Basically, it’s because claiming to be with the religious majority and against the religious minority, regardless of one’s actual covert religious beliefs and one’s commitment to them, is exactly what a bad person would do.  Just as Christians may well guide their actions by asking themselves “What Would Jesus Do?” — and I wish more of them did so, in an informed way) it also behooves all of us who can at least imagine an embodiment of Evil (in either a literal or an allegorical way) to ask: “What Would Satan Do?” so it can best be fended off.

What Satan would do in politics is this: pretend to be a devout member of whatever religion would get him elected — and ask voters to concentrate on that affiliation rather than looking at his likely performance in office.  After all, such a mere unsupported profession of belief is easy, it’s cheap, it’s effective — and no one could hold Satan to any promises “his flock” elected him.

To be clear, for those who are religious, religion definitely has a place in politics as a guide to explaining one’s personal beliefs.  (I’m a candidate, after all, and I just wrote about my personal faith a few paragraphs back.)  Much valid  coming out of a spiritual tradition (as do many African American Christians, non-African American Christians, Muslims, and others do) that guides one’s beliefs.  What I have a problem with is trying to lay claim to others’ political loyalty on a religious basis.  That attempt to circumvent moral reasoning is what debases religion.  As the Founding Fathers wrote, separation of Church and State was as much for the protection of the Church as it was of the State.

[3] Playing with Hellfire

The worst sort of claim that one can put on others’ political loyalty, at least in my view, is the candidate who literally claims to be speaking for God.  That is, not a candidate speaking as someone informed by and trying to make sense of their own religious tradition, but a candidate who proclaims dictates attributed to God for political obedience — and even implying divine punishment for those who transgress.

Playing with Hellfire is Playing with Political Fire.

As a member of a religious minority, I may be more attuned to this than those who don’t need to think about it to survive — but I can’t even say that my antennae are always working well.  When Tom Tait talks about his religious background and basis for his beliefs, it doesn’t bother me; he seems to take his religion as his own guide, and in civil life turns to secular concepts like “kindness” for guidance. Some candidates profess faith traditions that, looking at their political actions, I may not find it hard to accept that they sincerely believe — but I still wouldn’t challenge them because that’s quite a charge to make and I don’t see the world through their eyes.

Sometimes, though, a candidate will aggressively invoke religiosity in politics with a messianic fervor — and that is capable of disturbing me.  That’s how I felt when I read Lorri Galloway’s message.  I don’t believe for a moment that she has Satanic insincerity (I do not); my fear is that she believes the aggressive appeal she makes — one that goes well beyond what one normally sees in politics (and, frankly, especially Democratic politics — without seeming to appreciate how dangerously self-serving it is.  (It might be better if she were just faking it.)

I’m going to take apart her statement line by line, with my comments interspersed:

She (Pastor Stieler) has offered her total support, but most of all her prayers for our success.

No problem here.  “Thank you for your prayers” is just fine.

The reason that I share this is not to boast but to share a window into my world and the reality of our campaign’s purpose.

I presume that the “window into [Galloway’s] world” that she mentions is that people pray for her success.  I hate to be a downer, but this is also probably true of Tait and Kring.  I’m not sure why she even points out that the fact that other prayers for it’s not a basis for her to “boast”; it wouldn’t have occurred to me that it was.  It’s when she gets to the “reality of our campaign’s purpose” that I start to get concerned.

For me, politics have never been about power and influence, but it is what I know to be God’s will for my life of service. 

No — she knows that that’s not true.  If Galloway seeks to be an effective leader — and I presume that she does — then she absolutely does seek “power and influence.”  That’s what elections are about.  What she seems to be trying to say is that she doesn’t seek it for her personal glory, which is great news if true.  (But note: if someone says that Galloway actually does want power and influence for her own personal glory, they would not be attacking her religion — they’d be attacking the accuracy of her self-perception.)

It is what she says next that really starts to gnaw at me.

 [It] is what I know to be God’s will for my life of service.

In my own political actions, I try to be an instrument of God as I — surely imperfectly — understand God.  But, to adopt a line from my wife’s religion, we see God’s purpose only “through a glass darkly.”  I hope that what I may do in office will serve God’s will — which I see as identical with “what is best for humanity.”  I believe that what I do will serve God’s will — or I wouldn’t do it.  But I would never state objectively that I know my political success to be God’s will — because I’m just a human doing the best I can, without a direct pipeline from God.  So I am suspicious of saviors, political or otherwise, claiming divine sponsorship.

(Before moving on, let me address the exception of Jesus, who according to half of the Gospels did claim divinity.  By far most of Jesus’ pastoral work on earth involved arguments (the parables) and statements of principle (the Beatitudes), which preceded any claims of divinity and put him pretty squarely — even spectacularly — in a Jewish prophetic tradition.  So I want to clarify really well here that criticism does not apply to him — or, depending on your religion, Him.)

I hope that I’m misconstruing Galloway here — and I’m happy to let the matter rest if I am.  But if she’s claiming to be somehow chosen by God to become Anaheim’s Mayor, then I am very, very disturbed by that sort of assertion.  That sort of absolute conviction in one’s rightness doesn’t seem like a basis for good governance.  It’s not only an expression of arrogance clothed in the garments of humility, but it also suggests that an attack on her is necessarily an attack on God and God’s will.  And that message to voters would be crystal clear.

Galloway will, I hope and presume, respond by saying that she realizes that she is an imperfect vessel, etc.  She sure is — as am I, as are we all.  But that’s not the point.  The point is: does she really think that God has anointed her to be Anaheim’s next Mayor.  If you or I said something like that, it might be dismissed as symbolic and loose talk.  That doesn’t seem to be the case with Galloway.  She seems to believe it.

For those uncomfortable with criticism of others’ religion — and you can count me among them — let’s be clear on two other things.  First, these beliefs about her own destiny are not themselves “her religion.”  And second: with this statement Galloway has thrust her own religious beliefs squarely into the center of her campaign.  That is the only reason that I feel at all comfortable in addressing them. Does Galloway want us to accept that she is being destined by God for greatness?  OK — then we are going to have to talk about that.

[4] Universal Coverage

Galloway continues:

Before I ever announced my intention to run for Mayor of Anaheim, amazing people of faith have come to me, not by my asking, but by their own will and they have surrounded me and covered me as powerful prayer warriors.

First, for anyone who (like me) was unfamiliar with the term, I had to ask my wife to translate the phrase “covered me as powerful prayer warriors.”  Sorry, but to my knowledge I’ve literally never heard it.  She said that it referred to those people who, when a cleric was healing someone in distress or otherwise in need, would come up and place their hands over the head of (i.e., “cover”) the person being healed.  (I take it that “healed” is used in a broad sense here, to include “comforted” and “empowered.”)  My wife said that it’s not particularly a Catholic concept, but more Protestant.  (I don’t know Galloway’s religious sect.)  If Galloway means something figurative rather than literal by this phrase, that’s great — but in that case it’s also not so surprising.  (If we’re talking metaphor, then I too have had wonderful people react similarly to my candidacies, yet God favored my candidacies no more than Galloway’s ill-fated Supervisorial race.)

Putting aside whether there ever really was a time when it was not clear that she would eventually run for Mayor, Galloway seems to be treating the idea expressed here, that people would assemble unbidden to place their hands over her and pray, as some sort of divine and miraculous sign of her status as a “chosen one.”  I’d like her to clarify this point.  I know a lot of wonderful religious Democrats, including Charismatics who in the course of worship may speak in tongues, but this claim of anointment is not something that I’m familiar with in Democratic politics.

They pray for my family, my home, my business – The Eli Home for Abused Children, and anything that may come under attack because of my calling.

This really bothers me, for a reason that may not be immediately obvious.  Praying for her family, home, and business is fine.  But their praying — and remember, these people are supposedly coming to her “unbidden” — for anything that may come under attack” makes me suspicious.  And instead making it anything that may come under attack because of my calling is far worse.  Now, it’s suggesting that any attack on her must be suspected of being motivated by opposition to God’s plans for her.  I don’t know that Galloway is a sort of Elmer Gantry-style charlatan, but saying that “going against me is going against God” is exactly what such a charlatan would do.

My Republican friend Cynthia Ward has hinted broadly from time to time that there have been some rotten dealings with Galloway’s Eli Home — the formation of which was what triggered Galloway’s rise from bankruptcy to that house that people are praying for, located in Anaheim Hills.  My only direct experience with the Eli Home is that they’ve produced at least one excellent young man of my acquaintance and they don’t seem to be especially good at passing on messages; I certainly hope (and expect) that the thrift store pays disabled workers better than Goodwill does.

I’ve told Cynthia that, whatever information she had, I didn’t want to know about it: as a Democratic Party of Orange County Central Committee member, I was bound not to oppose Galloway.  I don’t think that I have to support her  — but if I oppose her, or if I endorse someone else, I can be removed from the Central Committee.  (We’ll see if that is true even when it comes to my raising objections, based on my own religious faith, to some of her statements.)  The point is that I really have no idea over what Cynthia might have to say about Lorri is true or false or somewhere in between.

But I do know that Cynthia may have negative things that she wants to say about the Eli Home (and the Galloway Home) — and that Lorri Galloway knows that Cynthia might want to say them.  I don’t see how to read the above as something other than a warning that to attack the Eli Home — or, more specifically, any of the Galloways’ own business dealings regarding it — is ATTACKING GOD, because she is Chosen By God to be Mayor of Anaheim.

Her fending off criticism this way, if true — and I welcome anyone’s explanation about how it isn’t true — would be about as low as one can get as religion relates to electoral politics.  And this is anathema when it comes to Democratic politics, which has generally been more welcoming of religious minorities.  I can’t think of a time that a Jewish rabbi, at least outside of the politically conservative ultra-Orthodox, “ever said “attack me and you thereby attack God.”  I’ve seen it when corrupt enterprises like the OC’s Crystal Cathedral wanted to stave off investigation of their own business practices, but even there it’s uncommon.  I would also consider if to be flat-out blasphemy.

I would very like to believe that Lorri Galloway agrees with me on this.  So, I’d like for her to clarify whether she believes that anyone who “attacks her,” especially her secular business dealings, is thereby attacking her “because of her calling” — and is thus deliberately going against the will of God.  Presuming that she rejects that interpretation of what she wrote, then we can return to some level of “politics as normal” rather than “politics as religious war.”

Galloway concludes this way:

Along with my wonderful prayer warriors, people of all ages, color, nationality and belief, have joined with us in knowing that our great city of Anaheim, after 157 years, is on the cusp of change in many more ways than one.

I wish I knew what she meant there by “cusp of change” besides “electing a woman.”

Many people ask me how and why I have the will and energy to take on this battle.  The peace in my heart tells me that the battle is already won …

Let’s just stop here again and note that she again seems to argue that she is anointed by God for political victory.

… and my most important task is to walk humbly with our God.”

And there it ends.

I know a lot of politicians and religious leaders who I think can fairly lay claim to the idea that they at least try to “walk humbly with our God.”  (It ain’t easy.)  I can’t think of one of them who would write a statement about themselves, in the waning days of an election campaign, that reads like what Galloway has written.  Using the word “humble” doesn’t make you humble.

Galloway’s seemingly raising herself to the status of divinely anointed political savior — using language that other politicians in Orange County and beyond generally just don’t use — makes me want to pray for the future of Anaheim.  If a politician believes that God sent them, commanded them, and has spoken to them — what acts might it excuse when that politician wants her to get her way?

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)