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Former Clinton aide compares church, political gatherings

By Melissa Lauber*
April 28, 2004 | PITTSBURGH (UMNS)

As a former White House press secretary, Mike McCurry is a political expert, well-versed in conventions and creating policy and priorities. However, as a first-time General Conference delegate, he is “walking humbly,” listening and learning how the United Methodist Church goes about developing its polity and charting its course.

McCurry sees similarities between the General Conference, meeting April 27-May 7 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and the national Democratic and Republican conventions.

Each of the conventions, held every four years, provides an opportunity for longtime colleagues to greet one another, and each group recognizes that whatever divisive issues may arise, members share a common identity — although there are more funny hats at the Democratic convention, McCurry quipped.

A member of the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference delegation, McCurry said he hopes United Methodists do not follow the example of the U.S. political system, which has become so polarized that it is gridlocked.

The tension between “blue states” (those that vote for Democrats) and “red states” (which vote for Republicans) doesn’t allow for significant work to be done, McCurry said. He urges United Methodists to compromise on specific issues to allow God’s work to be accomplished.

“We must always stand on principle,” he said. “But not every issue is equal.” McCurry hopes delegates will figure out “how we come together in the name of Jesus Christ to go out and do the job of making new disciples.”

For McCurry, the most important issues facing General Conference are evangelism and renewing the church. “The conference needs to be really focused on how the church continues to fulfill its primary mandate to make more disciples for Jesus Christ,” he said. “We’ve lost some of the evangelical fervor of Wesley. And we’re not igniting enough passion with our faith to spread the Good News effectively.”

McCurry is excited about the denomination’s television advertising campaign and the reinvigoration of the church’s Sunday school program.

At St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Kensington, Md., McCurry is the Sunday school superintendent and teaches seventh- and eighth-graders. Last year, his sixth-grade son was in his Sunday school class.

From 1995 through 1998, McCurry served as President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, fielding controversial questions that swirled around the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment proceedings.

While such an experience tested his political savvy, he admits that serving as Sunday school superintendent is the “single most political job I’ve ever had in my career.”

But church, he said, was also a haven. “It was a place for me in which I was known as someone other than the president’s spokesman because I was a dad, a Sunday school teacher and an active member of the congregation. I was accepted there for who I was,” he said.

“To have a quiet place for reflection and for being in contact with God and to think about what God was asking of me in that very trying moment — that was a very, very critical thing,” he added.

Teaching children and serving as a delegate is a “give-back,” McCurry said. “God provides all the resources we need for God’s work.”

And so he will be walking humbly, learning from the delegates around him and building on his political skills.

While partisan politics may not be the best arena for the church, he said, “the business of impacting a community and dealing with those who are dispossessed and doing a lot of things that are inherently political — that’s right there at the core of what we’re called to do in the Gospel.”

*Lauber is a United Methodist News Service correspondent.

News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7. After May 10: (615) 742-5470.