A City on a Hill: An Interview With A Congressional Chief of Staff
Our theme for Issue 007 is A Creative Pursuit. We opened with ideas from a current Legislative Correspondent on how to bring creativity into political culture, including more collaboration and a better work-rest balance. We continued the issue by talking about taking risks to operate by a different standard, including no more manipulating through fear. But what if we could take all of these ideas a step further?
For today’s journal, we are publishing our first interview and pitching these ideas and many more to a current Chief of Staff for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The truth is, regardless of political ideology, faith background, or issue of expertise, we can operate by a new standard, a new way of seeing. But we have to start “in here”, aware of the dysfunction immediately around us and in us, and begin to tell the story of healing through freedom. While much of what you will read here is faith driven, it is my hope that we will begin to see beyond the empty claims religiosity has made on our culture for too long, and instead see the robust actions taken because of a deep faith. It’s only then that we will realize we have been set free to live in a freedom deeper than anything we could have ever imagined.
-Caleb Paxton, LIBERATUS Founder
Can you tell us a little bit about your work background and how you came to DC as a Chief of Staff?
I previously owned a small security and communications integration company. Market circumstances led to my selling that business and going to work for a larger firm in the same industry. Shortly after that change, I took my 12 year old daughter on a mission trip to the Navajo Reservation. On this trip we served in many ways, including helping install running water in a few of the many homes without it, serving the disproportionately high homeless population of Gallup, New Mexico, and conducting a Vacation Bible Study for children living on the reservation. The Lord really impressed upon me by the end of this trip that I needed to offer myself to Him completely. After returning home, I shared with my wife the direction that I felt God was giving, and that I felt I needed to seek employment that would be more conducive to a life of ministry. We made that change, and began to pray that God would use us however He wanted. At the same time, as we had been doing for several years, we were praying constantly for our nation, and that God would draw our country back to Himself. We prayed regularly for wisdom and courage to stand and act when it was in His will. I received a call one day in early 2013 that brought all these prayers together, although I didn’t really understand the magnitude of it at the time, and I’m not sure I do even today. My friend, and then State Senator, called me up and said he believed God was calling him to run for Congress, and that he would like me to help with the campaign. I said absolutely, because I knew that statesmen like him and families like his are in short supply in Washington, and if we are to turn the nation back to God, we need to change that. I said I’m happy to help in any way; I can make phone calls, put out signs, knock on doors, anything you need. Surprisingly, He said, “no, actually I want you to manage the campaign”. He explained that he knew I didn’t have experience with that, but knowing I had managed a small business, and believing we need more of that type of experience in politics, and government, he felt led to ask me. He also stated that the most important thing to him, as we build a team, is character and integrity. So, I took the job, we ran a clean race, despite several of the other five candidates doing just the opposite. After many instances of very obvious divine providence, we won a primary runoff by a large margin, and then had no opponent in the General Election. We discussed the opportunity of being Chief of Staff and had basically the same conversation about which qualities are most important to being successful in that position. I took the position and we set out to build a team of people who embody those same qualities of character, integrity, vision, and dedication to the ideals that make America a shining city on a hill.
We've talked a few times about the vision for LIBERATUS -- healing through freedom, that we need a deeper understanding of freedom because even though we say we fight for freedom we create an image of what America or freedom should be, idolize it, and then find we can't work with people who disagree with us. How have you worked through these ideas now that you're spending more time in Washington?
Above I referenced the ideals that make America great, or a shining city on a hill. A proper understanding of these ideals is at the heart of the restoration that we believe is already beginning. Matthew 5:14 says "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” The hill is true freedom in the Spirit of God. Freedom rooted in absolute faith in God. There is a distinct difference between the lawlessness, or anarchy of evil, and the freedom which only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. True freedom brings a confidence of purpose that allows us to respect and even love those with opposing views or opinions. It allows us to distinguish between true spiritual warfare, and innocent difference of opinion. Our Founders, through what we believe was divine inspiration, established a system of government in which this true freedom in Christ can flourish, but only if the participants are guided by love and service.
One thing that my boss and I began to notice almost instantly in Washington is that the system is geared toward polarization. We arrived in November for orientation, and were immediately separated by party affiliation. After a month or so in office we realized that we hadn’t really seen or interacted with any of the new members of the “other party,” and even several of our own who may differ slightly on various tactics and strategies. We then made a decision to begin reaching out to other offices to schedule sit down meetings where policy and politics were not the focus. Basically these are “get to know you” meetings where we talk about family, hobbies, faith, or whatever comes up, except policy.
Our current issue is titled A Creative Pursuit. In our first journal entry, a Legislative Correspondent on the hill wrote about the need to make room for more intentional collaboration. What are you seeing as the roadblocks to this, and how can we overcome them?
The biggest roadblock to collaboration is separation. We should deliberately build relationships simply for the sake of building relationships, and not for self-serving motives. When relationships are healthy and maintained, collaboration will be born of inspiration and necessity.
The writer also mentioned the need for rest - the ability to step away from work as integral to bringing a greater sense of creativity to Congress. In a culture where "always being on" to prove you "have what it takes", how can congressional offices begin changing the narrative?
Again, I would lean on a strong faith: a realization that the world in fact does not rely on us, but we do in fact rely on God, and must intentionally spend time with Him. In our office, my boss and I take this realization very seriously, and we make it a point to unplug as a team, and individually. This too, is something that must be done deliberately, or the day to day “emergencies” will dictate a life of going from crisis to crisis. We encourage a team atmosphere where every member of the team is integral, but also has the comfort of knowing that everyone else will be there to cover when they need to be away.
As part of Issue 007, I wrote about the idea of risk and the reward of taking risk even within political culture. What risks do you see on Capitol Hill, that if taken, could radically change the institution of Congress for the better?
If every office would participate in purposeful, non-politically motivated relationship building.
If we would all refuse to focus on what we’re against, and instead be dedicated and disciplined in focusing on what we’re for.
If everyone who has a relationship with Jesus would have the courage to speak out and act on the prompting of the Spirit, even if it means challenging the accepted norms of the DC Culture. I can speak to this from experience, having had many conversations with lobbyists, and staffers. There have been times when I simply nodded in seeming agreement with a statement that was immediately rejected in my soul, and I later regretted having kept quiet. Then there are other times, hopefully increasingly more so, that I obeyed the Spirit and said exactly what was on my mind. Ignoring the spirit hardens the heart, and hardened hearts walk away from God.
You mentioned challenging the accepted norms of DC Culture. What are some that we haven’t already discussed that you’re referencing?
Speaking up when people refer to fundraising prowess as a metric for leadership skills.
Speaking up when people speak negatively, often viciously about another person based on political differences. Defend the right of opinion, free thought.
Just generally having the courage to “challenge” in a loving way, the “norms” on the Hill that are in opposition to what’s right. How we treat people or mistreat people, how we value people or devalue people. Each of us knows when we have a cramp in our spirit in a given situation.
Finally, you mentioned throughout the interview the idea of turning back to God as a nation. And yet, often Christians are called – if not always called – to live as exiles. How do we balance boldly casting vision to live out of a deep understanding of freedom with recognizing that this message will often be rejected, that we don’t have a right to make our culture Christian, and that our hope is placed outside of America?
I don’t mean require that people turn to God. I mean return to the nation’s business operating within the principles given to man in the scripture. This means Members of Congress, and we the staff, adhering to those principles in our daily lives and business. Our hope is not in a government or a nation, but in Jesus, and America was established through His providence, so that we would have the political freedom, to live out the freedom you are referencing.
ISSUE 007: A CREATIVE PURSUIT, PART 5
Cover Photo Credit: Death to Stock