Over forty years ago, the Lord led me down a distinct path through an interesting twist in my grace journey. While pastoring in St. Paul, Minnesota, I was introduced to two politicians that God used to lead me in a different direction that would alter the course of my ministry and our family. God’s grace has led us all the way!
I was asked by the fledging Minnesota Association of Christian Schools (MACS) in the winter of 1975-76 to “look into” the Minnesota Capitol as a legislative liaison. I was clueless, but agreed to try. Our church had not yet launched a school, but we were located less than three miles from the seat of government in Minnesota. Our sincere goal was simply to operate Christian schools that were legitimate educational entities, but free from governmental interference. Our assumption stemmed from a strong conviction that religious liberty was granted by our country’s Bill of Rights.
My first step toward assuming these responsibilities was to ask for help. My good friend, and church member, Wes Budke was a state trooper assigned to guard the governor, and I asked Wes if he knew of any Bible believing Christians in the legislature. Wes said that the governor recently visited the home of a politician in the southwestern part of the state, and the governor asked for a beer. The legislator said he didn’t have any beer, but they could offer him a soft drink. Wes said, “I think his name is Representative Menning, and maybe he is a Christian?”
Armed with those slim facts I headed for the Capitol complex on a cold winter day. In the House of Representatives building, I asked a uniformed guard for directions to Representative Menning’s office. After he searched the office listings, he said, “Nope, don’t see anyone by that name.” What he, and I, didn’t know at the time was that Marion “Mike” Menning was now a State Senator, and thereby had an office in a different building and was not on his list.
I thanked him and headed off to find an information office where I obtained literature about the workings of the legislature. A clerk in that office gave me pamphlets containing information about the legislative calendar and short synopses of proposed legislation. I also signed up to be on a mailing list. As I began to study this material I learned that a state representative had introduced a bill endeavoring to outlaw obscene movies from drive-in theater screens. I thought, “That’s a good idea,” and called the rep’s office and asked what we could do to help him with that effort?
The representative himself, Glen Sherwood, came on the line and I repeated my question. I’ll never forget Glen’s response. He asked incredulously, “Do you mean that?” “Of course” I replied, and explained who I was and why our organization would be interested in something that was a good idea for Minnesota, both morally and spiritually. That phone call led to a deep and blessed relationship with a godly man who is a sincere and brilliant Christian man.
Glen had a Ph.D. in wildlife biology and was a careful, no-nonsense protector of hunting, fishing and environmental issues in his northern Minnesota district. And he was a Democrat. He was a smart, gracious, gentleman who was originally courted by both political parties to represent the area north of Brainerd, Minnesota. The story was the Democrats got to his house first, and he said, “Yes.” He was from an independent non-denominational church background, and I would learn later that he was as solid as a rock. After I left the state, he ran for governor as a Republican — by conviction. An amazing man.
Our group from MACS helped him move the bill out of committee by literally jamming the hearing room with over 100 Christian school students, teachers, and a few pastors. Nobody on that committee wanted to defend obscene movies (that were being shown in Glen’s district on an outdoor screen within easy view of the highway). I later learned that it was Glen’s wife, and her prayer group, who became burdened and determined that something be done. When that bill finally came to the House floor, the vote was something like 102 to zip. The ACLU guy who opposed us was livid, but was unable to convince committee members of that era to support his defense of obscenity that today might be considered sex abuse by even liberal politicians and pundits.
Glen introduced me to Senator Mike Menning, and we hit it off immediately. Mike was from a Christian Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota, in the southwestern part of the state. Mike is still a friend today and he sends a weekly “Great Commission Utah” email that chronicles his incredible missionary work among needy souls of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) so-called church. This is the group that is led by infamous Warren Jeffs, the man serving a life sentence in Federal Prison due to sex crimes against women and children.
Glen and Mike introduced me to a group of Christian Senators and Representatives who met every week for Bible study and prayer. They would invite their follow legislators to join them and offer to pray for their personal and family needs in a caring and godly way. I had a standing invitation to attend their meetings, and went often. I remember the men vividly. Glen, Mike, Senator Wayne Olhoft, Senator Gilbert Esau and Representative Gaylin DenOuden were the leaders and they met consistently. Gaylin is Mike’s brother-in-law and is now my facebook friend. These men were all from different church backgrounds, but they were all unashamedly born-again Christians who made their stand known publicly and privately.
These politicians had a wonderful bi-partisan gospel ministry. Years later, Mike Menning said in a phone conversation with me that it was us Baptist preachers (I introduced him to many of my fellow pastors) who taught him to be a “soul winner”. When I was asked to join the staff of the American Association of Christian Schools, because of these experiences in the Minnesota legisature, my dear pastor friends, led by Ed Johnson and Clarke Poorman, maintained a close and supportive relationship with these godly witnesses for Christ in the legislature.
Great Commission Utah
Mike & Dawn Menning
Both Glen and Mike went into the ministry after they left public office. Glen became a Bible college president and professor, before retiring to take a pastorate in Montana for a number of years. Mike became a pastor in the Salt Lake City area and served there for many years. Since stepping out of pastoral ministry, Mike has led in the launching of several missionary ventures. Most recently he has focused on his long-time interest in reaching lost souls in the FLDS communities of Arizona and Utah. I read Mike’s weekly emails now, where he regularly reports detailed accounts of leading specific FLDS men, women and young people to trust Christ alone as their Savior. What a joy! What grace!
Over the last forty years in my travels all over the country, the Lord has allowed me to meet and be blessed by scores of politicians, and other dedicated servants of the Lord, involved in political endeavors. These have been men and women who serve in elected office, or in supportive roles, who give bold and clear witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. They are leaders in the affairs of life and in the ministry of grace. May their tribe increase!
3 thoughts on “Political Grace”
Thanks, Dr. Carlson, for sharing your “backstory” in your blog post! When I first became acquainted with your work, you were leading in AACS, and I had no idea of how you had ministered for Christian education up to that point. Thank you for all you’ve done to help this great cause. Many lowly teachers like myself have been the beneficiaries of your labors, and I suspect the Lord will reward you greatly for your efforts.
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