By Rod Roberts
I was first elected to the Iowa House of Representatives on November 7, 2000. Since that first election victory I have had the good fortune to run opposed in four subsequent re-election campaigns. At the conclusion of this current term I will have served 10 years in the Iowa House.
There are 100 members who comprise the Iowa House of Representatives. A five-term member like myself is a legislator who has seniority among his peers. In addition to seniority, I am a leader within the House Republican caucus. In any state Legislature, seniority and position matter a great deal.
My years of service and position of leadership have enabled me to enhance my influence and effectiveness as a state legislator. I have had a role in shaping major public policy in the state of Iowa during the past decade. As a leader I have presided in the Well of the House as Speaker and guided floor debate on many occasions.
My legislative career has allowed me to represent Iowa and its people on formal state visits to faraway places like Beijing, China, and Ankara, Turkey. Iowa’s “first in the nation” presidential selection process, known as the Iowa Caucus, has allowed me to meet national political leaders.
Iowa, like most states, has a part-time citizen Legislature. My full-time career is that of executive director for the Christian Evangelistic Mission (CEM) of Iowa. CEM is the church planting association for the Christian churches/churches of Christ. I have served in this ministry position for the past 18 years.
My interest in running for elected office began as a young person. I grew up in a Christian home where my dad was a high school government and American history teacher. Public service, whether in the military or in some form of community service or elective office, was considered to be of value and a noble pursuit.
I became a Christian during my junior year of high school. After graduating from high school, I enrolled in Bible college at Iowa Christian College in Des Moines. I graduated from college in 1980. My wife, Trish, and I moved to New York and served a new church on Long Island that was started with the assistance of “Go Ye” Chapel Mission (now known as Orchard Group). We returned to Iowa in 1985 to lead in a new church project in Carroll that was sponsored by CEM.
In January 1991, I was called by the board of directors to serve as CEM’s executive director. In the mid-1990s I was elected to the Carroll Community school board. It was during my service on the local school board that a Christian friend suggested I consider running for the Iowa Legislature. He previously had served in the Iowa House.
SENSING A CALL
During that timely conversation he shared a passage of Scripture with me, as well as a small book. The Scripture passage was Romans 13:1-7:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
The small book was entitled Christian Involvement in the Political Process by John W. Whitehead (published by Moody Press). The Scripture passage and the book both had a profound effect on me. I thought about them over and over again. I began to pray about those words and subsequently I sensed God extending a call to me.
I spoke about this with my wife on different occasions and then also shared this developing sense of “calling” with the CEM directors. Ultimately I concluded God was opening an opportunity to a unique ministry. With the support of my wife and children and the blessing of the CEM board of directors, I decided to run for the Iowa House.
A GOOD DECISION
I have never regretted that decision. Serving as a state legislator has been extremely rewarding. The Iowa General Assembly is in session the first four months of each year. Session days are Monday through Thursday each week, and although it often feels as if I’m “burning a candle at both ends,” I continue with my CEM ministry responsibilities right through session.
There have been many wonderful opportunities to live out my Christian faith as a legislator. There is a weekly Bible study at the Capitol on Thursday mornings during session. The Bible study is open to legislators, spouses, clerks, staff, lobbyists, and the public in general. Individuals take turns leading a half-hour study.
Each session day starts with an invocation. A guest pastor is invited to lead the Iowa House and Senate in prayer before the official start of the legislative day. I have been asked on numerous occasions to fill in at the last minute when an invited pastor has been unable to make the trip to Des Moines because of adverse winter weather or some last-minute, unexpected ministry responsibility. And there have been countless moments when I have been able to practice the Golden Rule in an arena that is both challenging and demanding.
As Americans, we are fortunate to live in a representative form of democracy. Citizens of various backgrounds have the opportunity to serve in elective office. Although I am a Christian minister by vocation, I do not wear religion “on my sleeve” and I do not officially represent any Christian advocacy (lobbying) organization. I am simply a citizen whose Christian faith and Judeo/Christian worldview guide my thinking and decision making as a lawmaker.
My vocational background makes me an unusual legislator, but the good people who reside in my legislative district know who I am and what my background is. They have elected me five times to represent them in the Iowa General Assembly. It is a great honor they have extended to me. Serving in the Iowa Legislature is also a great way to live out my faith and hopefully make a difference in the lives of others.
There may be few preachers currently serving in elective office across our country, but I hope more people of Christian faith will prayerfully consider running for public office. Our government is only as good as the people we elect to office. The times in which we find ourselves should challenge good men and women of Christian character to step forward and run for public office.
Rod Roberts serves as executive director with Christian Evangelistic Mission of Iowa and as an Iowa state legislator. He has been married to Trish for 30 years. They have two children and four grandchildren.