Jefferson City — Missouri's new governor says faith was an important part of his life as a youngster, but he has sought to make it an even more important part as an adult in public service.
"I was like a lot of your readers who were fortunate enough to be raised in a Christian home," Matt Blunt told Word&Way. For him, "it would be hard to say when faith was and when it was not.
"I was saved in Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church in Strafford, Mo., when I was in elementary school and was actually baptized by my grandfather on my mother's side," he said. "My grandfather was a Baptist minister."
"I was in a very active youth group when I was in high school," he recalled. "I went off to the Naval Academy and faith remained an important part of who I was. I was a student of the Bible and attended church.
"My first ship was out of Pascagoula, Miss., and I lived in Mobile, Ala., for awhile and attended a church called Dauphin Way Baptist Church," he said. That's where he developed an intense desire to study the Bible. "It truly got to a point where it wasn't me studying Scripture because I thought it was the right thing to do. But I just developed a greater hunger for it.
"I've been asked what are the greatest influences on my life in terms of my faith," he said. Home and family are important, "but I don't think there is anything that replaces when you, on your own, journey into Scripture and really seek out God's will."
What does Blunt see as the value of faith in his role as the top elected leader in the state?
"The Bible is a great source of wisdom; everything that plagues mankind: the answer lies within the Bible," he said. "I may not have determined how you implement all the answers that are in the Bible, but I believe the Bible is a great source of wisdom."
When Blunt, the governor, prays, he asks that he will be a good witness for Christ. "I pray that I would be a good witness and that I would be able to limit my shortcomings and moral failures in a way that will reflect well on my faith," he said.
"Obviously [I pray] for wisdom, and I pray that I will be a good father and a good husband." His wife, Melanie, is expecting the couple's first child in March.
Blunt believes there is a desire among legislators to seek out bipartisan solutions to many of Missouri's problems.
"I think it's important if you're really going to have bipartisan cooperation to be candid," he said. "There are some things we ought to be able to agree on and work on. Education funding would be an example...delivering the basic services that government is supposed to deliver. Hopefully we can be bipartisan when we talk about a social safety net for our fellow citizens who need temporary assistance."
"There are some things that divide the parties," he said. "Some of those things affect basic principles and values. I think everybody ought to expect that we will continue to have vigorous debate surrounding those issues."
Still, he expects civility in debate. "We ought to work to ensure that the level of rhetoric that surrounds one issue doesn't surround everything else we need to do in state government," he said.
The son of a successful and prominent elected leader, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, he acknowledges some qualities he admires in his father as a public servant.
"My father is very attentive to small things," the younger Blunt said. "I think that is an important attribute for anybody who is going to be an effective manager or good leader." The elder Blunt is a good consensus builder. His son sees that as a quality he wants to emulate.
School funding is very much on the governor's mind, but he's hesitant to talk about whether vouchers should be part of Missouri's educational funding landscape, calling that idea part of a larger discussion.
"I am supportive of tax credits that would help children, particularly those that are in failing school districts," he said.
The governor believes that there are issues that would do well to be addressed by partnerships between government and religious entities.
"I think the values of Missourians ought to pervade public policy," he explained. "[But] we need to be careful that we do not limit those factors that make faith-based organizations successful.
"I do have some concern that with government funding will [sometimes come] mandates and restrictions that really would limit the ability of a faith-based organization to be successful. We ought to be sure that we do not do anything that allows government to diminish the role of faith in a successful program."
Blunt encourages Missouri Baptists to get engaged in government as citizens. "I believe we are commanded in Scripture to be involved in government," he said. "The only way you can be involved in a government like ours — a democracy — is participation."
If he could speak directly with all Missouri Baptists, Blunt said, "I would ask for their prayers for the state, for state government and for this administration." (1-28-05)