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Politics matter

Cover story | Wilberforce may have kept White House aide Jay Hein off the putting green

Issue: "'Into captivity they shall go'," Feb. 24, 2007

Without the example of abolitionist William Wilberforce, White House policy aide Jay Hein likely would have been a pro golfer. Or perhaps a pastor.

Instead, the life story of Wilberforce prompted a shift in calling to his real passion of public policy. Now head of the White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Hein discovered Wilberforce as a college student in Illinois.

Hein's own dilemma was similar to that of Wilberforce, the British leader for abolition of slavery in the 18th century whose conversion to Christ made him think he should leave Parliament for the pastorate. But ex--slave trader John Newton, an influential evangelical London pastor, advised Wilberforce to remain in Parliament.

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Hein was growing in his passion to serve Christ as a Eureka College student and assumed he should be a pastor. He also had pondered a golf career in college in Florida, after growing up with the short golf season in Wisconsin but still playing very well.

The conventional model then was full-time ministry in the pastorate or missions, he said during an interview near his office adjacent to the White House.

Then he read a short review of Wilberforce's life by Charles Colson and went on to read other biographies. "It was like a light bulb went on-that faith could be applied in public service," he said.

"Wilberforce had to build coalitions. He had to inform public opinion. He had to use rigorous research," Hein said. "He assembled this remarkable group of talented people. He laid down his personal ambition, yet he learned how to be effective politically. He could have held a much more prominent ministry post."

Hein came to his current assignment from the Indianapolis-based Sagamore Institute. Earlier he helped then Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson introduce a pioneer version of welfare reform. Now, thanks to Wilberforce, he's working in the Bush administration to open the minds of government officials to how faith can resolve difficult social problems.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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