A lot of Christians refuse to support political campaigns. Most of them see politicians as less deserving of financial aid than charitable institutions. But supporting the right candidate may lead to huge changes that benefit everyone, including Christians themselves. Terri Hasdorff sits down with newly elected Redding City Council Member Tenessa Audette to discuss the importance of civics training in Christian communities. She explains why pastors should be more engaged in politics and how to understand the core values of the Constitution without being too political. Tenessa also touches on why Christians can pick the right political candidates to give financial support, emphasizing how such campaigns will never push through without the right donors.
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How Christians Can Actively Participate In Political Campaigns With Tenessa Audette
We are joined by my good friend, Tenessa Audette. Tenessa is elected official. She won her race as the new Redding City Council Member. She is a political consultant and a certified RNC Campaign Manager, has worked with the RNC in many ways, and has also been a delegate for the California GOP. Tenessa, it is so wonderful to have you on the show. Thanks for being with us.
Thanks for having me.
You’re a rare individual. You not only have a background in being a political consultant and a campaign manager but you are now elected into office. Your race was successful. There are so many things that I know you’ve learned along the way. I’d love for you to share a little bit about what your insights are after coming off of this race and looking at it through the lens of somebody who’s not just a candidate but a political consultant.
It’s an interesting leap. There’s a lot of valuable insight and most importantly, confidence that you get when you’ve been on that side of things. Practically, a lot of times some of the candidates that I’ve had aren’t great on the campaign side, but they’re fantastic elected officials. I don’t require they be both, but it is a different skillset. A campaign is starting a business from scratch in an area you don’t have any experience. You tend to trust people you don’t know but that is in the industry. That has pitfalls. Sometimes, it works out great but it’s unique. It’s not always that people that have a background in government come to be elected. A lot of times, they stay staffed.
I am also staffed because I work for our state senator. I’m now on both sides of the elected and a staff. It’s a learning curve. I’m only new as an elected official. I don’t know everything, but I feel like I’m a lifelong learner when it comes to the political field and government. I love it. I’ll keep learning and growing. I’ve been running campaigns for many years. I’ve been in the church my whole life. My parents were evangelists so we grew up on a bus, traveling, and preaching the gospel. I have a church background. I did three years of school ministry at Bethel. I did one year of school ministry at H Rock down in Pasadena. I’m fully immersed in our Christian culture, but I’ve always had a passion and a desire for good governance. Our Constitution is amazing.
I have a degree in Political Science. I teach a class about the core values of the Constitution. I’m a little bit of a unicorn in having all these different aspects and I don’t think you need all of those things. It’s helpful in keeping me confident that what I don’t know, I’ll figure out, and that I belong in a space that typically is reserved for families that have a legacy in it. Whatever gets you into politics a lot of times is usually something that’s taken a long time to get there. I’m pretty fresh and new to this. I don’t have anybody in my family that’s run for office. There’s no connection to me other than God said, “Here’s an open door. Take it. Become all of these amazing things.” I can talk about a lot of things. We’ll go in whatever direction you want to go.
You are a Christian in politics and this show is about talking about the intersection of faith and politics. You inspired me and I talked about this a lot in the book. It’s the fact that you teach from The Five Thousand Year Leap and you do that class at your church. This is something that a lot of churches should think about adopting. What you are focusing on with that is civics training. This is something that is politically neutral. It’s not something that is going to violate any IRS codes or issues with any compliance. Could you talk a little bit about why you are doing that, what you’re seeing as far as the positive results from it, why you think other churches should be doing it, and anything else you want to add about what you’re doing with that?
I personally feel that understanding the Constitution and the core values of the Constitution is what will remedy the issues of the day. The issues we have with identity politics and all that stuff can be remedied with a constitutional viewpoint. I do think that The Five Thousand Year Leap is great because it doesn’t necessarily say, “Here’s what the First Amendment says and the Second Amendment.” It talks about the core values of the Constitution. What were the arguments being made? Where did this come from? What was the historical relevance and what had these people that are writing this document come from and what were they trying to avoid? There’s no issue that we’re facing now that hasn’t the ideas and concepts of it, whether it be freedom of speech or your right to consciousness.
All of those things were hashed out at the beginning, in the founding. That book’s a great way to approach the Constitution. That’s not scholarly. I’m not a historian. I’m not a professor. I don’t pretend to be, but I can understand the core values. I need to understand the core values of my faith. I need to understand my core values in parenting and in marriage. Why would we not want to understand the core values of the government that rules us? To me, the goal of the class was to make us informed so that we were making informed decisions. I have this rub when people say a Christian worldview or a worldview. I feel like when it comes to government, we need to have a constitutional view.
Of course I have a Christian worldview because my filter is the goodness of God. No argument on that. When it comes to the Constitution and government, that’s the ruling document. It’s important that we can get back to that. I don’t think we will have these issues with identity politics and religion. Christians got together and made a document not as Christians, but as leaders. They all had an element of faith in there. They knew how important that was intrinsically. They created a government that said you could be any religion you want. You were free to figure that out. That’s important. If we got back to that and understood that, it would be helpful.
People are coming into our environment in Redding and they are excited. They want to get into the world and do great things as most young people do. They need to be equipped and armed with good information that produces good results. It is never Jesus’ intent to come into the world, dominate it, and control it, much to the frustration of all of those around him. When it comes to politics, it’s the same thing. “Get him back and do this.” I don’t think that’s the spirit that we want, but I don’t know that we always recognize the political spirit. A lot of times, the political spirit attacks religion through politics. Anytime that you have somebody in politics that is demonizing others, you’re like, “You’re missing the boat.”
It’s hard. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I feel like that’s the tension that we’re in as believers and as people that want to lead either in business, in government, or in whatever field that we’re in. We have to work with this tension of this supernatural understanding that anything is possible. We work from victory, not for it. There’s a confidence there and then also that tension that we do have to have institutional knowledge and know what we’re talking about and pursue education. We have to pursue understanding at all times, wisdom, and all of those things.
It’s a balance, but the class is there to say, “We’re calling you to a higher level of thinking.” When it comes to government, it isn’t about us versus them. It is not about Democrats versus Republicans. You’re an American. There’s a founding document. It has an outline for you. If you can understand it and understand its values, you can argue from a place of this constitutional intelligence and not from some moral high ground.
If you can understand the Constitution and its values, you can argue from a place of constitutional intelligence instead of some moral high ground.
There’s so much fear in the church around being involved in politics and yet, civics training is teaching about good government. It’s explaining what we were founded on. It’s explaining what is the basis for all of the things that are driving a lot of the political affairs that people see happening. When you are able to understand that better, it helps with everything. It’s something that is a good area for churches to be engaging around. What do you feel we need to do to get more pastors engaged with politics?
I feel sometimes what happens by accident in churches is that we think our church should be doing everything and has to do everything well. I’m sure the pressure on the pastor is if they don’t necessarily understand or they’re not the experts on politics and government, then it’s difficult to take on something. Immediately, because of your position, you’re the authority on it. Now you’re the expert on it. I wouldn’t want to wade into areas that I wasn’t comfortable with. We’re doing a better job, in general, of educating churches about what’s legal and what they can do. If they push, what’s that option and what does that look like? It’s difficult to tell a pastor to jump into a rushing river. He doesn’t know how to get himself out or where it’s going.
A lot of times, just because you’re a pastor doesn’t mean that you vote or you understand those types of things. I don’t know that. I’m not sure that they always feel qualified. Those that have a choice of how they want to engage. Do they want to be activists? Do they want to be civic-minded? A lot of the churches are pastor-led. It’s just one person that’s leading that with support, but there’s one decision-maker. That’s tough. I don’t think that’s a light lift plus you have all these varying opinions. Is that the battle you want to fight every day?
I would approach the church and say, “Let’s make a plan. What do you always do? What do you never do? What do you sometimes do based on relationships? What do we always do? We always have voter registration. Making people like, “This is a value we have. We want you to vote.” That’s simple and then making it easy for them. Register them to vote. Have a voter guide. It doesn’t have to be a specific voter guide. It could be the voter guide that your county mails to you.
I can’t tell you how many times people are like, “I don’t know who’s on the ballot.” I’m like, “It mails to you. It’s a voter guide.” Several times, I have gone and read that in class as funny as I could do it. It’s a helpful resource. As the church engages, let’s make it practical before we make it something unique. We never bring somebody up, we never let them do this, or we never do that for people we don’t know or that are not members of the church. We do that sometimes if we know them well. You have to negotiate because if you have no plan, then you’re going to end up doing nothing. It’s good.
In the church, it seems many times you have people that would do more if they knew what to do. Part of what I love about this is it starts conversations. You shared with me that the class that you’ve been teaching has led to a lot more community involvement and political engagement because people realize, “This isn’t so scary and hard. This isn’t something that is so overwhelming that I can’t do it and I can make a difference.”
Maybe if you can talk a little bit about that piece and then also the reflections as a candidate, you were so grateful people did for you that maybe most people wouldn’t realize is so helpful. What are some practical tips that you can share with readers that from the perspective of a candidate would help them understand better how to support one?
As far as the class is concerned, we have a lot of international students. Half my class are not Americans every year. I have people from other countries that either already work in government or haven’t had a value for it because they haven’t found God in it. The perspective that we pull from the class helps them have a new appreciation for the influence and the power that they already possess but gives them the ability to understand how to use it.
The biggest testimonies have been from other people in other countries running for office or working on campaigns. I’ve had many people work on campaigns and most of them realize, “I didn’t think it was like that or I didn’t understand what it really is.” It’s a lot of services. We see the highest levels and we think it looks glamorous. If you’ve ever noticed, people age pretty quickly once they get into political office because it is a lot of need all the time.
Similar to any type of leadership, whether you’re a pastor or CEO or running a small or large business, the more people you’re responsible for, the more demand increases. Being able to tune into what is important, what matters, and not reacting to people is going to be important. In the class, I give space to a lot of leaders in the community that influence government, not just government leaders. Probably some of your readers are in fields already like business, medicine, or education.
They’re in other places, but they have this draw to government and they’re trying to figure out, “Am I supposed to run? Am I supposed to help? What am I supposed to be doing here? Have I gotten it wrong? Is this something I need to do later in life?” In our community, there are many people, and I bring them into the class, that are not at all in government but influence government every day. Also, influence the shape of legislation, laws, and decisions that we make based on their expertise in their field.
For a lot of people that struggle with, “I don’t understand this poll I have towards governments,” God may be using your business sense to influence it, this legislation, or this candidate. We could talk ad nauseam about how difficult it is to get donors for campaigns. I had over 150 donors and maybe 10 were from my church. One was from the staff out of 500.
It’s not a condemnation. It’s not just a muscle that’s ever been used. It’s not like I can go talk in front of the church because I don’t normally do that. It’s obvious if you pull me up that you’re trying to influence me. We had three other people from our church that were running. It was like the position was taken. We’re not going to have anybody come up here, which I was fine with. It’s okay. Everybody is trying to navigate exactly what they want to do. For Christians, because we feel it’s dirty, the Lord has got to give us a strategy to partner with believers in this endeavor that feels safe to them and that they’re planting seeds and investing in what this is.
Let’s give them some good leaders that they can look up to or they can have access to. I have three things that I’ve gone after that I feel God has put on my life. Probably in a verse, it’s that, “The horse is prepared for battle but the victory belongs to the Lord.” It’s preparing people and getting them equipped. When you go into the office, if you don’t understand economic systems or you don’t understand the role of government and what they do, then you’ll probably make bad decisions based on who’s communicating those issues to you, which is a lot of other people, not yourself.
You don’t have enough time and then get into battle. Running campaigns, helping people with their campaigns, making good decisions, and having good vendors around them and good people that can help and knowing what to expect and what to get. The victory belongs to the Lord. Your job is not done once you get in.
That whole season of victory is not a moment where you win the campaign. It’s how you lead once you won. It doesn’t end there. The Lord has plans for that. It feels like we’re dependent up until we get there. We get there and we’re so overwhelmed with the needs, the requirements, and the issues that we disconnect from the things that got us there. It’s my passion once in office to help people stay connected to the source.
The job is not done once you win a political campaign. What matters is how you lead once you win.
Tenessa, I loved what you said about the need for donors. Having been a candidate myself, I understand how this is such a critical area that most believers don’t understand why this is so important. It takes money. When I wrote my book, I almost titled it Less Than 1% because that was the percentage of Americans who gave to political campaigns in the 2016 election cycle. If you’re an honest person who’s a candidate and you’re trying to run against people who are being backed by special interests and they have millions of dollars at their disposal, how are you going to even be competitive unless you have access to funding?
Yet, so many times, when you go to Christians and ask for donations, they will say, and I’ve heard this personally over and over, “I’m sorry. We don’t give to political causes. We only give to charitable things that are nonprofits.” When you have nowhere to go for that, it makes you ineffective as a candidate. Can you speak a little bit about the need for more Christians to give money to the right kinds of candidates?
You have to do your homework and know that you’re giving to the candidates that are going to do the right thing when they get in. Once you have vetted them out and you know they’re the right candidate, you have to get behind them. One of the most important ways to get behind them is through financial support. Also, I remember when you were running, you had talked to me a little bit about how little it costs to even run some radio ads. A lot of times, people think, “I need to write a huge check and I can’t afford that.” If you can talk a little bit about that.
It’s not a muscle we have in the church. If you look at our culture, we come to church on Sunday. We have worship. It’s emotional, mental, spiritual, and all these aspects. You have a sense that you belong there and that’s still in all of that. Somewhere you go every Sunday, people still struggle to tie it. People can only give what they have and they have to have a value for that. It’s in and of itself. On top of that, now you’re asking them to give to someone that they probably don’t know.
They’re going to “lead” but they don’t necessarily know them. If you can’t get up on a Sunday, like any traveling pastor, charity, or mission, they come up and tell the story. They give their bio. They tell them what they’re doing. They’re able to give a heart message of, “Here’s my intent, and here’s how you can hold me accountable. Here’s the work that we’re doing.” We don’t do that with a candidate.
It’s like a cold call, “I go to your church. Do you want to donate to me?” Even with friends, it’s them. It’s more. On that front, for our culture, it’s a big ask outside of the normal mechanisms by which we do that. When it comes to friends that are Christians in your own church, it’s sometimes hard because they think what they have isn’t enough. Is it enough front? I was telling people, “All I’m asking for is $100 so that your name counts.” That was pretty successful. I had some events that were $100 of fun banco. It’s the things that I normally do in my life groups when I started out.
What do you mean by, “Your name counts?” Does that mean it shows up on the report?
Yes, it shows up on the report. I want them to be counted.
In that way, people know that you have supported that candidate. That gives you an additional way to have support other than just financial.
I don’t think $100 is not a lot of money. I think it’s a lot of money. I’m more so appealing to, “I don’t just want your support. I want your endorsement. You aren’t in this world and you may think your endorsement isn’t as weighty, but it is, and it counts. This is a way that you can have a weighted endorsement for me. Have your name on my financial statement that says, ‘This is a supporter and they support me.’” That was my approach. I’d rather have thousands of hundred-dollar donors than the max donors. That would be easier but it is an invaluable amount of people you ask to support you because those are your voters.
As difficult as it is, and I know that it’s difficult if you said to me even after this campaign, you could have a thousand $100 voters that you went out to get and you earned by asking in events and all these things or you can have it all paid for by five people, which way would you do it? I 100% would do the thousand. Those people that you meet along the way, you’re going to need all those supporters. Those are all the people in your community. They will communicate with you. They will give you feedback. You desperately need to not be on an island when you get here.
As a Christian, you have bridged the gap between the political world and the faith community in a way that very few have. That’s something to point out to give believers hope because so often, people think, “What’s the point of you even running? If I’m honest or if I am a Christian, can I even win? What are my chances going to be of being successful in politics?” Tenessa, you are an example to point to of a success story that’s encouraging. Can you share a little bit with anybody that’s thinking about running for office, what should you be doing to prepare right now before you step into that arena?
Go talk to the people that are in that office. That’s intimidating because you may be running against them or whatever, but they don’t have to know that. You can get into some of that atmosphere. Let’s say it’s the city council. Go meet with the city council person. Go ask them some questions about what they’re doing. There are a lot of fundamental misunderstandings about what each of the offices does.
I had somebody come to me who wanted to run for state office but didn’t know you worked in the capitol. He didn’t understand that the job is there Monday through Thursday, and it was an honest mistake. For the life situation that he was in with the age of his children and all that stuff, that’s probably not going to work for their family. Had he known that, he probably wouldn’t have seriously considered that until a different stage or maybe would’ve considered a lower office, to begin with.
Do your homework first.
Go talk to their staff. Their staff knows a ton. We think we have to talk to the person, but the truth is that they don’t have a lot of time. If they don’t have access to them, everybody has district offices. There are offices for every elected official close by. Find out more. Don’t announce you’re running. Go talk to them about the office and get a little bit of a glimpse into what it is.
There are plenty of books. They are good friends with kingdom and politics and with your book, getting a real sobering idea of what it is will help. Running a campaign and running for office requires a ton of discipline. You have to set out a plan and then stick to it. No business survives by changing its business plan every time a different circumstance comes up. Go make your plan and then tell people. Let them give you some feedback about that.
You can even go to any elected official and say, “Who ran your campaign? Who were the people that were on it? Who helped you?” Go talk to them. If you can work on a campaign, that is invaluable because you’ll understand how much work it is and if you’re in that place where you can sacrifice that much. You can’t tell people that when you’re running, “This is a sacrifice.” They’re like, “This is a job and you’ve got to work for it.”
Starting small is important and learning as you go is like anything else. You get into it and once you’re out there, you start to realize, “I can do this.” You learn things and open other doors for you. It’s an important learning experience that you can’t discount. You have to start small sometimes and then grow into it. Where people get into trouble sometimes is if they leap in too fast.
Let’s be clear. The victory may not be that you win office. I don’t have a winning record on my campaigns. You don’t win every campaign. The victory is that you went through it. I would say sometimes more to learn from not winning your campaign than from winning. It is so valuable to understand and it puts you in such a position to understand, “Lord, what is the victory here? What is the role you want me to play?”
It’s a small number of people that are elected comparatively. I don’t want to be in that place unless I’m ready for it. When you run for something, people are like, “We have some other ideas for you. What about this office and that office?” You’re like, “Let me get into this one and see if I can get in. If I’m even good at it, then we can talk about that next step.” You don’t know if that’s what it is.
I don’t know how to explain to people other than maybe if you’ve started a business, you went bankrupt, you learned through that process, and then you start again. That’s usually where the magic happens. For a lot of people, even the most successful people, that’s the 3rd or 4th business that they’ve tried. It’s the same on a campaign. You may not get the office until the 3rd or 4th campaign, but when you get there, what you learned in that journey will be so much more valuable for when you get into that position.
Tenessa, in closing, wrapping up here, what would be the last thoughts that you’d love to convey to Christians that maybe don’t understand why they need to be active in politics? Why is it such a critical time in our country to be engaged in that?
If I had to sum up the crux of my faith in general, it would be that the Lord has revealed, shown, and given to me my power that I’m a powerful person. I work from victory, not for it. My faith empowers me. Wherever field you are in, that’s how you lead. How you should function is from a powerful place. On Earth, the government is the most powerful entity that there is, which means the responsibility is huge.
If we have identity-secure leaders in those positions, knowing that they already have power, whether they’re the majority or the minority in office, they are powerful people. They’re there to do something, to equip and to empower others. Embrace that and do that instead of doing it from fear. No matter if you are in your church and you want to be part of the government, you want to help your friend who’s running for office, whatever it is, there is no part of that lax.
There are no less people and positions. Every single thing combined coming together makes the whole. Everybody is needed. Everybody is powerful. It’s how you are going to use that power. How are you going to use the influence that you have? Whether that’s $20, making phone calls, or saying, “I want nothing to do with this. I have no grace for it, but I’m praying for you. If I hear anything or if I remember you, I’ll let you know that I remember you and I’m praying for you.” That is huge because, as we know, the things that are unseen are much bigger than the things seen.
Everybody has a part to play. The power shift is coming and it’s a mind shift. We have to believe that we’re powerful no matter what position we have, so we can stop reducing others and do the work that God has for us. That’s what I want them to know. You’re powerful. We are not defeated. We’re not on the ropes. If we have the majority in Congress, it does not mean, “It’s all solved and figured out.” We need powerful people. Whether you’re in government or thinking about getting in government, get that identity squared away. Know that you’re a powerful person. Do not operate out of fear. You’re dangerous operating out of fear. We want you to be dangerous in a good way, coming from a place of power.
When you realize that 67% of Americans identify as Christian, that’s the majority. Yet 41% roughly are not even registered to vote. We’ve got to change that and that’s hopefully what this show is going to be geared towards helping with. Thank you so much for reading. We’ll be having some other amazing speakers coming up soon. Tune in for our next episode. Thanks so much.