Shaping the Future of Faith and Politics

by Rachel White

Eric Teetsel, M.Ed. ’10, never dreamed that less than a decade after graduating from Azusa Pacific with a Master of Education in College Student Affairs, he would find himself playing a key role in one of the most significant and contentious presidential election campaigns in modern history. Yet, an unexpected opportunity to work in Washington, DC, with two prominent think tanks paved the way for Teetsel to emerge as a leading voice among evangelical millennials and capture the interest of former presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) campaign, which recruited him to serve as director of faith outreach.

In this role, Teetsel organized a coalition of supporters comprising evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders to provide guidance on important topics central to the election, such as religious freedom, marriage and family, and sanctity of life. Teetsel’s position garnered much media interest, including from CNN, which featured him in an article titled “7 Types of Evangelicals—and How They’ll Affect the Presidential Race.”

Teetsel focused on appealing to an important base of potential voters —evangelicals who do not feel well represented in American politics. This includes millennials—those age 18-39—but the divide is not solely generational.

“Millennials grew up when the Christian political witness seemed more political than Christian,” Teetsel said. “We had very few role models who integrated faith and politics well. So now we ask the question, ‘How do we participate in politics in a truly Christ-centered way?’” Teetsel points to history for inspiration. “[Dietrich] Bonhoeffer and [William] Wilberforce were driven by their faith to engage culture in pursuit of the common good. We, too, can seek to increase the welfare of our neighbors and communities by engaging in the political process. The trick is to do it God’s way.”

Teetsel sees public policy as a means to trigger debate and ultimately evoke change. “Public policy can either increase human flourishing or diminish it. One timely example is the ongoing debate over the meaning and extent of religious freedom. We see an increasing threat to this foundational civil liberty. This should concern people of all faiths, and even those with no faith at all; for if the government can violate our right to freely live out our most deeply held beliefs, what can’t it do?”

A graduate of APU and Wheaton College, Teetsel views Christian universities as ground zero in the battle for religious freedom. “I am a product and a champion of Christian higher education,” he said. “The integration of faith and learning is a unique strength of Christian universities that must be preserved. Where else can young people, during the most crucial time in their development, learn that it is not what you are becoming but who you are becoming that matters?”

Amidst a deepening political and cultural divide reflected in the heated election cycle, Teetsel admits the future seems unclear, but he offers hope. “Consensus is difficult to find. However, America is at its best when we live in proximity with others we don’t necessarily agree with—and we talk, we debate, we learn from one another. Then we shake hands and agree to continue a conversation. This makes everyone better. Christian leaders can inspire this type of discourse and remind us of our shared humanity.”

Rachel White is the associate director of public relations in the Office of University Relations at APU.

Originally published in the Fall '16 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.