Intersection of Faith and Public Service with Karl Knapp

Posted on August 2, 2018

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We are pleased to share the fourth article in the series  from Karl Knapp, Town of Cary, NCIn the series, ELGL members talk about how they balance their personal faith with their public service careers. Sign up to write for this series here

A career in public service is essentially an act of faith that our personal efforts can make the world a better place. In our careers, we all work by a moral code that is both self-generated and imposed by human institutions. What differentiates people with a religious faith is our belief that there are forces beyond the natural world that have an influence on our lives. We believe these forces have some expectations for how people should live, and that we should try to meet these expectations. What we consider those expectations to be, and how we should respond to them differs between faiths.

How faith affects my approach to work is determined by what I believe as a Christian. I believe that I cannot fully live up to God’s expectations and would be permanently separated from God, but for the life and atoning death of God’s son Jesus. Through his self-sacrifice, the separation caused by my failure to live up to God’s expectations can be forgiven. Such an awe-inspiring act of unconditional love can be seen as both a wondrous gift and an overwhelming responsibility, each of which requires response. I seek to respond to God’s unconditional love by returning it through worship, contrition, humility, thanksgiving, and service to others. In my professional life, I try to discern how God would want me to return the love I have received through my work.

While my faith is a great complement to my job, it cannot be the sole guide to it. I don’t think that there is a divinely-ordained way to prepare a revenue estimate or write a budget message. Budget decisions should be made based on priorities and analysis. I couldn’t tell people that my faith led me to recommend against their budget requests any more than I could tell them my gut led me to do so. My faith does serve a guide is in my relationships with my colleagues. I try to work with them in a spirit of love, humility, and service, and seek to discern the right way to do so though prayer and study of scripture.

I am fortunate not have been given a task at work that I discerned to be against God’s will, although I recognize that this is an ever present possibility. Over the centuries, public servants of faith have been forced to make difficult choices between their religious beliefs and the laws or policies that they are charged with enforcing. These conflicts can occur because we believe that enforcing the law would require us to do something to or for another person that our faith tells us is wrong. If we choose not do what is asked of us, we may face disciplinary action, loss of employment, or even arrest. Our faith dictates our actions, but it can come with hard consequences.

The times that my faith has clashed with my job have been when I let the voice of my professional aspirations drown out the messages that I hear from God. The secular world has definitions of success that differ from God’s definitions. It can be easy for me to focus on the status that comes with each professional opportunity, rather than on the possibilities that each opportunity offers for service to others. I also can find myself frustrated that the machinery of government doesn’t move as quickly as I would like to address issues that matter to me. In these situations, my faith helps me to keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, and that’s usually enough.

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