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Living Faith in Local Politics: How One Mayor Leads

Living Faith in Local Politics: How One Mayor Leads


Odds are that even if you’ve heard of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, you’ve never been there.

If you did visit, some things wouldn’t surprise you. The small city of around 200,000 is surrounded by miles of fields and farms, vulnerable to tornadoes and flooding, and is struggling—as you may have heard—with methamphetamines.

But it’s also one of the country’s fastest-growing towns, thanks mostly to business-friendly tax rates and low unemployment. It’s surprisingly diverse—nearly 40 percent of public school students are non-white. (The city council voted unanimously last month to continue allowing refugee resettlements.) And James and Deborah Fallows reported in their 2018 book Our Towns that people in Sioux Falls feel life there is safe, modest, and easy to love.

Courtesy of Paul TenHaken

In May 2018, those people voted in Paul TenHaken as mayor. Ever since, he’s been busy reorganizing bus routes, continuing downtown development, and sharing his faith.

“Thank you for an amazing few days, Mission-Haiti. God is at work!” he tweeted in January.

“I had the honor of addressing an amazing group of ladies at the Women Ignited by Faith event this morning,” he wrote last September.

“‘Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.’ – Psalm 127:1,” he tweeted twice in the fall, on either side of a night when three tornadoes ripped up the city.

He’s so open about his faith that people in his inner circle have cautioned him to hold back a bit. (He said no.) He’s heard some people joking about getting a youth pastor for a mayor.

“I’m a man of faith,” he said. “That’s where my heart is. I like that people know that about me.”

TGC talked to TenHaken about how to love our neighbor through politics, how his mission trips to Haiti affect his ability to govern, and how he sees God working in Sioux Falls.


Did you always want to be in politics?

No. I hate being called a politician. God made it clear that this is what he wanted me to do, and I was like, Lord, anything but this, please. But I was praying a lot, asking God where he could use me, and it kept coming back to this mayoral race.

So I decided to sell my business and run. I was kind of expecting to lose because there were some very good candidates running. So I thought, Oh, I’ll just run with integrity and use it as a platform to talk about my faith. And then after I lose, I’ll do whatever God wants me to do…



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