Everyday politics, everyday faith

By Rebekah Basinger and Kristine Frey

PHOTO: Horton Studios (Thomas, Okla.)

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel,“Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 1 Chronicles 4:10

When people of faith ask God to expand their horizons—as did Jabez, an otherwise obscure Old Testament Israelite—the request can be answered in many different ways. For some, growth arises in the form of material assets, such as property or finances. For others, professional advancements, travel experiences, or special giftings mark God’s provision in their lives. But for Harold Gleason and his family at Bethany BIC Church (Thomas, Okla.), God’s blessings and opportunities for expansion have come from living out their faith through community service and civic engagement.

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel

Participation in community life came about naturally enough for Harold. “Being involved in your hometown is like being part of a church,” he explains. “You get involved in the things you’re passionate about.”

So it made sense for Harold—a business administration and journalism double-major—to accept the position of president and CEO of The Thomas Publishing Company and its subsidiary, The Thomas Tribune, right out of college in 1972. Shortly thereafter, he was introduced to the power of the press, especially as it played out in Thomas’ small-town setting, as political candidates from the region sought out the publication’s endorsement. Knowing that voters looked to the paper for help in sorting through the issues, Harold began carefully researching and profiling politicians in The Tribune. Through this process, he got to know the candidates, and they, him.

Bless me and enlarge my territory

In 1986, a late-night call from Bob Kerr, who was in the middle of his first campaign for a seat in the Oklahoma State Senate, opened a new door to Harold. “Kerr was always a gentleman, soft-spoken and reverent in his mannerisms, and respected by his colleagues,” says Harold. “He represented what I believe God wants public officials to be, so I agreed to help him in his campaign, thinking that I would be one in a group of advisors.”

However, Harold soon discovered that Kerr was inviting him to serve as his sole campaign manager with responsibility for deciding how the campaign would respond to issues, gear its advertising program, and reach out to constituents. Although flattered by the invitation, Harold had serious reservations—not about the rightness of aiding Kerr, but about his own abilities.

“This was a new experience,” he recalls. “Sure, I had been involved in politics previously, but in most instances, my contribution had been limited to endorsements of candidates or prospective legislation. The ‘buck’ had never stopped with me. This was a true test of faith for me. Like Jabez, I had asked for God to grow me, and now that the opportunity had come, I needed to exercise the faith and courage to follow Him through it.”

There were times in that first campaign when a win seemed unlikely and Harold’s organizational skills were stretched beyond what he thought was possible. But as Harold prayed for the wisdom to know God’s will and the strength to carry it through, he saw God do “miraculous things.”

“The issues that were most important and the way to address them became easy to discern. Despite some desperation tactics by the opponent, we ran our campaign with honesty and respect, standing above the fray,” he reports.

PHOTO: courtesy of Harold Gleason
Harold (right) and the late Senator Bob Kerr celebrate the successful completion of a community project in 2001.

Bob Kerr won the race and became Senator Kerr, a man known for putting integrity before politics. Throughout his 20 years in office, he looked to Harold for guidance and assistance in all his campaigns.

And keep me from harm

Harold’s political skills were put to the test once more in 1996 when some newly imposed federal regulations resulted in the closing of the local hospital. Not only was access to healthcare lost, but over 80 good jobs were snatched away—a devastating blow for the community of only 1,500.

Nominated to serve as chairman of the Thomas Economic Development Authority, Harold was assigned a daunting task: replace the lost jobs and establish stability for the future of the community. Again, Harold felt inadequate for the task, but as he began working with local officials, allowing God to shepherd his efforts, he found the way to put together three different deals to create more than 200 new jobs for the community.

A few years later, Harold accepted an appointment on a three-person board charged with overseeing finances for the county government. Shortly after he took office, voters used the “No” vote on the ballot to strip away 50 percent of the income needed to fund the local government. But through his work as board chair, he led the campaign efforts that helped convince 80 percent of the voters to reinstate the funding.

“I could tell many stories of unexpected challenges that surfaced and how my faith was tested by them,” Harold says.

“Like Jabez, I had asked for God to grow me, and now that the opportunity had come, I needed to exercise the faith and courage to follow Him through it.”

He also acknowledges that such faith-stretching experiences within the civic realm often come with potential dangers. “Politics is people—both the good and the bad,” he relates. “Even as we ask God to bless and open new territories up to us, we must not lose sight of Jabez’s request to be protected from evil.”

Because many politicians earn a reputation for corruption and greed, Harold has always made it a priority to align himself with people of faith and honesty. “Politics can get a bad image because of a few who abuse the opportunities God creates for them,” he says. “There can be a negative element in politics, but if you align yourself with people who are morally and ethically upstanding, you won’t get into that position.”

And although wise choices have protected Harold from having to compromise his beliefs in his work, he does not hesitate to talk about times when he’s needed the support of Bethany BIC in order to discern what to do in a situation. “You can get to a point when, as a human, you have no answers,” he admits. “It’s amazing, though, how God works those things out through prayers from the church for the community. I know I’ve asked my church for prayer when a big decision was coming up, and I’ve just watched as God worked everything out!”

So that I will be free from pain

For all his achievements, Harold names “finding a wife who would tolerate all my involvements” as the greatest gift in his life. And with the birth of three daughters, each of whom are now grown and have followed their father’s example of making service to the community a life priority, the blessings have continued to roll in.

PHOTO: Horton Studios (Thomas, Okla.)
Harold reads a recent issue of The Thomas Tribune with his family. from left: Harold; Kendra; his wife, Donna; Misti; Rhonda

The eldest, Rhonda, recently won her first term on the local school board, despite competition from a formidable opponent. “Christians need to involve themselves in politics, as often this is the only voice they have in their communities,” the mother of three explains. “I make sure that we always open our school board meetings with prayer, asking God for guidance in the decisions we make. I watched Dad work tirelessly and saw what good can come from hard work and effort which is blessed by the Lord.” She adds, “My father is a great example of someone who earned the respect of his community by making decisions based on his faith.”

Misti, the youngest, has also invested heavily into the local school district, leading an effort to rally community support behind a bond issue for a new middle school building—a measure that had already been rejected twice.

“After watching how my father had improved the community by bringing in jobs for its members, I wanted to do the same,” she shares. “So I helped come up with a plan to bring the middle school building, which was on a separate campus nine miles away, to the main campus where all the other public education facilities in our community were. Our efforts will help enrich the education of the students, who won’t need to commute between the two campuses, and the new basketball gym will also help bring more money to the school.”

For middle daughter Kendra, who served as a high school teacher and women’s basketball coach for eight years, community participation has meant committing herself to the growth and development of The Thomas Tribune. “Being involved with my hometown is just a part of me,” she says. “Now that I work with the newspaper, I use it to help give credit to the achievements of our youth. I hope to always be involved in some way!”

And God granted his request

When Harold stepped into his role with The Thomas Publishing Company, he would never have imagined that the territory entrusted to him would stretch so wide over the years as to include starting up a family-owned insurance agency, serving as president and CEO of W W Capital Corp (a farming equipment company), and beginning a ranching operation that raises, shows, and markets registered Hereford cattle on a national basis. But by making himself available to God and his community, Harold has been blessed . . . and has blessed others. And with each of his daughters continuing his legacy of helping to enrich the community, the boundaries continue to expand.

“God made each of us with a special talent,” Harold often says. “He wants to take us to new levels in our faith. All we need to do is ask Him for the strength to act on that faith and then give Him the glory for any positives that result, remembering that we didn’t accomplish anything on our own. As one of my favorite songs goes, ‘If I gain anything, let it go to Calvary.’ ”

This article originally appeared in the fall 2008 issue of In Part magazine.


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