The Denver metro area — center of government, geographical hub and crossroads of commerce — has its share of think tanks from left to right. They are where ideas are born, nurtured and then, with some luck and a lot of work, handed off to lawmakers to turn into policy.
Relatively new to that scene is Colorado Christian University’s conservative Centennial Institute, shepherded into existence by longtime Colorado Republican political figure and former state Senate President John Andrews. In 2015, having helped secure the endeavor’s future, Andrews handed the keys to Jeff Hunt (see his official bio here). The institute has established itself as a heavy hitter on the conservative political circuit; among other things, it convenes the annual Western Conservative Summit, a national draw for the center-right. And yet, as Hunt makes clear below, the institute is focused on a lot more than conventional politics.
What drew you to your post at the Centennial Institute?
The Centennial Institute allows me to combine my passions for both faith and public policy. I have a Masters in Divinity as well as a Masters in Political Management. William Wilberforce is the person whom I most seek to emulate. He understood that his calling was to be a voice in the public square. He not only worked to end the slave trade in the British Empire, but he was passionate about reforming culture. Similarly, the Centennial Institute combines important public policy work and cultural reform.
You have a background in politics, having worked with U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania in his White House bid as well as with Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in Colorado. Do you see your current post as more about policy and politics or more about morality and faith? Or both?
My role at the Centennial Institute is to represent the Christian voice in the public square. Moreover, it is a strategic objective of Colorado Christian University to impact our culture in support of traditional family values, sanctity of life, compassion for the poor, Biblical view of human nature, limited government, personal freedom, free markets, natural law, original intent of the Constitution and Western civilization.
To answer your question more directly, my post is about shaping culture, morality, and public policy and much less about politics. Leaving politics behind, I appreciate having my weekends and evenings back!
What do you think is the appropriate role of Christianity for faithful Christians in local, state and national politics? Should people of faith keep it a private affair, reserved for worship, or carry it with them into the voting booth and beyond?
Some of our country’s most important leaders were people of faith. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was driven by his faith to advance civil rights, and I believe he was successful in part because the faith community was supporting him. Christians believe that Jesus is the Lord of both this earth and the new earth to come. As such, God directs the affairs of our world. The goal of Christians is not to make our country a theocracy but to influence its direction with our Christian principles. Many of the earliest universities have a Christian foundation. Some of the largest and most successful efforts to serve the poor are operated by people of faith. Christians established many of the earliest hospitals. Christians are driven by their faith to improve the world around them. This includes having a voice in the public square. The more that people of all faith are active in serving our communities, including shaping public policy, the healthier our communities become.
To what extent does Centennial advocate for ideas that transcend specific religious views?
The Centennial Institute advocates for both principles and prescriptions in public policy. We take our direction on our principles from the teachings of the Bible. That is the foundational text for us. When it comes to prescriptions or the solutions we seek to promote, those can rightly be debated, even among people of faith. As Bill Armstrong would say, “I’m firm on the principles but negotiable on the details.”
Give us three words, each of which describes some aspect of Colorado’s political scene as you see it.
Citizen, Neighborly, Libertarian.
I grew up in Colorado and my wife and I chose to move back here from Washington, D.C., to raise our family. Coloradans are neighborly; we care for each other, and that’s something I greatly admire about our state. Our legislature is citizen-based. I think it’s wonderful that we don’t have professional politicians running our state. When I visit the Capitol, I feel like I’m interacting with my neighbors and that’s important for limiting our government and strengthening our civil society.
Colorado is a very libertarian state. We were the first state to liberalize abortion laws, and now we have recreational marijuana and doctor-assisted suicide. When our libertarian friends team up with the progressive left, social conservatives are often left in the wilderness. We have a lot of work to do here to demonstrate the importance of ordered liberty. In the words of Russel Kirk, freedom, order and justice must all work together for the health of our state. We must promote personal freedom, but it’s an ordered personal freedom that contributes to a better community.
Colorado is widely perceived as a purple state, and voter registration bears that out: Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters each comprise a third of the electorate — with unaffiliateds gaining ground. To what do you attributed the surge in unaffiliated voters?
I believe this goes hand in hand with our libertarian leanings. Coloradans are generally not in favor of tax increases, expansive government, or strong regulations. Combine this with the libertarian approach to personal freedom, and people want to remain unaffiliated with either party. The task for the Centennial Institute is to demonstrate that healthy families and ordered liberty create a much better society that ultimately reduces government.
Who is better looking — you or the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara.
When I first arrived back in Colorado, wrapping up serving on Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign, I went to meet with Jon Caldara. Knowing I was a strong social conservative, he naturally took me to lunch at the LGBTQ-friendly burger chain, Hamburger Mary’s. Classic Jon Caldara move. Perhaps we’ll let them decide!