An Interview with Illinois State Representative Tom Morrison


Representative Tom MorrisonIn this interview, Aaron Atwood talks with Illinois State Representative Tom Morrison, a 1992 Summit Student Conference graduate, about the journey he took from Christian school teacher to elected official, and how Christians of all walks of life can get involved with politics. Hear the entire interview on the Christian Worldview Thinking podcast.

Aaron Atwood:

Tell us about your position in the Illinois state legislature.

Tom Morrison:

I’m a state representative, one of 118 in the legislature. Each one of us has a district of about 107,000 residents, and my district is northwest of Chicago in the suburbs, near the O’Hare Airport. We serve for a two-year term, and I’m in my third term.

Aaron Atwood:

When did you attend Summit?

Tom Morrison:

I attended Summit in 1992.

Aaron Atwood:

What led to your decision to get into politics?

Tom Morrison:

While I was at Summit, I, like many of the students, felt after two weeks as if I had just drunk from a fire hose. The depth and the breadth of issues that came up was overwhelming. One of the last nights a speaker said, “You know, focus on just one issue that you can become an expert in and go with that, because if you spread yourself too thin you’re not going to be very effective.” For me the pro-life issue was that issue, and I felt like I could be involved in that.

I ended up attending college at Hillsdale, where I got my undergraduate degree in history. I was also involved with the right to life club there. After that, I ended up working in broadcasting for a few years, both radio and television, before I transitioned to Christian education. I taught at the school that I had attended from kindergarten to ninth grade.

As a fifth grade teacher at this Christian school, I started a pro-life club. I was really interested in that issue and I felt like I could make a difference. I organized a trip to our state capital, Springfield, for the high school students. I didn’t tell my students this, but I’d never been to Springfield before, and I thought that I would learn right alongside my students. I was in the dome, which has a lot of history — Abraham Lincoln was a state representative before he became president, and there have been many other significant figures who’ve been through the legislature — and a lobbyist for a pro-life organization said to me, “You ought to think about running for one of these positions.” That was a seed planted.

My state representative at that time was a Republican who was very decidedly pro-abortion. I was unhappy with that, so one thing lead to another, and people told me, “If you decide to run we will back you.” So I ran and I won.

Aaron Atwood:

You just ran, that’s great. Was it everything that you thought it would be? Three terms in, what has the experience been like?

Tom Morrison:

Well, the biggest surprise was how deep and complex and broad the issues are that are dealt with at the state level. I always thought that I was a pretty well-informed citizen, but when I got into office I found that there are bills I have to vote on dealing with agriculture, tax policy, license issues, business regulations, criminal law, you name it. I had to rely on my staff and try to learn as much as I can from constituents who do understand those issues.

Aaron Atwood:

I was just with somebody recently who said, “I just think Christians ought to stay out of politics.” Tom, you are a strong believer and you decided that wasn’t the case. What brought you to the conclusion that Christians ought to be involved in politics and bring their faith to the role?

Tom Morrison:

I attended a pro-life conference around the year 2000, and one of the speakers talked about the need for believers to be in office. He gave a brief history of the founding fathers and how many of them actually had degrees from seminaries, and he said, “There are 435 members of Congress, there are 100 U.S. Senators, there are thousands of state legislators, there are elected officials at the school board level and city council and what have you. If Christians avoid those positions, they’re going to be filled by somebody, and you shouldn’t be at all surprised by the laws that are passed, the ordinances that are passed, and the policies that are put into effect if Christians don’t run for those positions.”

There is a great quote by Noah Webster:

[L]et it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God. The preservation of a republican government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty; if the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good, so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded. If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the Divine commands and elect bad men to make and administer the laws. (Webster, Noah (1832), History of the United States, New Haven, CT: Durrie & Peck pp. 336-337.)

That quote can be summed up by a verse, Proverbs 29:2: “When the righteous increase the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule the people groan.”

Aaron Atwood:

Tom, you sound like you are just a regular guy. You could have been somebody who’s reading this right now, and maybe wondering if running for office is something they could do. Can regular people actually run for office?

Tom Morrison:

Yes, absolutely. When I made that trip to Springfield, I used to think that people in elected office were on an incredibly high pedestal. They’re so wise, they’re so smart, they’ve accomplished so much in life, and who am I? Just this little citizen trying to make my appeal on why they should vote one way or another. Now that I’m in the club, so to speak, I’m finding that that pedestal really shouldn’t exist at all. I mean, we are, for the most part, just regular people.

My encouragement to people who decide to do this, whether it’s at the school board, city, state, or national level, is go with an attitude of service. Humility is essential. I’ve been called pretty awful names, and I’ve had threats. You have to remember, though, that if we don’t run for these offices then people with totally different worldviews will, and we’ll be subject to their decisions. It’s a great honor and privilege to be able to be in this arena, voting, giving speeches on the floor and in committee, talking to reporters, giving town hall meetings, and talking to constituents about these issues, issues that matter for not only this year but for future generations, too.

Aaron Atwood:

Tom, is there hope for Illinois and for our nation given the direction that everything’s going?

Tom Morrison:

Well, I do believe that there’s hope. One of the really encouraging things that’s happening recently is Reverend Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, is doing a 50-state tour. He’s going to the state capitals and holding prayer rallies.

He was in Springfield in June, and he stood in front of probably 5,000 people outside the capital and said, “I want you all to know that I have absolutely no confidence in the Democratic party to fix the problems of our states and nation.” It was probably more a Republican crowd, and you could hear cheering. Then he said, “Now hold on a second, hold on a second, I have absolutely no confidence in the Republican party to solve the problems of states and our country.” It was a significantly less enthusiastic response, but he said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Our confidence needs to be in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ, and if we put our confidence in anything else, in anybody else, we are going to be sadly, sadly disappointed.”

That message resonated with me. I think that’s really where our mindset should be. I’m a Republican, and I’m proud to be a Republican, but there have been times when I’ve had to divert from my party, at the state level, and it’s because I have to answer to a higher power and that matters more to me than just going along with the system.

None of us knows the future, and we know that things could turn very, very rapidly for the better. Nineveh, for example. How could Nineveh change? I mean, look at those wicked, wicked people, and in a matter of what … in a moment the city repents. Throughout scripture and throughout history there have been those sort of dramatic changes, where only God could have done what was done. That’s my hope for Illinois, and the city of Chicago, and our nation.

Aaron Atwood:

Tom, what role do you think an organization like Summit can play in that reformation?

Tom Morrison:

Well, Summit had a dramatic impact on my life, even now, coming up on 25 years later. It gives me such great hope that there are young people who are sober minded and are looking to make an impact on their generation just like I’m trying to do on mine.

Aaron Atwood:

Now, for those who are listening who won’t go into politics, what would you have them do for their elected officials? How can we support our state representatives?

Tom Morrison:

Prayer is the number one thing. Pray that they will make the right decisions and pray that they’ll be surrounded by wise counsel. Pray for their salvation — I know law makers who have gotten saved since they have been elected.

Also, have the confidence to go and actually visit with your state representative or your state senator. Most of them really are accessible. Set up a meeting in their district office. Like the old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” it’s the very loud groups, oftentimes small in number, who, because they’re persistent and loud, end up getting their way. People who are conservative-minded need to have that confidence and perseverance to go and have their voice heard.

Aaron Atwood:

Tom, this is good stuff. I so appreciate you speaking with me today and your story. I’m grateful that Summit was able to be a part of it. It really encourages us to keep doing what we’re doing here, so thank you and keep up the good fight there.

Representative Thomas Morrison (R) serves Illinois’s 54th District. Tom is a former Christian school teacher and small business owner. He’s a graduate of Hillsdale College as well as a Summit alumni. He and his wife Bethany have two children.