Once upon a time, Doug Mendenhall dabbled in politics before coming to realize that it is more fun to write about hot button issues from the sidelines than to be in the thick of the fight.


Doug Mendenhall

He turned that realization into a popular column on “faith, values, and how Jesus would’ve done it” that was published in the Huntsville (Alabama) Times and the Abilene Reporter-News from 2000 to 2020. 

Mendenhall’s first venture into politics didn’t work out so well. That came in 1978 when Mendenhall was a senior in high school and an honorary member of the school board. He and other students decided to campaign for an open campus, meaning they could leave the campus for lunch. Unfortunately for Mendenhall–and the open campus campaign–he hit a mailbox while delivering fliers. 

“That was my first political experience,” he said.

Mendenhall was guest speaker for the Feb. 18 meeting of the Abilene Interfaith Council. He spoke on “Abilene Adventures in Faith, Journalism, and Political Activism.” A journalism professor at Abilene Christian University, Mendenhall no longer writes for the Reporter-News, but he posts his weekly column on his website,  www.dougmendenhall.com

Joking that he has a “Hosea Complex,” Mendenhall talked about some of the local controversial issues he has gotten involved with and lessons learned from that. During a 26-year newspaper career, Mendenhall never was allowed to get involved with politics, not even placing a political sign in his yard.

“That was just the way it worked back then,” he said.

But his “Hosea Complex” won’t allow him to keep quiet. In 2016, he got involved with an effort, which eventually failed, to switch to single-member districts for electing representatives to the Abilene ISD board. He learned three hard lessons from that:

  1. He was naive to think that a straight-forward, logical approach would win the day.
  2. There is more Machiavellian behind-the-scenes maneuvering locally than he was aware of.
  3. Manipulators and intimidators in the community exert their influence over others.

“There are people in this community who feel like they are gagged,” Mendenhall said, “and that is worrisome.”

In 2018, Mendenhall waded into the controversy over ACU’s policy on LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff. He and his wife, Janet, are the parents of a gay son who was an ACU student. Mendenhall wrote in his newspaper column that ACU’s policy was not workable or fair.

“That column really hit some of the administration hard,” he said.

Mendenhall also touched on the role of social media in today’s world. In January 2019, a city councilman got into hot water when social media comments he had posted were uncovered. Those comments were perceived by some to be racist. The councilman insisted they weren’t but there were calls for him to step down and not seek re-election. A vote for censure by the City Council failed and he was re-elected. That firestorm should be a warning for everyone using social media.

“We feel like we’re sheltered,” Mendenhall said of social media postings, “and we can say anything we want to.”

Read Doug Mendenhall’s columns at www.dougmendenhall.com

The next meeting of the Abilene Interfaith Council will be at 7 p.m. March 26 at First Central Presbyterian Church, 400 Orange St. Becky J. Benes, a mindfulness coach from San Angelo, will be guest speaker. Her topic will be, “Grassroots Initiatives Toward Peace in Rural America.” Meetings are free and open to the public. For more information, email abileneinterfaith@gmail.com or visit www.abileneinterfaith.org


One comment

  • I so enjoyed Doug’s speech as the AIC meeting. I sadly agree with the three lessons he learned the hard way. I wish they were not true, but they are!


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