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Weatherford candidate hints at endorsement from above

Lord knows we need more politicians in church.

But not when they drag the church into campaigns.

That's what one candidate is doing in Weatherford.

Former Mayor Tom McLaughlin, now a chronic City Hall critic, must think Jesus is on his side against Mayor Dennis Hooks.

McLaughlin's signs name the ultimate campaign endorsement: "Vote McLaughlin -- For Christ and the People."

Hooks, 61, is a car dealer who has served as a City Council member off and on since 1992, as Weatherford has grown from a town of 15,000 people to a city expecting 40,000 by 2030.

He said McLaughlin's signs don't bother him.

"He must be a Christian man," Hooks said by phone. "Well, I'm a Christian man, too. I just don't go shouting it."

Maybe McLaughlin, 56, is truly a devout evangelical Christian. Maybe he's eager to share his personal testimony.

Maybe he truly wants to shout his faith from the hilltops near his home along Fort Worth Highway.

However, I couldn't even get him to return a call.

Somebody else answered his phone Tuesday.

"I don't know if he'll talk to you," she said.

He did not.

So I called Matthew Wilson, an associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. Wilson often comments on religion and politics for The New York Times and Newsweek, but never before had he been called for expertise on a Weatherford City Council campaign.

Wilson said he's not sure he's ever heard of a candidate campaigning with Christ's name.

"Many Christians would regard that as unseemly," Wilson said. "The implication is that other candidates are not for Christ."

Unless faith has been debated, Wilson said, using the Savior's name in a political campaign seems "gratuitous."

Hooks said neither religion nor faith has been an issue at council meetings or in the mayoral campaign.

"Being a Christian to me is a way of life," he said. "It's not something you go advertising."

Hooks' pastor is the Rev. Charles Bruner of Grace First Presbyterian Church. Bruner said he doesn't take sides in political campaigns but added that he might discuss the signs with other pastors when the city's ministerial alliance meets Thursday.

"My personal belief is that you don't use Christ for political gain," Bruner said. "You can be a man of integrity, a man of faith, and let folks know who you are. But we're in Bible Belt country. It's not a surprise that someone would do this."

Generally, the No. 1 campaign issue in the Weatherford mayor and council races isn't faith. It's growth.

Weatherford is enjoying tremendous growth and success, with retailers now lining both sides of Interstate 20 and traffic flowing through a more scenic although perhaps less practical courthouse square.

One of the other council candidates, a libertarian type, has criticized the changes and calls for Weatherford to "revitalize our local identity." But from what I can tell, the annual July peach festival does not seem to be at risk.

For help with Weatherford politics, I asked former Mayor Joe Tison. As McLaughlin's successor, he led much of the economic growth, but he also had to answer tough questions about faith during a rough-and-tumble Republican primary loss.

Tison declined to talk directly about McLaughlin. "That's politics, and I'm out of it," he said.

But he did talk about candidates who wear Christ's name like a political button.

"I think you promote Christianity by the way you live your life and the way you serve people," he said. "You don't put it in signs."

On Saturday, voters will send a sign.