Religious Biography

Tim Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty was raised as a Catholic, the youngest of five children born to a truck driver and homemaker in South St. Paul, Minn. Pawlenty writes in his 2011 autobiography, Courage To Stand: An American Story, that although he attended Mass almost every Sunday as a child, completed catechism classes and was confirmed in the Catholic Church, his faith deepened after his mother died of cancer when he was 16 and again after he met his future wife, Mary Elizabeth Anderson. Faith was “intertwined with our courtship,” he writes, adding that she helped him “to be stronger” in his religious beliefs and “to recognize the ongoing, dynamic relevance of Scripture in my life.”

Pawlenty began attending Mary’s church, Wooddale Church, a nondenominational, evangelical Protestant megachurch in Eden Prairie, Minn., where the couple still worship. Wooddale’s senior pastor, Leith Anderson, who officiated at the Pawlentys’ wedding in 1987, is president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

God is in charge. … In the Declaration of Independence, it says we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. It doesn’t say we’re endowed by Washington, D.C., or endowed by the bureaucrats or endowed by state government; it’s by our Creator that we are given these rights.

– Tim Pawlenty speaking at the February 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

Pawlenty holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Minnesota. Following his career as a lawyer in private practice, Pawlenty served as a Minnesota state legislator for 10 years before being elected governor of Minnesota in 2002. As governor, Pawlenty hosted National Day of Prayer services at the state Capitol and told a large gathering of evangelical Protestants that “faith is an important glue that holds our state together,” according to a 2004 report by the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

Pawlenty also established a Governor’s Council on Faith and Community Service Initiatives to promote partnerships between government and faith-based groups for delivering social services. Pawlenty writes in Courage To Stand that local communities, including those of faith, should care for each other rather than rely on government services. “Christians from all walks of life and all denominations are increasingly asking, ‘How do we turn our words into action to help others in need?’ ” Pawlenty writes. “They’re not saying, ‘Give me more government stuff.’ ”

Pawlenty frequently cites biblical passages and refers to God in his speeches and writing. In Courage To Stand, Pawlenty writes, “I try my best to be a faithful follower of Christ. I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and personal Savior. I acknowledge and worship Him regularly through prayer, by reading Scripture, and by attending worship services. I also try, however imperfectly, to apply His teachings to my life and, when appropriate, to share them with others.” Pawlenty adds that “[t]hose who question the Christian faith understandably hark back to the condemning, judgmental, finger-waving … preachers who turned out to be adulterers or involved in some massive financial fraud. … But in my experience, most Christians are thoughtful, loving people who try their best to live faithfully, every day.”

Pawlenty has suggested that referring to God’s role in public life is not “politically incorrect” and that God is an essential part of the country’s founding documents. “The Constitution was designed to protect people of faith from government, not to protect government from people of faith,” Pawlenty said in a March 2011 speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition. In a January 2011 interview, Pawlenty stressed that while faith is “a big part” of who he is and what he believes, he does not “wear it on my sleeve or jam it down other people’s throats as part of my role in public life.”

Published on November 8, 2011