Opelika-Auburn Daily News Editorial Profiles Joe Turnham and Leading From Our Knees


Joe McAdory
Staff writer

Published: July 9, 2009

“Many persons shy from leadership when they find that their futures seem paved with cross-bearing and not crown-wearing. When one sees that the call to leadership is bearing the cross of adversity rather than a crown of entitlement, many would-be leaders leave the scene …”

Joe Turnham speaks to leaders – political, in the community, in the church and even in the home – through his new book ‘Leading from Our Knees’ using a variety of Biblical passages, Biblical leaders and personal reflection through a number of dated, easy-to-read daily devotionals. The excerpt above was taken from Turnham’s devotion for today.

Devotionals range from a diverse number of issues including pride, hope, comfort, greed, humility, ethics, faith, ambition and priorities that anyone can use.

Characters, not politicians
By reading the 378-page recently released hardback, you’d never know that Turnham, a longtime Auburn resident, is Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. The book is not about partisanship. Instead, it’s about leadership that men and women of any political choosing would appreciate.

There is no mention of Barack Obama. There is no mention of George W. Bush. There is no mention of George Washington, Edward Kennedy, Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan either.

Instead, there is plenty mention of King David, Daniel, Paul, Rahab, Sarah, Abraham and Moses – 196 characters in all – and reflected on how they dealt with a variety of issues that we can apply to our daily lives.

“I felt there was a void for anything like this,” Turnham said. “You wouldn’t know if I was Democrat or Republican.

“A book like this could have never been written by a theologian. I’ve been in a sausage factory of politics for decades. It’s not always a fun place to be. I can take these experiences into this.”

Personal lessons
Turnham, serving his third term as the party chairman, is the son of long-time and revered State Rep. Pete Turnham. Though he currently serves the state party, Joe Turnham nearly wound up in Washington.

Republican Mike Rogers beat Turnham by just 3,800 votes to win the bid to represent the people of Alabama’s Third Congressional District. It’s a defeat Turnham saw as difficult to swallow, but might have served as the springboard for writing his book.

“It emanated after the 2002 loss,” he said. “Politically, I was disappointed. I felt like that was my chance in the blocks in the Olympics and I didn’t win a medal.”
In that, he learned to deal with humility.

“… We will be tested. We will suffer loss. Yet we should praise God in all of life’s circumstances. We should never blame God or others for our earthly travails. When we remain steadfast and devoted to God, repent of our sense of entitlement, and put others first in prayer and deed, God will deliver us and bless us …” as page 96’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good Leaders” devotional (for March 24) explains.

But the book offers much more than comfort, but also strength-building advice.

“The crushing responsibility of political party leadership really made me want to extract a lot of lessons – the good, bad, fallen, restored, and jealous,” Turnham said. “Political leadership is some of the most difficult because you deal with strife and envy within your own party and then go face the partisan wars. We don’t do this (serve the public) for Ds and Rs (Democrats and Republicans). We do it for a better community.

“Writing this was almost an escape from party politics. At times, it can warp you. It was therapeutic for me.”

Daniel, David and Paul
Though the book discusses the plights and victories of many characters, Turnham named Daniel, David and Paul as some of his favorites.

“I love Daniel and David a whole lot. I grew to like Paul more because where he came from,” he said. “But in the case of Daniel, he was taken captive and bloomed where he was planted in a way that most people find to be incredibly difficult. He took everything that happened to him and made it beautiful. Daniel and David were men that God loved greatly.

“I grew up in politics and David grew up in politics. I felt persecuted in my political journey. Saul persecuted David, and David messed up and was still able to lead. In politics, you have to be a bit of a warrior. Like David, you have to say and do tough things. A lot of times we must do things that are right, but aren’t popular.”

Ladies, don’t think the book applies only to men. Lessons learned from many women in the Bible, including Rahab, Sarah, Mary and Esther are shared.

Turnham also applies lessons learned in the Bible toward strengthening his own party.

“Party building is similar to what the early church faced. Timothy, Peter and Paul had to deal with building the early church amid controversy, in-fighting, lack of resources – which is not unlike being the a party chairman,” he said.

Sharing his work
Mike Hubbard, Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, had a chance to review Turnham’s work.

“I think a lot of Joe and I agree with Joe on a lot of issues,” said Hubbard, who noted that Turnham referred to him as “a worthy adversary” in his signed copy.

“He’s definitely right on religion, we just differ on politics. But religion is more important. I’ve enjoyed what I have read and I hope it inspires people.”

Through Democratic Party leaders, Turnham also sent signed copies of his book to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, of Auburn, and President Obama himself.

“I said, ‘In your lonely and quiet times and feel the weight of humanity on your shoulders, maybe something in this book will help you find comfort.”

Turnham said the book can be purchased online at amazon.com, selah.com and at joeturnham.com, or locally at the Gnus Room in Auburn.

He is working toward having the book in other retail stores.

A great thing about Turnham’s work is its timeliness. It can be studied next week, next month, or even next year.

“It’s not dated,” Turnham said. “It will still be pertinent 10, 100 years from now.”

He’s right. Lessons learned never grow old.