The Preacher Councilor
Salvation on Sunday, politics on Monday
Hundreds showed up at the Soul Rio Church to rock out in honor of the resurrection of Jesus. The church is tucked in a strip mall in southern Rio Rancho, and the pastor is Dan Lewis, Albuquerque’s Westside city councilor.
Lewis, 40, beat incumbent Michael Cadigan in the Oct. 2009 municipal election.
He’s a charismatic family man with boyish good looks. He preaches salvation from the pulpit on Sundays, then steps into the political arena on Mondays, all while running a couple of businesses during the week— Rio Grande Foam, which distributes upholstery supplies, and Rio Grande Rustics, an online furniture company.
He is the only religious leader to be elected to the Albuquerque City Council in living memory.
Soul Rio had its beginnings in 1997 in the Lewis family living room. He says the idea for his church came about because he, his wife Tracy and a group of people wanted a new kind of church for the "unchurched.” In 2000, his gathering multiplied into what he calls “Rio links,” or small groups with the same values meeting in homes across Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. They moved into the strip mall in November 2008. Lewis says there are about 350 members now.
On Easter Sunday this year, three guys with acoustic and electric guitars, an energetic ponytailed drummer and two female singers took the stage to start the service with Christian rock tunes. The words popped up on two large video screens for those moved to sing along. Most of the service was made up of rock-pop style Christian music illustrated by PowerPoint scripture and a 20-minute film connecting the suffering of Jews in Moses' time with the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion.
Pastor Lewis wedged his sermon into a high-tech multimedia show. “The Bible is cool. It is full of honest and fascinating stories,” he said before introducing the biblical video, reminiscent in its graphic nature of the controversial Passion of the Christ.
Taking the pulpit to deliver his message, Lewis looked out at the crowd of about 200 wearing their Easter best. “I see the spiff factor is high today,” he said to them. It was his second sermon of the day. “Are you ready for salvation?”
Lewis wove Bible passages into his message of resurrection and said the soul’s only path to salvation was to be reborn through accepting Jesus.
Cut now to the City Council table where Lewis sits representing the northern portion of the city’s Westside. (District 5 is the largest in the state.) Here he has to put aside his preaching and become government, acknowledging the line between church and state. At City Council meetings, a steady stream of citizens with a wide variety of concerns take the secular pulpit. Speakers jockey for a position within the city’s budget and finances.
Lewis does not openly mix his religious views with his duties as a councilor. He represents at least 48,000 registered voters—and thousands more Westside residents—with a variety of spiritual and nonspiritual beliefs. What does he have to say about his dual roles? Lewis answered the Alibi’s questions in-person and through e-mail.