Thursday, April 26, 2001

Faith prompts political exit




By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — Boone County Commissioner Robert Hay's religious beliefs have often influenced the positions he's taken on issues ranging from abortion to zoning.

        Theology has also played a role in one of the most important political and personal decisions Mr. Hay said he has ever made.

        Mr. Hay announced last week that he plans to resign his fiscal court seat within weeks. He had previously said he would not seek a second term in next year's county elections.

        But for the first time Wednesday, Mr. Hay publicly stated that one of the reasons he is leaving politics is to join a Russian Orthodox church in Blue Ash.

        “I guess "calling' would be the word to use to describe my feelings over this,” Mr. Hay said in the living room of his Florence home. “This is something I've been studying and pondering for quite some time, and it's something I felt I needed to do.”

        Raised a Baptist, Mr. Hay is considered one of the leaders of the region's politically active anti-abortion movement and has been involved with Christian fundamentalists who have helped build Boone County into a Republican stronghold.

        And while Mr. Hay, a pharmacist, has not ruled out a return to politics, he wants to devote more of his time to his new church, helping his family — his wife, Anita, and their six children — become acclimated to the Orthodox religion.

        Mr. Hay said members of his former church, the Independent Baptist Fellowship in Cincinnati, did not respond well when they learned he was pondering the move to the Russian Orthodox church.

        Mr. Hay claims he was branded a heretic and he and his family were ostracized by members of the church.

        “With the decision to become Orthodox made, it became clear that I needed more time and focus to devote to my family in order to bring them along in the faith after such a traumatic introduction,” he said.

        “In addition, Orthodoxy stresses the quality of humility in the Christian,” Mr. Hay said. “Somehow, running for re-election and having to tout my accomplishments as a commissioner seemed to fly in the face of humility.”

        Mr. Hay said Russian Orthodoxy closely resembles Roman Catholicism. He was drawn to the religion because of its deep roots back to the time of Jesus Christ and his apostles.

        According to the Web site of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Washington, the religion can be traced to the churches founded by Christ's disciples.

        “Quite simply, it seemed to me that the ... Orthodox Church had maintained fidelity to the faith which was promulgated in the first century.”

        Mr. Hay has been a staunch conservative while serving on the fiscal court and as a member of Florence City Council in the early and mid-1990s.

        Last year he briefly challenged Republican State Sen. Dick Roeding of Lakeside Park, a longtime critic of abortion, because Mr. Hay and other religious conservatives said Mr. Roeding and other Republicans were not working hard enough at passing anti-abortion legislation in the General Assembly.

        Mr. Hay dropped his campaign after Mr. Roeding and Senate Republican leaders called several such bills for votes.

        As a member of the Northern Kentucky Independent Health District board, Mr. Hay has unsuccessfully attempted to persuade fellow board members to remove contraceptives from clinics operated by the health department in Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Grant counties.

        Contrary to the health department's position, Mr. Hay believes birth control pills cause abortions.

        And while on Florence council, he voted against a zone change requested by a Target store because the retailer's parent had contributed to organizations that promote abortion rights.

        Former Boone County state senator Gex Williams, who was frequently advised by Mr. Hay in past campaigns, is surprised Mr. Hay is leaving politics.

        “I knew he's been interested in the Orthodox church but I had no idea he planned to leave the fiscal court,” Mr. Williams said. “But he has some very strong beliefs and I'm sure he wants to spend as much time as he can pursuing them.”

        Boone County Judge-executive Gary Moore, who serves on the fiscal court with Mr. Hay, said he is not shocked by his colleague's decisions.

        “I know Robert's priorities have always been his faith and his family ahead of even his career and public office,” Mr. Moore said. “I respect and honor that because those things are important to me as well. I just wish him the best in everything he does in the future.”

       



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