Meet the candidate: Barbara Phifer
Barbara Phifer, political newcomer and life-long Methodist pastor, entered the race for the Missouri House of Representatives Feb. 25.
After graduating from Cornell College in Iowa and St. Paul School of Theology, Phifer became a pioneer, ordained as one of the first female Methodist pastors in Missouri. She then served as a pastor for 41 years throughout Missouri, giving sermons about faith and social justice. Despite having a growing passion for human rights, Phifer did not think of running until after retiring. She consulted with her family and decided to start her campaign to pick up where Deb Lavender (D-90) is leaving off.
“The last 20 years have been a race to the bottom for Missouri. Funding for public education, healthcare and secondary education have all gone down,” Phifer said. “We are impoverishing ourselves and our future. I want Missouri to be a great place for my grandchildren to live and flourish.”
Phifer lives in a house designed by herself and her husband with grandchildren constantly running about and playing together. With five children and seven grandchildren, Phifer devotes a lot of time to her family (one of the grandchildren, Skylie, sat perched in Phifer’s lap for a large portion of the interview).
If elected, Phifer plans to focus on expanding Medicaid, increasing funding for public education and working to build systems to hold law enforcement accountable while supporting them in their difficult work. (She details all of her priorities and intentions on her website here.)
In terms of social justice, Phifer wants to support bills that fight for a woman’s right to choose, gun control and non-discrimination. Specifically, Phifer voiced her support of the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act (MONA), which would add the LGBTQ+ community to the list of protected groups under the Missouri Human Rights Act.
Phifer, in her time as a pastor, had a five-year period where she preached in Montevideo, Uruguay under a dictatorship where she saw human rights violations up-close and personal. Under the ironclad rule of Aparicio Méndez and Gregorio Conrado Álvarez, pastors were forced to show their sermons to government officials for approval and were heavily censored; many pastors were captured as prisoners of war and faced oppression. Phifer witnessed what happens when a government oversteps its bounds.
“My experience in Uruguay has given me an understanding of the dangers of authoritarianism, which is what I see in the [Republican] party right now,” Phifer said. “I’m extremely concerned about it because I know what can happen; I’ve lived with the results of a dictatorship.”
Phifer said religion played a large role in the creation of her beliefs and platform as a candidate. She believes community is one of the most important things in life, and with the election of President Donald Trump, she has seen people pulling away from each other, not caring for their neighbors as they should.
“I enjoy people and getting to know them, and hearing their stories. We’ve been gifted with this beautiful planet, it’s extraordinary. I view [running for office] as a continuation of my life’s work as a pastor,” Phifer said. “Being a pastor continues until death, it’s part of my identity.”
In her past, Phifer served as president of Acción Social Comunitaria, a nonprofit which provides health care to impoverished families in St. Louis, and helped her church create a counseling center for children affected by a landfill in the Bridgeton, Mo. area which produces radioactive waste.
“I have roots that are 30 years old here in Kirkwood,” Phifer said. “I’m a person who knows what I believe, I care about this community, and I’m offering myself as a candidate.”