Exhausted? Disgusted? Scared? I am not sure which adjective best describes the mood we’re in this political season. As a pastor, I’ve been preaching and blogging about how to maintain spiritual equilibrium while staying invested in this broken world. You have to breathe. Have a respectful conversation with someone on the other side. I tell religious people God isn’t a Democrat or a Republican, that both sides have glimmers of truth, and they also have the inevitable dumb and even dangerous stuff.
I’m pretty sure of this: God is asking us to fix politics. Instead of complaining about politics, or chafing under politics, we change it. We really can, but only when we stop feeling like victims. John Danforth, former Republican senator and ambassador to the United Nations, is right: “The main culprit behind our broken government isn’t the 535 members who serve in Washington; it’s the public to whom the members respond. We are the culprits when we are so intent on getting our way and so certain of our ideology that we really don’t want a structure where others are heard and differences are resolved, and we let our politicians know it.”
In a democracy, we get precisely the government we ask for. Once upon a time, “compromise” was a virtue. But we’ve made it into a bad word, so we elect unbending, extreme candidates and demand they never give an inch. If a candidate we don’t like wins, we hope he fails, so then we might get power back, only to suffer the other guys striving to ensure we fail. What if we insisted that our elected officials compromise, find a workable center, and get things done with the other guys?
We complain about negative campaigning, but they only do it because we respond to it. We’re addicted to character assassination, fact-checkers and mockery. Why then are we surprised we’re trying to figure out which candidate is the lesser of two evils?
We fawn over arrogant candidates. But what if we supported those who were humble? Humility is a virtue. The humble know what they don’t know, and how much help they need. The humble happily change their minds. Why do we trash candidates for “waffling” instead of applauding them for making progress? My grandparents were humble. They had a photo of President Dwight Eisenhower hanging in their den; they prayed for him daily. When John Kennedy, from the other party, was elected, they took down the Eisenhower photo and put up one of Kennedy.
A thrilling moment of my childhood was Kennedy’s ringing appeal: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” No politician today says anything remotely kin to that. What if we sought out and elected candidates who would ask us to do what must happen for the world to change: sacrifice.
Laws and elected officials matter. But they are not the only way, and probably aren’t the best way, to achieve real cultural change. How do we fix politics? We fix ourselves. We fix our neighborhoods and communities. We get up off our knees, we get out from in front of the TV, we stop our griping, and we renew what it means to be citizens instead of consumers or critics, to do the good this challenging time requires of us.
James Howell is Senior Pastor, Myers Park United Methodist Church.