The government shutdown is frustrating on many levels. I do think the House Republicans are silly in their demands that the President would simply cave and let signature program of his tenure be dismantled (and I say that as someone that has issues with the Affordable Care Act).
But as much as the House GOP bothers me, I am more upset over how some clergy are reacting to the shutdown. They are basically showing their true partisan colors and being all in all rather nasty. It seems like some clergy are revealing who or what they put their trust in and it’s not God.
It’s not a secret that many clergy within the mainline Protestant denominations are liberal. Being some that is libertarian-ish within the Mainline Church isn’t easy, but this is where I hang my hat so I deal with it. I’m not bothered that my colleagues are liberal. What bothers me is how highly partisan they are in this situation, using their faith not to share Christ, but to further a political agenda. I didn’t like it when I saw conservative pastors doing that in the churches of my youth. I sure as hell don’t like any more now that the tables have turned.
My progressive clergy friends don’t really see how their faith can slip into partisanship. It’s rather easy to look at the other sides sins, but hard to see your own-especially when you think you are on God’s side.
That lack of humility has been on display the last few days. Two blog posts have come up that show how easy it is to follow a political parties’ agenda instead of Christ.
First up is James Wellman. Writing on his blog he urges congressional Democrats to be merciless towards Republicans:
To my liberal friends, and I’m not even sure I’m a liberal or a progressive. You (we) are known for our soft hearts and soft heads, well, on this one we need to get hard. Our Republican friends have counted on us to be compromising, nice, forgiving, but no more, not on this one. Jesus was not nice, he was hard and tough and he demanded love and justice from his followers. He said, “If you don’t serve the poor and the helpless, you do not know me” (Matthew 25).
Time to stand up folks. Nice, liberal, soft hearted types, time to stand up and get hard. Demand no more compromise with the Republican House of Representatives–a group that the arch conservative New York Republican congressmen called “terrorists.” No, not my language, one of their own said this about these folks. Time to get hard folks. Andrew Sullivan, a sane conservative, calls the Republican Party the Party of Nullification–this is a must read.
Wellman lays every problem America faces at the feet of Republicans. He now urges everyone to not compromise, because democracy itself is at stake. HIs apocalyptic language reminds me of the words used to describe the coming of the Affordable Care Act.
In a similar vein Jan Linn also issues his cri de coeur and even throws in a line or two about firing journalists who don’t share his anger:
The shutdown is too important not to discuss it again…and again…and again.
One thing is clear. The news media is proving to be its usual inept self in this mess. and the public needs to see what they are doing.
The government shutdown is NOT a “standoff.” It’s NOT a “stalemate.” It’s NOT an impasse. It’s NOT a waiting game to see who blinks first.
This shutdown is an unconstitutional power grab by the Republicans who refuse to accept the re-election of Barak Obama and now want to subvert our nation’s democratic process to undo a law he sponsored that was passed by the Congress and determined by the Supreme Court to be constitutional. Let’s be clear. This is a constitutional crisis that will determine the future of our government.
Here’s why I say this. If the Republicans win, then next year they will be able to do the same thing with Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security they are doing with Obamacare. In other words, to force changes they want such as, say, privatizing Social Security, they will be able to shut down the government until they get their way. “We will get what we want one way or another” is now the Tea Party mantra.
Now I know Jan. The shutdown is not a good thing, but this is not the equivalent of the Nazis burning down the Reichstag. Also, I’m curious if Linn or Wellman know that there were several shutdowns during the Reagan years, all started by Democrats. Somehow the Union survived and I think it will survive this shutdown as well.
What these blog posts show is not people being prophetic, calling society to care for the poor. No, what they show is two liberals cloaking their partisanship in religious garb- kinda like what the Religious Right has done for 30 or so years.
As liberals, conservatives, libertarians and whatever else is out there, we have opinions on how society should work. We are all biased in some way. As Americans we will differ on the politics of the matter. As Christians, we should be able to see the person we disagree with as a fellow child of God instead of the harbinger of doom.
Should there be times when we call a spade a spade? Yes. But even then, it should be spoken more in love than in hate. The statements of Linn and Wellman were not filled with love or grace. They were graceless, without a drop of mercy. The door of their hearts were shut to their sisters and brothers who happen to be conservative.
Jesus did get angry, but he wasn’t an asshole.
Something has happened in our society where we have lost sight of the humanity of the other. We look at each other as evil incarnate. The shutdown is evidence that we don’t trust the guy accross the table from us. We think the worse of them, instead of the best. We look for ways to shut them down, instead of working with each other in spite of our differences. Blogger Ben Bartlett discusses the current climate not just in DC, but in American society:
Today we are shut down. Large, valuable portions of the American government are closed for business because we could not agree on a basic spending bill. It is a national embarrassment that begins with leaders who cannot compromise.
To call the political climate dysfunctional is a cliche by this point, but I think it’s an instructive exercise to consider the parallels between our government and an unhealthy relationship.
First, consider how our leaders have exacerbated small problems. They have chosen, time and time again, to take strong stances that matter less than the larger issues of the day. They have held the business of governance hostage so they can argue about positions in areas they know will never be resolved.
Second, our leaders have refused to accept any blame for their part. Far more time is spent attempting to explain why the other side is wrong than is spent actually talking about workable solutions. Each side assumes that the only viable solution is their own, and that the opposition cannot have anything of value to offer.
Third, we have become more focused on petty problems than the larger needs of the country and the world. A government shutdown is an expensive thing, but it does not carry the same weight as questions of extreme poverty, civil war, or repression of minorities. Yet all those problems are happening in our world, and we relegate them to secondary status while we navel gaze a simple spending bill.
Fourth, we have lost the idea of trust in the other. Our extreme inter-connectedness presents us with more options for information and relationship intake than we can possibly pursue. As a result, we tend to pursue those who share views similar to our own. When groups of people self-reinforce their preconceived ideas and have endless support for their view of the world, they close themselves off to new thoughts and wisdom. They become less able to see the truth from any perspective but their own.
I think as Christians we are called to be agents of reconciliation. What would happen if we left our respective sides just to meet that other and get to know them?
A few nights ago, I met a fellow pastor at a bar. We have different opinions of the role of gay clergy, but nevertheless we talked for hours about politics and faith. Was I stretching my boundaries? Yes. Was I a bit nervous? Yeah. But I left there two hours later, feeling that a bridge was built.
If I had the power to grant wishes, I would wish that people from different viewpoints would sit and chat over coffee (or beer). Maybe if we saw each other as a Child of God, maybe our politics, our nation would be better.