2.07.2008

Politics

My 23-year-old son is a huge fan of Barack Obama, and calls just to talk to me about politics. I am not a fan of Obama, but somehow we manage to have not only civil but actually enjoyable conversations! (I am a fan of Mike, my son, and he seems to be less discounting of me and my opinions than he was even a few months ago. So we've go that going for us!)

One of the things we've been observing is just how much of the popular vote is really based on sound-bites and photo ops and a general "buzz" of "information" shared between voters that often has nothing to do with reality. He changed my plans for Super Tuesday by urging me to actually read the position statement of the person I was going to support in the primary, and I was amazed to find how different my belief about that candidate was from his published campaign position statements! And I love this quote from Mike just yesterday: "The first woman president will look like Katie Couric, not like Hillary Clinton. Male or female candidates are judged primarily on their appearance!"

It does take a little bit of work to educate yourself about the issues and about the candidates, but it is part of governing -- part of fulfilling the responsibility God has given each one of us under this form of representative democracy. It is interesting that we ignore all the places that scripture calls us to fulfill responsibility well (as in "care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God" and in "as each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God") and act as though we are being the faithful stewards we are called to be by fulfilling the command to submit to the governing authorities. The fact is that we are poor stewards and not in submission to God's authority in our situation if we do not participate in the process of electing those to whom we later should indeed submit. We need to read the position statements and we need to vote.

Much of spiritual and mental health can be summed up by the simple idea of fulfilling the responsibility that is indeed mine to fulfill and letting go of the need to force others to fulfill their proper responsibilities. It is my responsibility to speak the truth in love when God calls me to do that, but it is not my responsibility to make others listen. It is my responsibility to love them with agape love whether they listen or not.

Our presbyterian churches and denominations are full of people who get all these concepts, and also full of us who do not. American representative democracy was created out of the concepts of presbyterian polity, and many of us presbyterians have a good grasp of our proper political responsibilities in our national process but miss the connection to our responsibilities in our church governance. Presbyterian polity is also based on the concept of a representative stewardship of authority on behalf of the whole congregational body, yet we err either on the side of neglect of the "bottom up" responsibilities to pick leaders and voice our perceptions of truth or on the side of neglect of the "top down" responsibilities to truly act as stewards of the well-being of the whole body as seen from the perspective of those not in leadership. (This is not to say that those in leadership positions are not first responsible to God. It is to say that we all are first responsible to God, and that He speaks through all the perspectives in the Body of believers as we live life and interact with Scripture together.) Here again, "submission to authority" means educating ourselves as to the issues and voicing our perception of truth as we listen to every other voiced perception. Anything else is irresponsible.

In both arenas -- presbyterian polity and American representative democracy -- God has called those at the bottom to exercise their responsibility just as deliberately as those at the top. If we do not, we will be held responsible by Him for the errors of those in elected leadership, despite our weak excuses of powerlessness.

And I thought I could just "opt out" because I needed to put away my clean laundry or because I'd filled my life so full of social commitments and other actual responsibilities! Oh, well!

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