'Tis the season: Can we change politics?

August 11th, 2016

Read Rev. Howell's previous 'Tis the Season articles covering the 2016 election here.

What is God asking of us during this season? Clearly God is asking us to fix ourselves, to be different. But there’s more: I am pretty much persuaded, while allowing plenty of room for the possibility I could be wrong, that God is calling us as Christians to fix politics. Maybe, instead of complaining about politics, or chafing under politics, or trying to squeeze some Christianity in there somewhere, we might find a way to change politics in America. Republican Senator John Danforth’s wish is appealing to me: “I want political people to stop using religion to divide Americans, but I want religious people to become more engaged in fixing politics that is currently broken.”  Wow.  And… how?

For years, religious people thought God was asking them to take control of political life in America, to seize power, get their candidates elected and judges appointed, and usher in more righteous policies. The “Moral Majority” was perhaps the largest sustained effort by Christians to assume power. But that endeavor fizzled. Nowadays, Christians can’t pretend they are the one big thing; if we are to get anything done, it will only be with others at the table.  And Jesus, after all, declined Satan’s offer of political power.
Politics will only change when the people change. We have some expertise here: people change is the Church’s business. Americans blame government for gridlock and all that ails us. But Danforth is absolutely 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.”
What if we let our hearts be converted by the Holy Spirit? Can’t we in the church model unity and how to disagree respectfully? What if we refused to respond to negative campaigning, or repeat negative chatter ourselves? We gripe about negative campaigning; but in this election, all we hear from each other are negatives about who’s running. What if whole congregations phoned up politicians who say “I approve this message” (which they must do due to the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002) and told them Stop! We Americans won’t vote for you if you approve negative messaging
What if a mass of Christian voters got in cahoots with a mass of Jewish, Muslim, and atheist voters and insisted on a very different tone to campaigning and politics? What if we became vocal advocates of compromise? Shrill voices shout “No compromise!” — which is why gridlock wins and nothing gets done. Compromise is a virtue in politics, and even in religious life.
What if, instead of blaming Washington or the courts, we got busy reforming hearts, lives and families in our communities? We know people are broken, sinful, and flawed; but we also know each person is beautiful, wonderfully made in God’s image. So can we appeal to the brighter angels in all of us and ask politicians to do the same?
You may be snickering by now. But seriously: what else will change the country? And where better to begin than with me, and you, and the Church? Cultural change takes a long time, and it’s all about baby steps.

This post originally appeared on the author's blog. Reprinted with permission.
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