What politicians should learn from pastors
"There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin." ~ Linus
Some subjects tend to divide the moment you discuss them, and it's one of the most unfortunate and wretched states of our culture. During this political season, it's almost impossible to have a rational discussion with someone who votes differently. Heat, rather than light, too often enters the conversation. So I post today with some concern about the nature of the response.
I'll confess to being a political junkie. I love politics and the intricacies of leading a nation by democratic principles. It may be because as a minister, I work in relationships as well. As the leader of a church, I have been tasked with the prospect of changing people's minds from one perspective to another. That's actually what the Greek word - metanoia - that we translate as "repent" literally means - "to change one's mind about."
In politics, it's extremely difficult to change one party's mind. Some would say it's impossible. In the face of retrenchment, it often looks like Republicans and Democrats refuse to come to the table to have rational discussion about mutual goals. It is disconcerting that much of what we see from Congress or the White House does not actually represent us.
Build consensus about right things
In this contentious political season, here's one thing politicians could learn from a pastor: Build consensus about right things. In the church, when there are strong differing opinions about an issue, it's important to proceed with grace, caution, love and yes, diplomacy. Two quick notes:
There are times that pastors and church leaders have to stand strong and "fight" for issues. These would be matters of biblical truth that are essential to salvation or clearly revealed in scripture.
There are times that it's important to compromise because some contentious issues are matters of preference, style or personality, that while they are important, the when and how of those battles can be chosen with wisdom for the greatest consensus.
A good case in point is the pastor who goes to a conference and while there is moved by the contemporary worship style. He knows his church is more traditional in its worship styles, but on his return, determines to implement a new worship style in his congregation. Feelings are hurt and tempers flare. People feel ignored or slighted. The pastor digs battle lines, insisting that by not having contemporary worship, "they" are ignoring the younger generations who prefer it.
What a pastor in this or a similar circumstance doesn't realize, is that he's heading for a "business meeting." There will be a vote there. It will fall along the lines of "us and them," and it will result in the most feared words in churchianity - a split.
Churches implode on issues that may be of great importance, strategy or even style, but they are handled in the wrong way and in poor timing. Relationships are lost and people are bruised in contests of our wills. The wise pastor learns and understands that there are better ways to move a people forward. Almost all of them take time, prayer, counsel, and deep relational investment.
Breaking fellowship with Obamacare
Politicians have missed this. In fact, the scene above was repeated in much the same way, but over another issue in 2009. The Affordable Health Care for America Act, H.R. 3962, was passed in the House on Saturday, November 7 of that year by a vote of 220-215 with support of the majority of Democrats, together with one Republican who voted only after the necessary 218 votes had already been cast. Thirty-nine Democrats voted against the bill. (Source)
It was an "us-them" moment over an important issue. One party ramrodded their preferences through because they had the power and the resulting votes to do so. It's happened before and will happen again.
Think about how that would go over in a church.
People can leave your church. Few - a mighty slim few - can leave the country. Many of those with the dollars to do so are the very ones who in the past four years have forced their will on an unhappy electorate. Another "for instance" is the reality that 62% of Americans want all or most abortions illegal. (Source) Yet if the Democrats win control of both house of Congress in 2012, their party platform embraces abortion without exception. In fact, Obamacare provides financing for abortion currently.
In regards to the abortion issue alone, if the country had a "business meeting" where every citizen's vote counted (like in a church), only 2% of the abortions performed today would be legal.
...with a large percentage of Americans opposing abortions except in cases such as taking of the life of the mother, or cases of rape or incest – both of which, combined, constitute less than two percent of all abortions in the nation, according to the Guttmacher Institute – most Americans truly want 100% or 98 percent of the 1.2 million abortions a year made illegal.
Before you're tempted to say, "but the country does have a business meeting like a church, it's called an election," let me just say that it's painfully obvious that many of our elected officials do not vote or lead in the manner that their constituents would have them do so. And then there's this thing called the electoral college. (See my post called "Electoral Smectoral")
Politicians and pastors
Both are professions in which building consensus and relationships are key. Both are professions that elicit negative feelings from the population. Both have documents for their guides and foundational principles. And in both professions, the trouble comes when those guidelines and principles are misinterpreted or ignored.
From one pastor who is continuing to learn the beautiful complexities of influencing people and seeing minds changed to any politician who may read this: Build consensus. Build it about the right things in the right way and with the right timing. Please. The only splits that are really good are banana.