Monday, April 18, 2016

Politics 2016

English has some evocative, anthropomorphic collective nouns for groups of animals. For example, a group of lions is a pride, of whales is a pod, of crows is a murder, and of geese is a flock. One the loudest, most obnoxious, aggressive, and least intelligent primates is the baboon. A group of baboons is, perhaps appropriately, a congress.

Pundits frequently bemoan the lack of great candidates running to become the next president of the United States. A woman with whom I recently spoke voiced considerable frustration that in a nation of 300 million plus people, the political process could not identify stronger candidates. She also lamented the apparent dominance of the political process by a handful of families.

Democracy breaks down when citizens cease to feel that they own the political process. Among worrisome signs of this disengagement from politics are (1) lower voting rates, (2) fewer people identifying with a political party, (3) political outcomes that increasingly benefit the privileged few, and (4) describing the government as "them" rather than "us."

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have both tapped into this disaffection, albeit from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Sanders is a self-described socialist who caucuses with the Democrats although not a member of the party. Trump lacks political experience and often attracts supporters who identify with his disdain for politics even though they disagree with his policy positions.

What would Jesus do?

First, Jesus understood human connectivity. Jesus described himself as the vine and his followers as branches. This metaphor emphasizes the essential connectivity between people through which life flows. The Apostle Paul described the Church as the body of Christ. In this metaphor, life and usefulness both depend upon a member's connection to the body. More broadly, the Psalmist describes humans as God's vice regents to whom God has entrusted the responsibility of caring for creation. This metaphor, which was familiar to Jesus who was a Jew and steeped in the Scriptures, underscores the mutual interdependence of all life and the key role that humans play in sustaining creation.

Second, the aim of politics for God's people is about living together peacefully. Peace, in both Greek and Hebrew, denotes the fullness of human flourishing and well-being. Because of our connections to one another and to creation, peace results only when all flourish and have equal opportunity to achieve well-being. Jesus, himself a political animal, sought to promote human flourishing in his teaching, healings, and way of life. Similarly, Jesus calls his followers to be peacemakers.

Third, I think that Jesus would weep over the current state of politics in the United States. He would find the almost complete absence of concern about other people disheartening and see the proclivity of Christians to promote narrowly focused, self-serving agendas as clear evidence that his alleged followers had failed to comprehend the basics precepts of his teachings and love.

Perhaps recovering Jesus' political agenda in 2016 begins with getting to know Jesus again, and then attempting to imagine him onstage in both Republican and Democrat presidential debates.

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