Give Politics a Chance

“The people are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson

Interior design isn’t my thing. I enjoy a nice home, sure, but start talking about spackle, crown molding – or colors spelled with more than six letters – and I’m out of my depth.

The extent of my furniture buying is to venture into Ikea every four years or so, flanked by friends or family as backup. Overall, except for rooms with little visual jazz, this lack of interest results in no harm done. It’s livable.

How I treat interior design is how many treat politics. The problem with that is, public policy isn’t a boring room you can just ignore.

Even here in Washington, where people breathe this stuff, some friends cynically brush off discussion of the debt ceiling, energy depletion or defense strategy. “It’s all just theater… partisan bickering… a worldly pursuit.” In the right company, the rant will likely end with, “Throw the bums out!”

Every four years many of these folks “hold their nose” and vote—which is a good thing. The truth is, battles are raging every day in the halls of power, deciding where your tax dollars are spent – and how much. It’s worth your time and attention to follow what’s going on and make your voice heard. If people of faith, energy and creativity stayed involved, America would right itself.

I was a cynic about all this not long ago. Sometime during the ’08 election cycle while listening to talk radio and laughing at their put-downs of the other side, a question began to nag at me: What’s really going on? And if it is important, could I contribute in some way? The truth of the matter had to be more complex than these entertainers made it seem.

The journey towards that truth led me to leave a job in Colorado Springs, facing 14 months of internships and unemployment in the DC area. It’s a story too long to tell here. Suffice to say, God provided and guided my steps. Through mistakes, false starts and lost debates, a few guideposts have helped me make better sense of politics.

Sources Matter

Everyone has a reason for believing what he or she does. Yet what passes for solid conventional wisdom (say, ending foreign aid would solve America’s budget problem) is often flat wrong. And our personal experiences often supersede the bigger picture revealed by trends.

To arrive at anything near truth, take in a lot of reliable information from many sources. That’s the heart of writing research and intelligence: the ability to collect diverse facts, reams of data, wildly different perspectives – and fairly synthesize that information into summary points. Otherwise, it’s just your opinion.

It’s why I make an effort to tune in to NPR as well as Dennis Prager, subscribing to The Hill and The Morning Bell e-newsletters, and watching for updates at both census.gov and the Fortune 500. As Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”

Tone Matters

Let’s assume you successfully discover some new reality from multiple sources, on an issue you believe matters. Time for the talk. (No, not the one about the birds and bees.)

It’s easier to discuss the weather and your health instead of politics and religion. Agreeing to disagree is common even among allies. As a friend told me recently: “She knows what I think, and I know her side – we just don’t bring up those issues where we disagree.”

But then no one learns anything. I talk politics with friends (and strangers) to gain from their perspective. When we differ on the big questions, I try to listen and be persuasive. This is sadly a rare thing in political circles. TV and radio airwaves are blasting with people talking over each other rather than to each other.

Back to that same chapter in Proverbs, verse 15 states: “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” Conceding a point, being empathetic, and refusing to call names all help bring people around to your point of view. Where it gets tricky is when a kind tone collides with core moral priorities.

Priorities Matter

Voices like Jim Wallis regularly call for Christians involved in politics to “broaden their agenda” and stop focusing so much on issues like abortion and traditional marriage. True enough, the Gospel has a lot to say about poverty, the rule of law, stewardship, education and even transportation.

From where I stand, we also cannot kid ourselves. There is a true hierarchy of issues when we consider the world in moral terms. How oil drilling affects the environment, and what’s economically feasible to be a good steward, has a moral angle to it. But the violent killing of over 14 million babies worldwide every year by sucking their brains out is a horrific injustice.

On this, I don’t come across as very nice to some in Washington. The goal is to be truthful, not spineless.

We will never live in a perfect world this side of eternity. Each of us have different roles to play to make our nations, our cities, and our families better, more alive, and more reflective of God’s Kingdom. As a new school year begins, I pray you will discover more of that calling. Sometimes it’s a process of elimination; interior design is not in my future, I’m fairly certain.

No matter your major, I hope you realize the value of understanding and staying involved in politics. Yes, the issues are complex. Yes, my eyes glaze over too after looking at one page of our national budget. Still: this stuff matters.

A former ORU student and University of Colorado graduate, Josh M. Shepherd works at a think tank in Washington, DC.

Cross-posted at ORU Oracle

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