Waiting on the World to Change

The following is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote (but never published) in October, 2008, while I was in graduate school. I’m including it here, because I’m trying to wrestle through so much of this stuff (still!):

For the last 2-3 months (and even more in the last 3 weeks), I’ve been trying to make sense of all the information about Obama and Biden vs. McCain and Palin. It’s been interesting, but it’s also been pretty difficult. This election seems to have so much importance. It also seems to be even more polarizing and divisive than previous elections. And I’ve been feeling like people are pulling out all the stops when it comes to the election. I live nowhere near D. C. and I can’t believe all that I’m being bombarded with; I can’t imagine the craziness that must be D. C. right now! We talk about it in my Discourse Analysis class, in my Sociolinguistics class, I get emails from all of my friends regularly–passing along headlines and even “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Candidates” lists. In fact, even my family is doing all they can to sway me! And for several years I’ve avoided talking to my family about politics. Mostly because where I stand differs pretty significantly from where they stand.

After the last election, I started really looking at my beliefs and principles, wanting to define them (or at least put them in the right box–as if that’s even possible?), because I found that neither the Left nor the Right aligned with what I believe. I found that I was so sick of the way the Right had behaved during the election of 2004. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t want Kerry to win. But the way the Right acted as if they had a monopoly on discussions of faith’s intersection with politics really put a sour taste in my mouth. The fact that the Left danced around and pretty much refused to acknowledge that intersection also left me wanting. I found, in my efforts to learn more about politics in general and my own politics specifically, a book and a website, both by Jim Wallis. God’s Politics and Sojourners gave voice to my feelings that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. The subtitle of the book is “Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It”, and it is a telling revelation of the fact that politics and faith must intersect and must flow into and out of each other…

There is so much more to the sanctity of human life than the abortion issue! What about the human trafficking and slavery going on around the world? What about the genocide in Darfur? And the soldiers losing their lives in the Middle East? And where are our candidates talking about relieving poverty and forgiving debts, or taking care of the widows, the fatherless and the orphans? All of these issues are salient examples of where we as Christians need to step out and make a difference. And all of these are places where we’re called to “do this to the least of these”.

This is an important election… there are important issues and priorities that both candidates want to address. Would that one candidate aligned completely with all my beliefs! I have seriously made a list of all the issues–and where the candidates stand on each of them–and I am underwhelmed with both the Republicans and the Democrats. So, in trying to make sense of all of the rhetoric and mudslinging, I’m taking Jim Wallis’s most recent advice: I made a list of my faith priorities, just as he did in his most recent blog post. Please read below for Wallis’s own faith priorities. I’ve included the entire blog post, because my own words fall short:

“In 2004, several conservative Catholic bishops and a few megachurch pastors like Rick Warren issued their list of “non-negotiables,” which were intended to be a voter guide for their followers. All of them were relatively the same list of issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. None of them even included the word “poverty,” only one example of the missing issues which are found quite clearly in the Bible. All of them were also relatively the same as official Republican Party Web sites of “non-negotiables.” The political connections and commitments of the religious non-negotiable writers were quite clear.

I want to suggest a different approach this year and share my personal list of “faith priorities” that will guide me in making the imperfect choices that always confront us in any election year — and suggest that each of you come up with your own list of “faith” or “moral” priorities for this election year and take them into the voting booth with you.

After the last election, I wrote a book titled God’s Politics. I was criticized by some for presuming to speak for God, but that wasn’t the point. I was trying to explore what issues might be closest to the heart of God and how they may be quite different from what many strident religious voices were then saying. I was also saying that “God’s Politics” will often turn our partisan politics upside down, transcend our ideological categories of Left and Right, and challenge the core values and priorities of our political culture. I was also trying to say that there is certainly no easy jump from God’s politics to either the Republicans or Democrats. God is neither. In any election we face imperfect choices, but our choices should reflect the things we believe God cares about if we are people of faith, and our own moral sensibilities if we are not people of faith. Therefore, people of faith, and all of us, should be “values voters” but vote all our values, not just a few that can be easily manipulated for the benefit of one party or another.

In 2008, the kingdom of God is not on the ballot in any of the 50 states as far as I can see. So we can’t vote for that this year. But there are important choices in this year’s election — very important choices — which will dramatically impact what many in the religious community and outside of it call “the common good,” and the outcome could be very important, perhaps even more so than in many recent electoral contests.

I am in no position to tell anyone what is “non-negotiable,” and neither is any bishop or megachurch pastor, but let me tell you the “faith priorities” and values I will be voting on this year:

1.    With more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about how we treat the poor and oppressed, I will examine the record, plans, policies, and promises made by the candidates on what they will do to overcome the scandal of extreme global poverty and the shame of such unnecessary domestic poverty in the richest nation in the world. Such a central theme of the Bible simply cannot be ignored at election time, as too many Christians have done for years. And any solution to the economic crisis that simply bails out the rich, and even the middle class, but ignores those at the bottom should simply be unacceptable to people of faith.

2.   From the biblical prophets to Jesus, there is, at least, a biblical presumption against war and the hope of beating our swords into instruments of peace. So I will choose the candidates who will be least likely to lead us into more disastrous wars and find better ways to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world and make us all safer. I will choose the candidates who seem to best understand that our security depends upon other people’s security (everyone having “their own vine and fig tree, so no one can make them afraid,” as the prophets say) more than upon how high we can build walls or a stockpile of weapons. Christians should never expect a pacifist president, but we can insist on one who views military force only as a very last resort, when all other diplomatic and economic measures have failed, and never as a preferred or habitual response to conflict.

3. “Choosing life” is a constant biblical theme, so I will choose candidates who have the most consistent ethic of life, addressing all the threats to human life and dignity that we face — not just one. Thirty-thousand children dying globally each day of preventable hunger and disease is a life issue. The genocide in Darfur is a life issue. Health care is a life issue. War is a life issue. The death penalty is a life issue. And on abortion, I will choose candidates who have the best chance to pursue the practical and proven policies which could dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and therefore save precious unborn lives, rather than those who simply repeat the polarized legal debates and “pro-choice” and “pro-life” mantras from either side.

4. God’s fragile creation is clearly under assault, and I will choose the candidates who will likely be most faithful in our care of the environment. In particular, I will choose the candidates who will most clearly take on the growing threat of climate change, and who have the strongest commitment to the conversion of our economy and way of life to a cleaner, safer, and more renewable energy future. And that choice could accomplish other key moral priorities like the redemption of a dangerous foreign policy built on Middle East oil dependence, and the great prospects of job creation and economic renewal from a new “green” economy built on more spiritual values of conservation, stewardship, sustainability, respect, responsibility, co-dependence, modesty, and even humility.

5.     Every human being is made in the image of God, so I will choose the candidates who are most likely to protect human rights and human dignity. Sexual and economic slavery is on the rise around the world, and an end to human trafficking must become a top priority. As many religious leaders have now said, torture is completely morally unacceptable, under any circumstances, and I will choose the candidates who are most committed to reversing American policy on the treatment of prisoners. And I will choose the candidates who understand that the immigration system is totally broken and needs comprehensive reform, but must be changed in ways that are compassionate, fair, just, and consistent with the biblical command to “welcome the stranger.”

6.    Healthy families are the foundation of our community life, and nothing is more important than how we are raising up the next generation. As the father of two young boys, I am deeply concerned about the values our leaders model in the midst of the cultural degeneracy assaulting our children. Which candidates will best exemplify and articulate strong family values, using the White House and other offices as bully pulpits to speak of sexual restraint and integrity, marital fidelity, strong parenting, and putting family values over economic values? And I will choose the candidates who promise to really deal with the enormous economic and cultural pressures that have made parenting such a “countercultural activity” in America today, rather than those who merely scapegoat gay people for the serious problems of heterosexual family breakdown.

That is my list of personal “faith priorities” for the election year of 2008, but they are not “non-negotiables” for anyone else. It’s time for each of us to make up our own list in these next 12 days. Make your list and send this on to your friends and family members, inviting them to do the same thing.” (emphasis, mine)

[end of excerpt]

So here it is going on 2 years after the election. Obama has been in office for almost 2 years, and I’ve done pretty much all I can to totally ignore and tune out most of the news about politics. I’ll read an article online here and there, or watch CNN every once in a while. But for the most part, I don’t want to even hear it because it seems all that ever gets said is “spun” by the media.

And here we are on the eve of another election. It seems that the Tea Party movement and Tea Party patriots are crawling out of the woodwork in order to run against and defeat the incumbents in the 2010 mid-term elections. If the candidates running and defeating the incumbents aren’t avowed Tea Party candidates, they are often backed by the Tea Party, and often carry with them questionable qualifications. I won’t argue that this nation and its political system need a massive overhaul. I would even go so far as to suggest that term limits on those in political office would be a great step in the right direction (our President and Vice President have term limits; why not the members of Congress?). And I support our freedom of speech and our freedom to protest. However, electing people just because they are of the opposing political party or are running against the current members of office is unwise!

I am so very concerned for the state of our nation. However, I think things might just continue to get worse before they get better. I have such a desire to see our nation turn back to God. I have SUCH a desire to see the Body of Christ step in and start acting on what we’re called to do: to be Christ to “the least of these”. But we’re all getting it so very wrong. And I don’t know how to set it straight. But I do know the One who does!

So I’m doing my best to just trust that my God is in control, for He is sovereign! “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the people. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” Psalm 33: 10-11

Maybe this seems a little like giving up? But it’s about all I know to do. That, and wait…

“Me and all my friends
We’re all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There’s no way we ever could

Now we see everything that’s going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means
To rise above and beat it

So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

It’s hard to beat the system
When we’re standing at a distance
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change

Now if we had the power
To bring our neighbors home from war
They would have never missed a Christmas
No more ribbons on their door

And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want

That’s why we’re waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

It’s not that we don’t care,
We just know that the fight ain’t fair
So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

And we’re still waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting waiting on the world to change
One day our generation
Is gonna rule the population
So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change”

~”Waiting on the World to Change”, John Mayer, Continuum