Faith & Democracy


Evidently Jesus and the disciples were simply out for a stroll. He wasn’t out to pick a fight with anyone, so far as we can tell from the fascinating story told in the 9th chapter of the Gospel of John, and there’s no suggestion that these strollers had any particular destination in mind. The narrative just tells us that as they were walking along, they spotted someone along the roadside who had been blind from birth.

It hasn’t yet become a daily routine, this going to the well of Congress to approve stopgap-spending bills so the federal government (and, yes, state and local governments, too, since they rely on federal funds for their functionings) can continue to operate. But during this fiscal year, the temporary budget approvals have ranged from three days, to two weeks (twice), to two months, to ten weeks. The spending bill being considered currently is for another three weeks.

It is disconcerting to think that the possibilities for personal freedom and well-being intended by the founders at the birth of our republic have not been realized in the way or to the extent they envisioned. Their experiment in democracy became a work-in-progress for succeeding generations, and we still haven’t quite got it right.

What is happening right now with the Illinois budget in Springfield is pitiful. Advocates and human services officials can do little more than fight over, and try to protect, what few scraps and breadcrumbs remain for the poor, and, increasingly, for the middle class.

It appears that we got what we asked for. Back in the eighteenth century, we asked for a liberal democratic government that secured and protected personal economic liberty, and that’s what we have. We wanted a government to guard everyone’s freedom to assure that minority interests and concerns would not be trammeled on by the majority. We coveted a political system that had the capacity to resolve conflicts and competing interests while maximizing freedom. We sought a government that we could form and change when it needed changing and keep when it did right by us.

I think Jesus would have had it in him to tolerate Valentine’s Day. But just barely.
After all, if you believe what is and isn’t in scripture, to say nothing about how the tradition has dealt with Jesus’ sexuality and love life, it’s pretty clear he didn’t have a sweetheart who would have received chocolates on the Galilean equivalent of our February 14.

...when the 96th General Assembly adjourned on January 11th, they left one crucial bill on the table. The comprehensive plan to achieve fiscal stability had included not only new revenue but also the issuing of debt restructuring bonds, so that the state could pay back the billions of dollars it owes to agencies, hospitals, schools, and businesses. In fact, the tax increase legislation specifically designated a portion of the new revenue to go towards the paying back the debt-restructuring bond. Unfortunately, the House failed to pass the bill and thus, the Senate never even got a chance to consider it.

Christians argue with each other about the meaning and relevance of Paul’s exhortation to believers to be subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-2). Obviously a tiny religious minority who revered a man executed as a criminal by the authorities had no leverage to secure its own benefit and liberty in an empire ruled by a pitiless emperor. As Paul saw it, the best chance for the early Christians to survive was to submit to the ruling authorities in all ways without resistance. The reason was simple: this authority had been established by God, so bucking civil authority was bucking God. The fact that civil authority was exploitive and oppressive was not important. Obedience was what was important.

“Do you recall the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? We are told that had there been ten righteous men, the city would have been saved. For some time now, I have had the sneaking suspicion that there _were_ 10 righteous men, but their righteousness wasn’t [_relevant_]. And that, I think, is the problem with the church.” --William Sloane Coffin

In the fall of 2010, I conducted an education session in a church on the Illinois state budget crisis--agencies closing, human services being gutted, no real hope immediately in sight. The minister came up to me afterward. He apologized for the low attendance: there were only about 7 or 8 people at the session. Why? He tried to explain: “We’ve all heard about these problems, and it doesn’t seem like we can do very much about them. Don’t you ever get discouraged?” he asked.


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