Dear Public Servant,
You have already been long embarked on a mission to bring a political agenda to the municipal, state or national stage. This path seems sometimes long and always arduous. As a political student, spectator and sometimes participant (as a voter), I thank and commend you for choosing this area of service. Having served in this nation’s military for years, I recognize the presence of the costs in many areas of your life. Thank you. Do not grow weary in this endeavor – see it through.
If you are headed into the November general elections, it seems that God, who rules both the realms of the Church and the State, may prosper your path and place you into a position of influence. That is exciting! As you continue your work toward that end, I wanted to write you; even to begin a conversation with you.
First, it is not necessary for you to agree with me that God rules both realms or that He is the one who may grant you success: this is what I believe (and, as a local talk show radio host says, “you’re welcome to it”). We have for too long judged someone by virtue of his adherence to a religious manifesto (Christian or Secular). The Founding Fathers saw something different. Theirs was a commitment to found a country in part for religious freedom. That really means something, namely, folks should be free to follow the dictates of their conscience. (At what point did we lose this view?) Surely their expectation was that men and women of principle (including religious principle) would bring those into governance. But not so that they could pursue a Christian or Secular nation (any more than a French nation, for example).
It seems to a large degree our public servants have lost their nerve. Is it because they have navigated away from principles that lead to good government? “Principles? Like what?” Some would say biblical principles; others secular ones. Something else.
How is it that our nation has prospered over this 200 years with such a varying degree of religious belief and practice? Has it been by force of arms that one group prevailed over another?
How can men and women of legitimate and real differences govern and be governed together?
This is one of those questions that has never been more important. Scads of young people and other disaffected voters acted in 2008 to usher into political power those who were different than the status quo. Maybe it was the Democratic Party platform that persuaded these voters; maybe not. In fact, “hope” and “change” and whatever people annexed to those concepts is what won the day.
This is part of the reason for my letter to you: it is likely that God has prospered your path towards elected office irrespective of your religious beliefs. That is, in spite of them rather than because of them. This is important for you to consider. Long many have held that we need more Christians (or non-Christians) in public office simply because the broader goal of politics must surely be a Christian America (or Secular America). I urge you to search the Bible and you will see that God has no such goal as a Christian or Secular America. No. His goals are far different when we start to consider what He has revealed to us in the Bible. Nor must this encourage those of you who think that secularism should reign. Neither is true.
I asked earlier how we have succeeded in forging out a national history that has involved men and women of almost every political stripe? How are we to govern and be governed in our climate of uber-partisanship?
It is not wrong to answer that question by exploring what the founders initially saw as the pathway to governing. Do we think that we alone live in a time of discord? Let’s not be so arrogant as to think that our fathers wouldn’t (or didn’t) understand precisely the pressures to govern a disparate and independent people. Surely, at the headwaters of our founding there were more factions than today!
So, secondly, the Declaration of Independence speaks of several concepts that can guide us and, I hope, you as well. These are summed as the “laws of nature.” Among them: distinction-making, decency, self-evident truth, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, justice, safety, prudence, definitions of evil and patience. Each of these concepts drawn from the laws of nature were enshrined in our national origins.
Distinction-making. You ask, “Where is that in the Declaration?” It is the Declaration. This document (as every document like it) is where distinction-making either takes place or is recorded. The colonists categorize in the Declaration the ways in which the Crown acted tyrannically. These included such things as making laws that were too difficult to obey, calling convocations in locations that made attendance impossible, quartering standing Army troops in peace, etc. Experiences and burdens that all could agree where not necessary or right. We wrongly fear distinction-making today. We eschew calling nations to account for harboring terrorists, for calling out greedy capitalists, for dressing down corrupt government officials or even for equal treatment. Yet, we cannot govern if we fear making distinctions. For these things must be done.
Decency. Turn on the TV and seek examples of decency; ask congressional staffers about examples of decency. Indecency is rampant – even having touched the White House in years past. Decency, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary is that which is “morally praiseworthy.” We go astray if we ask “whose morals?” (We continue to prove my first point.) Language, dress, decorum and vocations that advance honor to all men are decent. That means prostitution, crime, corruption, immodesty, pornography, violence and vulgarity are not honorable and should be restricted by law. For whom do these things produce decency?
Self-evident truth. Christianity is not self-evident, nor is any other religious system. What is? “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” We could’ve handled this one at the top of the list: there are truth principles accessible to all of us at all times that don’t reside in our religious books. One teacher talked about being “center-thinking” people rather than “fringe-thinking” people. In other words, when we all consider mainly that which we agree (the center) rather than our disagreements (the fringe) we would see that there is more common ground than uncommon ground. This list of principles in the Declaration enumerate many of these truths. Of course, this begs us to consider what is in our “center,” doesn’t it?
Life. Who is against life? To be against it is either to be dead or for death. Old and young, native and immigrant, male and female: we didn’t earn life, it was a gift to us. We don’t own it and can’t arbitrarily take it, either. For example, if we turned on the television and heard a news announcer speak of 50 million dead, would we think, “oh well”? No! We’d be right to be outraged: we’d ask “where?” “when?” and “who?” Fifty million dead is the number of children aborted in our country since Roe v. Wade in 1973. Scores of thousands are the number of those abandoned mothers with children. What about those elderly among us who waste away in nursing homes – having given their lives to the raising of families and this nation, do we now let them painfully pass away into the dark of night? To be pro-life should take many forms.
Liberty. If we were to take a poll of all ages of all people and ask, “Would you want to be someone’s slave?” I imagine the answers would be overwhelmingly “no.” To be free is hard wired into us. We often pit freedom against security as if we have to choose. (It stands to be tested whether a nation that governs from the limited center doesn’t also provide the needed safety.) How often do we harbor resentment and outrage when our liberty and freedom find limits? Of course, just as it makes sense to people not to be slaves, it also makes sense to consider appropriate limitations on freedom (see below). “Stop” signs are limitations that we can all agree on, right? That we all believe freedom and liberty is essential is without dispute.
The pursuit of happiness. Do we really not know what this means? We all pursue happiness. No one would agree that happiness comes from the structured and intentional advantage of one group and the disadvantage of another. Group A might be happy but Group B wouldn’t be. How do we avoid policies that do this? The only way is to minimize policies. Limited governance isn’t a Republican idea, it is a common sense and natural one. With each policy comes unintended consequences that inevitably serve to disadvantage someone. Public servants must be content with the natural inclinations of the governed: some will zealously pursue some things (to their happiness) while others are content with much less (to their happiness). With such variance in people’s inclinations, how can government aim at anything like fairness or equal opportunity? Are we so afraid of making distinctions that we won’t look at the preponderance of failed policies that try to do just these things?
Justice. Liberty, the pursuit of happiness and justice all go together. But what is justice? Webster again says, “the administration of law.” Fairness is lumped in here but it is under the rubric of fair exacting of the administration of justice. Take immigration policy: if it is against the law to come to this country without following the due process, then it is appropriate to ask for the necessary proof of citizenship when there is warrant and deport as necessary. Why doesn’t this make sense? This is especially true in areas where illegal immigration is most rampant. If illegal immigration is a problem, then we should enforce our current law and reconsider then: too demanding or harsh, too lax, etc.? Hard but not intolerable conditions in country A, doesn’t justify the breaking of immigration laws in neighboring country B. This is common sense. It is unjust if a senator who commits a crime goes unpunished but a citizen committing the same crime is punished. I’ve never known a toddler who failed to perceive what is just – it is no mystery.
Safety. Safety finds its way into the Declaration because it fits with liberty, the pursuit of happiness and justice. Recklessness in governance doesn’t just take the form of armed oppression as we see in Communist countries. It also takes form in taxation and regulation. Too little taxation deprives government of the resources it needs to pursue justice and public safety. Too much taxation deprives families of the resources needed to live. Regulation is likewise a balance of too little and too much. No one said freedom would be easy.
Prudence. Those of us alive when President George H.W. Bush governed us, remember well the little quip from him (or was it Dana Carvey?) about being prudent…Nonetheless, prudence, the ability to govern oneself or to exercise skill and good judgment in the use of resources knows no parochial boundary. Is debt prudent? Is waste prudent? Is rewarding sloth prudent? Is extravagance prudent? How hard is it to use this as a means to evaluate how one should govern? The overwhelming majority of folks use prudence in their daily affairs, how is the exercise to be different in the affairs of state?
Definitions of evil. As I mentioned above, the Founders were not afraid to face reality. Declaring some things to be good and others to be evil is neither hard nor to be feared. It is a sign of virtue. What is good and evil is also neither hard nor to be feared. We think courage is to deny evil, rather it is to declare and fight it. Life propels forward upon the straining for the good away from the bad. Crooks and criminals strain for the good of wealth and satisfaction even as they do it in evil ways. The state is the agency of justice and therefore must absolutely be willing to call evil by its first name – no matter what that is. “Political correctness” is a euphemism for cowardice and the perpetuation of evil. The Founders were willing – as have been many politicians of all categories – to call it like everyone sees it.
Patience. Call this “vision”: it is pitiful that our threshold of vision is an election cycle. The number of policies that have been written and signed into law that go into effect after an election cycle are legion – and shameful. If officials are not willing to live with a policy immediately, then how will it be more palatable afterward? Does bad news get better with time? Men and women of principle need to apprehend an important fact: what we live in was not built in one or two (or ten) election cycles. Rather, it has been growing upon the foundation of our Founding Documents for hundreds of years now. Whether it survives into the future depends in part on whether our elected officials can muster the courage required to be visionaries and to patiently pursue it.
The founders presumed upon the common apprehension of these natural laws. They didn’t believe these to be the province of a religious or an a-religious few but of all people. These are things we all know. Of course, to the degree that they intersect with a political platform, good. If not, that part of the platform must change. We might want to stop accusing each other of pandering to special interest groups; we all do it, for dog-dog. Instead, why don’t we, with fortitude and vision, adopt principles common to all man and right this ship? Will that be you?
If you ride the wave of election into office in November and beyond, please remember that it isn’t enough to just “throw the bums out.” Rather, governance must be principled for it to be effective. If you want to tell me that you’re a Christian (or not) fine. What matters most to me in your role of public official is whether you will adopt common sense governing principles and the role of people’s servant.