Keeping the Right Focus Amid Dysfunctional Politics


It's clear that our time calls for principled people of both parties to use their power for the sake of the powerless rather than simply retaining power, Sayles observes.

One of my Lenten practices is to reduce the amount of "breaking news" I watch.

During last year's election season, MSNBC was the steady background noise of my mornings and evenings. Most days, there was less than an hour's worth of actual news, but it got repackaged and recycled in a repeating loop.

It was hard not to stay tuned in because so many outrageous things happened. The fringes overwhelmed the center, fear drowned out reason, and cynicism displaced hope.

Once the election was over, the news blared on, and I grew angrier and more anxious.

I decided that I would give-up "unnecessary" news. I'm watching less television, especially less opinion and commentary. I'm reading newspapers and magazines (print and online), which I believe to be reliable.

My goal is to be informed enough to take responsible action as a citizen, especially shared action with people who want to shelter the marginalized and to speak for the voiceless.

Less media has made some things clearer.

It's clear that our politics is suffering from a paralysis that could, if something doesn't soon change, become permanent.

It has been a long time since I had much confidence that our elected leaders in Washington would be able to help solve our nation's problems.

For the most part, it seems that members of Congress have given up the challenges of governing in favor of getting and staying elected.

Partisan point-scoring, pandering to the base and raising money for the next campaign occupy most of their time.

It's clear that our time calls for principled people of both parties to use their power for the sake of the powerless rather than simply retaining power.

It's clear that we need a renewed commitment to candor and truth-telling. We have to be able to trust that our leaders are facing facts, dealing with reality and leveling with us. We are too accustomed to and tolerant of hype, spin, misdirection and obfuscation.

I know that "they" all do it. All of us, in fact, are capable of hedging, trimming and hiding the truth.

We are also capable of repenting and of practicing the kind of writing and speaking in which our "yes" means "yes" and our "no" means "no."

Followers of Jesus believe in the liberating power of truth, and one way we can serve faithfully in these troubling times is to renew our own commitment to "speaking the truth in love."

It's clear that we need to be vigilant in protecting the vulnerable. People of goodwill have differing ideas about how to create conditions of flourishing for people who are trapped in poverty, caught in unemployment or underemployment, and lack adequate healthcare.

However, followers of Jesus, whether conservative or liberal, must place "the least of these" at the center of our politics and economics. What we do to the hungry, homeless, sick and imprisoned we do to Jesus.

It's clear that these bewildering times call for prayerful and wise discernment. In circles of incisive analysis, faithful discipleship and genuine spirituality, we need to ask hard questions about justice and mercy.

Based on what we learn from each other and from the Spirit who is active within and among us, we then need to act with joyful confidence and strategic savvy to bear witness to the freedom and wholeness of God's will and way.

Over and over again, since the earliest days of the Jesus-movement, the most crucial issue for his followers is whether we will be first citizens of the empire and of the status quo or of the beloved community and of the new creation.

It's still the most pressing question.

Guy Sayles is a consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC), an assistant professor of religion at Mars Hill University, an adjunct professor at Gardner-Webb Divinity School and a board member of the Baptist Center for Ethics. A version of this article first appeared on his website, From the Intersection, and is used with permission.

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Tags: Civility, Community, Guy Sayles, Lent, News


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