It’s been an unusual and unsettling winter here in Michigan. The weather has been odd, with warmer temperatures, more sun, and less snow than I can ever remember. Even the storms have been more tame than normal. Winter sports enthusiasts are depressed.
Residents of the Grand Rapids area, the 2nd largest metropolitan area in Michigan, are disgruntled because our newspaper, The Grand Rapids Press, recently reduced home-delivered print editions from 7 to 3 days a week. For the same cost as everyday service we now receive the newspaper on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Online editions are available the other 4 days. One of my daily joys has always been coming home, lying on the couch, and reading the paper. I understand the need for cutbacks, but reading an online newspaper is not the same!
In a bit of good news, the Detroit auto industry is coming back, and we no longer have the highest unemployment rate in the country. Our unemployment rate in December 2011 was 9.3%, which was the 11th highest in the U.S. 4 months before that it was 11.2%. However, one reason for the drop is an unusually large decrease in the state’s labor force. Michigan added 13,000 new jobs in December, but we had 11,705 less people in the work force.
Anyone who lives in Michigan and cannot escape to warmer, less gray climates develops coping mechanisms to get through our winters. There hasn’t been much excitement so far this year except for the community public events of 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding in Grand Rapids. Every 4 years, however, we enter the national spotlight because of the Michigan presidential primary. 30 delegates at the Republican National Convention are at stake as voters go to the polls tomorrow to cast ballots for their preferred candidate.
Truthfully, Michigan enjoys being courted because it means that we’re noticed for something other than the auto industry bailout and our recession. It’s also nice to hear the phone ring, even if it’s political robocalls. No one else calls because the rest of the country assumes we’re still in hibernation.
Automated political phone calls are exempt from the Do Not Call Registry and are annoying to many Michigan residents, but someone must be listening. Campaigns wouldn’t use them if they didn’t work. Most robocalls are attacks and can be effective since the candidate’s opponent cannot defend him or herself.
Many of the Michigan robocalls are coming from Mitt Romney’s campaign because of his deeper coffers. Last Saturday and Sunday our home phone received at least a dozen robocalls from the two leading candidates. They included Dr. James Dobson calling to endorse Rick Santorum, Ann Romney calling on behalf of her husband, and some unidentified guy named Mike, who seemed quite passionate about his candidate. I’m still waiting by the phone for Donald Trump’s call on behalf of Romney.
It may be a nail biter because Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are going head to head. Romney has Michigan roots since his father George was the President of American Motors Corporation from 1954 to 1962 and Governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969. Santorum, the underdog in Michigan, jumped to the front a few weeks ago, but now the polls seem to show both candidates evenly matched.
Have you ever wondered what it must be like to be a presidential candidate? Of course, the issues are primary, and candidates need to be clear and consistent about their platform. But there’s so much else that contributes to electability, like physical appearance, mannerisms, staging, character, energy, and the ability to connect with voters.
Consider the debates: 20 so far, to be exact. Can you imagine debating the same candidates night after night over the same issues? Not only do you need to be sure about where you stand on dozens of issues, but you also need to know the positions of the other candidates as well. Squabbling, fighting, and accusations are commonplace and are almost required for a candidate to stand out from the others. The length that candidates have to go to promote themselves is sad at best, ridiculous at worst. Do we only become successful at someone else’s expense?
Deciding who “wins” a debate often comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes. And woe to the candidate who commits a major gaffe, like Rick Perry’s senior moment, when he fumbled for 53 seconds to remember which federal agency he would eliminate if he were elected president. Or Rick Santorum claiming in the last debate that he “took one for the team” when he voted against his conscience to support George Bush’s No Child Left Behind Law. Or Mitt Romney enthusing last Friday at the Detroit Economic Club that his wife drives 2 Cadillacs.
What courage and fortitude it takes to be a politician. I don’t know who will win Tuesday’s Republican primary, but I have no doubt that the stage is simply being set for the next round when the Republican presidential nominee squares off against President Barack Obama. Candidates will be sitting ducks for slander, lies, exaggerations, and ugliness, the late night shows will crank up the jokes once again, and robocalls will resume with a vengeance.
As the candidates wind through our country during the primary season on their way to Washington, I know another man who is winding his way to Jerusalem during Lent. Consider Jesus, a man who was not going to be elected to anything except to die. When Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem, his disciples vehemently objected, but Jesus went anyway.
Jesus focused his preaching and teaching on the good news of the kingdom of God, but his observations about the current political and religious life spared no one. Jesus warned the Jews about false idols, hypocrisy, greed, revenge, ignoring the poor, and neglecting justice. He encouraged them to turn the other cheek, show compassion to those rejected by society, and treat all people as neighbors.
Although Jesus didn’t care about polls, had no interest in being a political leader, and challenged currently accepted norms of the day, he did recognize the role of good government in creating a stable, secure, and just existence for all citizens. In the same way God calls us to be active, informed citizens who are committed to making our country and world a better place. Our Wesleyan heritage demands no less.
Paragraph 164.B of our United Methodist Social Principles says, “The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.”
Jesus would not play games, did not cater to the rich, was ruthlessly honest, and was extravagantly generous to those who didn’t count. He committed intentional gaffes, like allowing a sinner to anoint him with oil, permitting his disciples to eat without ritually washing their hands, or healing the bent-over woman on the Sabbath. Jesus was guaranteed to offend just about everyone except those at the bottom of the heap. Consequently, the robocalls went out every day during Holy Week.
“Hello, this is Joseph, calling on behalf of the chief priests and elders to inform you that there is a traitor in our midst. In recent weeks, an upstart named Jesus has been claiming to be the Messiah. In case you believe that Jesus is on your side, think twice. Jesus doesn’t care about you, he wants to crown himself King of the Jews.
“He’s stirring up the people, disturbing the peace, and getting us in trouble with the Romans. If we can arrest Jesus this week, we need you to come to the festival, where Pilate releases a prisoner for the crowd. If it comes down to Barabbas or Jesus, you are to choose Jesus. It’s your duty as a Jew. Yell as loud as you can, ‘Let him be crucified!’ This phone call is approved by God and paid for by your temple leaders.”
Jesus never planned to change the world in the political way that Jews expected of their Messiah. Instead, the course of human life was forever altered through the cross. So today we cannot expect our political leaders to save us, even though it is critical to elect leaders of integrity. Even the most just of governments cannot cure all of our ills. Our world will only be transformed into the kingdom of God through changed hearts, as you and I invite others into the kind of discipleship that Jesus taught and modeled.
- How does our Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem inform our national journey to Washington?
- What unique biblical values do Christians bring to the political table?
- How do the teachings of Jesus speak to us as we determine how to vote?
- How is God calling you to change hearts, one person at a time, no robocalls allowed?