What I’d really like to see is a time-out: Democrats and Republicans sitting in their respective corners until they are ready to act like adults and end the government shut-down. Yes, I know it’s counter-intuitive. There’s no time to waste as our government shut-down continues. Yet it’s time for our lawmakers to reflect, regroup, and dedicate themselves to moving forward.
Politics is the art of compromise, as is most of life. I am also aware that we face the ethics of compromise every day: how and when to negotiate and how and when to stand our ground.
There are some things about which I will not compromise. I will not let anyone drink and drive. I will not allow any child to ride in my car without a child seat. I will not give less than a tithe to my local church. I will not drink coffee. I did not give in to my children, nor will I give in to my grandson if he throws a fit in a public place.
There are other things about which I am willing to compromise. If my husband isn’t feeling well, I’ll gladly cover for his responsibilities. I’ll feed the cat if my daughter is out of town. I’ll sit down and talk if our family can’t agree on what restaurant to go to. I’m willing to mediate an argument taking place among other family members.
Today is Day Seven of the government shut-down. One of the key functions of Congress is to pass spending bills that fund the government. The government’s fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30, but because Congress did not pass a spending bill, the government shut down last Tuesday, except for vital services like Social Security, air traffic control, and military operations. Most of the 3.3 million federal employees are still working, but 800,000 are sitting at home.
What’s the problem? House Republicans refuse to pass any spending bill unless it includes provisions to defund, dismantle, or delay the implementation of Obamacare. The health care reform bill was passed by Congress in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012. Yet some of our legislators are holding our government employees hostage by insisting that derailing health care be part of any funding package.
To complicate the mess, our government is ten days away from reaching its debt ceiling. In other words, we’ve just about maxed out our $16.699 trillion credit card. President Obama must ask Congress to raise the country’s credit limit by October 17.
Like you, I’ve been reading and watching the news as well as listening to ordinary Americans weigh in, and this is the word on the street.
- For Congress to tell 800,000 government employees that they are not receiving their paychecks because “It’s for your own good” is like telling kids to eat their spinach. “We know best” doesn’t cut it.
- Making an end run around democracy by attempting to defund the health reform through an unrelated government funding bill seems like thumbing our nose at one of the hallmarks of our country: majority rule. This is a general principle of democracy, whether we’re dealing with health care, gun control, or military spending.
- Victimizing innocent workers is unethical, especially when the President and members of Congress still receive their salaries. Fortunately, the House voted on Saturday for furloughed federal employees to receive back pay for the time they will be out of work.
- Our lawmakers are elected and paid to engage in discussion and dialogue, seek compromise, and negotiate for the common good, not individual preferences.
- Children and youth who are asked for their opinions say stuff like, “This is stupid. Why are the adults acting like children?”
- I’ve heard comments like “disgusting,” “disgraceful,” “It’s time for a time-out,” “We have been abandoned,” “Fire them all!” and “If I tried to hold other people hostage or refused to come to the table in my job, I’d be let go in a second.”
- When American citizens can no longer count on their elected officials to act with justice and selflessness, it undermines the integrity and strength or our country.
According to a CBS news poll on Friday, 72% of U.S. citizens are in favor of ending the government shut-down while 25% are in favor of continuing to apply the pressure. Clearly, our lawmakers are far removed from their constituents right now, as each side tries to win the war on words.
What does the church have to say to Congress right now? Most important, we need to remind our lawmakers of their purpose and how to treat one another.
- Consider the good of the country, not your own preference
- Remember that negotiation is essential to living in community and develop principles for knowing when the process is fair
- Always show respect in how you treat other people
- Listen carefully to one another by sitting at the same table, meet in the middle, compromise when appropriate, and work to resolve differences
- Play games with the lives of others: this is not a win/lost contest
- Excoriate others simply because they have a different view
- Use backdoor politics to undermine the democratic principles of our country by attempting to undo laws that have already been passed
- Take your marbles and go home if you don’t get your way
Second, if Christians are to have any credibility, we need to step forward and model good behavior and sound decision-making processes in our own churches.
- Create healthy guidelines for communication
- Elect spiritually mature, competent, and compassionate leaders
- Use prayerful discernment, encouraging all people to speak, and welcoming all viewpoints
- Seek to align your decisions with your mission and vision
- Remember, it’s God’s kingdom, not yours
- Nitpick or gossip about others: if you have a concern, speak directly to the person involved
- Withhold money or participation because you dislike a decision; no one ever agrees with everything, at least not in The United Methodist Church!
- Stay inside the church; rather, take your faith outside into the world; be informed; get involved; make a difference; be a witness
- Lag behind; the church is called to lead the way
The apostle Paul’s words of wisdom to Timothy still ring true 2,000 years after he wrote them: “Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:14, 16-17a, 23-25a)
It’s always time for a time-out when it comes to love, treating others with respect, and showing grace under pressure. May those entrusted with decision-making pause to listen to one another, seek God’s guidance, and consider the common good as they govern above self-interest.