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Judging Politicians

Three seemingly unrelated events converged this past week that have gotten me to thinking about politics and judgmental attitudes.  

The first event was yesterday's memorial service for Jessie Thackrey, a pillar not only of the faith community of The Falls Church, but a courageous leader and pillar of the community of the City of Falls Church. As many recounted at Jessie's 100th birthday celebrations earlier this year and again yesterday, Jessie had a way of standing her ground and advocating for what she believed in, without alienating or offending or minimizing others.

The second event was yesterday's re-opening of the United States government after a 16-day shutdown. Federal offices, public parks, research projects, and community programs resumed their work after more than two weeks of stoppage, a stoppage that has had immediate negative consequences on the morale of public servants and as-yet-to-be-fully-understood negative consequences to a still-fragile United States economy.

I can't help thinking of the juxtaposition of - on the one hand - Jessie's gracious way of actually getting things done and - on the other hand - the rancor and divisiveness that led to the shutdown.

Partisan politics have a way of drawing out the mean-spirited, finger-pointing, character-assassinating, fear-mongering tendencies in all of us. Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame.

Now I'm not so naïve as to think this is anything new in U.S. politics - any student of U.S. history would say "it has always been thus" (and oftentimes, arguably, it has been worse).

Nor do I think the dynamic is going away anytime soon.

Which brings me to the third event: a conversation we had at the "Town Hall" forum last Sunday at Shrine Mont regarding politics and religion.

As I said there, I am NOT one to preach politics from the pulpit, nor am I in favor of so-called "resolutions" that get proposed and sometimes passed at Diocesan Council on specific political issues. It's not that I'm not interested in politics. Quite the contrary: prior to entering full-time ordained ministry, I worked on Capitol Hill for a United States Senator, briefly on a presidential campaign, and then in state politics as a press secretary. I still like to follow all the gory details of government and elections.

From the pulpit, I will challenge you to live out your baptismal covenant. Namely, to respect the dignity of every human being, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace among all people. I will lift up our Biblical responsibility to care for the poor, prisoners, and the most vulnerable of our society until I'm blue in the face. And if you take all this seriously -- living out your baptismal covenant and caring for the poor and prisoners and vulnerable -- it WILL have political ramifications in your life. It will affect the way you vote, who you vote for, and why. 

But when it comes to advocating for particular legislation or particular political approaches, I am going to insist that on most matters, people of good faith can honestly disagree on the best, wisest solutions.

It's fine to have at it, and talk about the issues. To fight about them, even.

But it is my duty as a pastor to challenge the way we speak about our fellow human beings who are running for, or holding office and your fellow Americans who support them. Enough with the self-righteous judgmentalism that sees the flaws of the other person and party but is blind to one's own.  

It is your Christian duty to vote for and even advocate for the person and party you support.


"Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous, and regarded others with contempt." -- one man went to the temple and prayed, "I thank you God that I'm not like other people," and the other said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." The self-righteous person did nothing to get right with God, and the sinner who stood far off went home made right with God.  

Jesus wants us to NOT judge other people.

How do we do that?

Well, a simple 3-step strategy that I heard of some years ago might help.

Step 1: Think of some characteristic that bothers you in other people. Think of some tendency of others, some habit ... something that is your pet peeve in life, something that other people do that really frosts you.

Got it? Now ask yourself: what is the vice that underlies that behavior? Name it. What vice is it?-- give it a name. Selfishness? Stubborness? Arrogance? Greed? Something else?

Now, step 2: Ask yourself, "what is the opposite virtue of that vice?"-what is the antonym, what does the opposite behavior look like? Expansiveness? Flexibility? Humility? Generosity? Something else?

Step 3: Make a point of practicing that virtue in your own life.

This is the single best way I know of short-circuiting judgmentalism.

And it is one of the few ways I know to really make a difference in the world, because it forces you to change the behavior of the one and only human being whose behavior you CAN change, and that is you ... yours. 

As Oswald Chambers writes, "this [change of heart and habit] will not happen quickly but must be developed over a span of time. You must constantly beware of anything that causes you to think of yourself as a superior person. ... If I see the little speck in your eye, it means I have a plank of timber in my own eye. Every wrong thing that you see in another person, God finds in you. Every time we judge, we condemn ourselves. Stop having a measuring stick for other people."

So instead of using precious energy on getting angry at those you cannot control, try saying to yourself, "One, what is it about their behavior that bothers me? Two, what's the opposite behavior? And three, how can I practice that in my own life?"

Because -- unlike so many other words we think and say -- when we think and say words like...

"I don't have a leg to stand on..."  

"I live in a glass house, I can't throw stones..."  and  

"God be merciful to me: a sinner..."

...we are thinking thoughts and saying words that come from God himself, and therefore they are words of life, constructive progress, peace, and joy.


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