I have been following politics virtually my entire life. I remember my mother putting me in front of one of those first generation TVs to watch the 1952 Democratic convention. I was only 3 years old.
It may have been part of the ethic of my family. Or it may have been a demand of the times. But the idea was clear. It was crucial to have good political leadership, and I was to make it a big part of my life’s work to seek, work for, and to support good political leaders. As it turns out, (though the leaders I’ve chosen have not always met with my mother’s approval), I have spent much time and energy, in politics, trying to help achieve this mission.
Now, we find ourselves in the middle of the 2016 presidential race. Isn’t this something? As a centrist, progressive on some issues and conservative on others, I find the current choice appalling. Indeed, I can’t think of a single campaign that I have followed personally in which the choice was worse. In fact, as an avid student of American history, I haven’t ever learned of one that was worse. But, I must concede I know little about John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, or Chester Arthur, or their opponents. So, forgive me if there were worse apples in one of those barrels.
There seems to be little satisfaction in the current race anywhere, even among partisans. Democrats tend to wish they had a better choice, as do Republicans. I still suspect most hardline party folks “feel worse” enough about their party’s opponent to justify a vote for the inadequate nominee of their own party.
The looming issue inevitably is: what the heck do we do after the election? Some trot out the old, rarely used option of moving to Canada, if their candidate loses. Some pledge to pay no attention whatsoever to politics, turning off the news shows at every opportunity and turning to sports, movies, or other effective distractions. Others vow to make life miserable from the beginning for victorious opponents. And a few good souls hope to be able to make a positive difference by working through the mess as best they can.
Since I have recently turned more and more to the study and teaching of sacred texts, I decided to seek guidance in the Bible for how to deal with this awful situation. Here’s what I found.
There are solid ideas about the nature and importance of good leadership. Leaders are to be effective, but they are to show some humility and restraint. In being asked to write out a scroll of the sacred text, the kings are to learn and be true to the values and principles that are important to God and community. Further, they are to understand that their work is about service to God and community, not their own interests. Their sovereignty is to be subservient to that of God and God’s expectations.
There is perhaps no better symbolic way of saying it than through words we find in Deuteronomy: a king must not acquire too many horses, too many wives, or too much silver and gold. Whatever that might mean in our day, surely, it will be true that whichever of these two wins, he/she won’t score very well against those ethical standards!
So, where indeed are we? As for me, I will probably resort to all of the options I mention above at different times and in different ways, save moving to Canada.
But here’s an additional insight that has been helpful for me, and it may be for you, too. When the Israelites moved into the Promised Land, after Joshua, there were roughly 375 years in which the people were led mostly by judges. Other than Othniel, Deborah, and Gideon, I can’t find any of them who were worth much of a damn.
After such a pitiful stretch, the people cried out for a change in “the rigged system;” they wanted a king. Both God and Samuel weren’t very happy with this request, but they relented. Then, for roughly 450 years, the people of Israel and Judah had 42 kings. Other than David, Hezekiah, Josiah, and perhaps a very few others, all the rest were bums.
The bottom line: while we might want good leadership, we rarely get it. Do we give up in despair? No. Do we desperately look for other leadership? Maybe, but that’s not the best path. The real leadership in Kings, I would suggest, comes from the prophets, Elijah and Elisha. These are true-blue people who live worthy lives in private and in public, trying their best to serve God and their neighbors, and finding meaning in doing so.
In the years ahead, let’s all pay less attention to the circus, acknowledging its fascinations, but recognizing its ugliness and resisting getting too caught up in it. Rather, let’s focus more on Elijah and Elisha, and certainly for Christians, Jesus, emulating them, and devoting our head, heart, soul, and resources to living as they did. If we do that, this election will not turn out as bad as it appears. Indeed we might be redeemed by it.