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A Christian Response to the Debt Ceiling Crisis

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If you are like me, this past few days of punditry and chatter surrounding the debt ceiling debate has been quite overwhelming. I was actually in D.C. the past week on family vacation, but being totally drawn into sharing our national capitol with my kids for the first time, I somehow managed to escape total saturation. Still, can't avoid these things for long, so I thought I would offer up some thoughts.

Now before anyone accuses me of trying to speak for all of Christendom, please note the indefinite article used in the title of this post -- "a" and not "the." I fully admit that, like many people, I am simply trying to figure out who to trust, what are the larger issues and how to respond with thoughtfulness and care.

At the same time, my lack of economic expertise or official position in Washington does not let me off the hook from engaging in the larger process, especially during this tense time of negotiations around the debt ceiling, our national deficits, a balanced budget amendment and more. It would be so much easier on my brain if I could simply turn away and let "them" figure it all out, but as a citizen of the United States and a person who believes that my Christian faith is inherently political, I am compelled to discern my role in the life of the body politic and respond appropriately.

Much of my response to these times in our political life is about what I AM NOT called to as much as what I AM. The problem that many Christians get into when trying to navigate the subtleties of church, state, politics and faith is that we engage in arguments about the particularities of policy creation when, except for a brilliant few, this is not our call or expertise. For when it comes right down to it, the role of the church is NOT to draft legislation and develop policy, holding true to the separation of church and state, but to make sure that those who are called and elected into that role are held accountable for the policies and legislation that they enact (or in the case of the past few weeks do NOT enact), honoring the convergence of faith and politics. In other words, religious commitments and convictions should not determine legislative infrastructure, but faith will always have something to say about the outcomes and impact of that legislation on the people over whom it claims to have authority.

As I have been thinking about how exactly I should respond, I am reminded that before my recent departure from the church I served, I have always had community within which these topics could be discussed. So now, as one of those "preachers without a pulpit," I know that it is easy for me to say to preachers out there, "You should say XYZ."  At the same time, I would push on those who have the privilege of standing in the pulpit this Sunday to take up the challenge to speak into the crisis of our day, not to add to the anxiety, but to call into being the peace that Christ offers each of us in the midst of tumultuous times.

In addition to challenging folks to see the inherently political nature of our faith, some of the "callings" I would lift up, any of which find rich scriptural roots, might be:

  • Joining with faith communities in efforts to keep the voices of the silent, poor and vulnerable heard and  cared for;
  • Encouraging political leaders to remain passionate and convicted in his/her beliefs, but to also embrace compromise as a powerful tool in moving towards the common good;
  • Rejecting a posture of "victory at all costs," repaying evil with evil and/or denying the personhood of anyone regardless of political position or ideological perspective; and
  • Praying that God's will be done and that our hopes and actions align with God's intentions for us.

These are broad ideas and each will manifest themselves differently for every person and community, but these are postures I have and will continue to embrace in my own engagement in the politics of our day. I hope they are helpful.

In closing, I would offer the following video from the National Council of Churches as one witness to people of faith coming together to speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable. Also, you can sign the letter in support of the call to the president and congress.

And finally, a little props to my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and our commitment to being part of the discourse: Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, forjoining other interfaith leaders to speak with government leaders, and Rev. J. Hebert Nelson, Director of our Office on Public Witness, for his act of civil disobedience and arrest. Thank you both!

To comment, please visit the originating post on my Patheos Blog.

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