A recent NYT/CBS poll, taken after the debt deal, shows Congress at its highest disapproval on record -- at 82 percent. Ouch. As the Times story on the poll said:
"More than four out of five people surveyed said that the recent debt-ceiling debate was more about gaining political advantage than about doing what is best for the country. Nearly three-quarters said that the debate had harmed the image of the United States in the world."
I agree with both of these sentiments, and if I were interviewed for this poll I would have also registered my disapproval of Congress.
Of course, partisanship is nothing new. It has been with us ever since Hamilton and Jefferson and their supporters began hammering each other during the first term of George Washington. Its corrosive power has ebbed and flowed ever since.
But at some point in our fairly recent past we have taken partisanship to dangerous heights. A particularly telling and troubling indicator of this comes from the research of Robert Putnam of "Bowling Alone" fame. He found that Americans have been adjusting their religious beliefs to fit their political ideology rather than vice versa.
Here is part of a transcript of a recent interview he gave:
INTERVIEWER: Bob Putnam, according to your survey, Americans are more likely to change their religion to fit their political views than to adapt their politics to fit their religion. Was that a surprise to you?
PUTNAM: It was a shock. In fact, I didn't believe it for a long time ... I just couldn't believe that people would change their religion and their religious observance to fit their politics. I couldn't, frankly, believe that people would put at risk their immortal soul. After all, that's what's at stake if you're a religious person, put at risk your immortal soul over how you feel about George W. Bush or Bill Clinton ... the majority of Americans have been adjusting their -- they've been sorting themselves out and adjusting their religious behavior to fit their political views ... It is quite a surprise. And what it means, when you work through all the numbers, is that the underlying division [in America today] is not actually mostly about religion. It's mostly about politics.
Partisanship is now the number one force fracturing our society, and the recently manufactured debt crisis is merely a symptom.
For Christians, those who have confessed, "Jesus is Lord," it is time to declare our independence from partisanship and become Christian Independents. I'm calling on Christians to renounce their party affiliation from either Republican or Democrat and change your voter registration status to Independent. Declare your independence from the political parties and from the hyper-partisanship that is poisoning the public square and leading our great country over a cliff. (Folks from other traditions could become a "Jewish Independent," or a "Muslim Independent," etc.)
Being a registered Independent is a practical, tangible way to declare our independence from poisonous partisanship; it can also be an opportunity to consciously reaffirm our allegiance to Christ in all things - including our participation in our democracy.
Becoming a Christian Independent is a two-fer. It's good for our souls, and good for our country.
The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change.