Dear Elected Officials in Washington,
Let me be candid. I am writing to offer you some unsolicited job advice. I know that my experience is limited, and that I have never held public office, and that I am not even a political “expert.” But I am concerned. I am a voter, I am a citizen, I am member of our political community. And I know I’m not alone. So, I’m going to keep this simple and focus on just one phrase. So listen up…please.
There are three words deadly to government, three words that impoverish our politics, degrade our civility and sicken our hope.
Three words that come up in the articles I read and that I hear everywhere, all the time. From politicians, from pundits, from reporters. I want to expose these words, so we can see them for what they are. A destructive, nefarious force against good government. Here they are:
“Not this year.”
Now, call me naïve, but I was noticing that this phrase seems to be used more in recent months. I don’t want to sound accusatory, but might this have something to do with the elections later this year? I am beginning to suspect that you might be distracted by the anxiety of reelection. You see, you haven’t promised to do much of anything lately and I’m worried about you. Your habit of kicking the can down the road or just pointing fingers or using hilariously flawed logic is getting out of hand. We’re not blind. Your addiction to reelection and party-pleasing has been affecting your work long before 2014. So I think it’s time to talk.
You aren’t proposing realistic budgets to each other. You aren’t talking about tax reform. You aren’t having the necessary conversations about entitlement reform. The Affordable Care Act is seen only as a potential weapon on both sides, and you aren’t demonstrating any courage.
That is the real red flag.
Let me offer you a reminder. Your calling, your role, your job – whatever you want to call it – is not to be reelected. Your role is not to prove a point. Your role is not to strengthen you party’s chances in November. You role is not to be perpetually at war with each other. Have you completely forgotten this?
Please don’t forget. Because I believe you have a beautiful role to play in the world. No, I don’t just want to chastise you. I want you to remember. Or learn for the first time. You have a calling. Your role is to do public justice. I know it’s hard and messy, and you’ve got a lot of temptations and pressures on every side. But could you remember this every so often? Have your aides hand you a little note every morning that reads,
“Don’t say ‘Not this year.’ Say, ‘I am a servant of the people called to do public justice.’”
Repeat this to yourself throughout the day, maybe. Or right before you vote on things. Or whenever you’re about to talk to your constituents. Carry around a ‘sword of justice’ with you everywhere as a reminder of your noble identity (That’s too far. Seriously, please don’t do that). Do whatever it will take for you to know who you are and that you are called to do public justice.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “I get it! You want stuff to get done here in Washington. You’re asking me to be a pragmatist.”
Don’t you dare tell anyone I told you to be a pragmatist. I didn’t say that.
Although, if that means actually making compromises and being civil with your rivals and enacting legislation – then sure, be a pragmatist. But if you mean that you should arrogantly pretend that you are somehow above ideology and have no foundational beliefs on which to make decisions – then no, don’t ever be a pragmatist.
How about this compromise? You can have some ideology (we all do). But make fulfilling your calling to do public justice part of that ideology. Did you catch that phrase? The word “do” was in there. So yes, “public justice” comes with a lot of responsibilities. But when you’re overwhelmed with the complexity of your work, remember the “do.” Public justice is an enormous concept to define, but one thing is for sure – without the “do” it means almost nothing at all.
And so, for the love of God, please remember your calling to do justice. And I mean that, the part about the love of God. One final challenge. If you love God as much as you ask God to bless this country, maybe you could work toward being part of that blessing. Doing public justice blesses a nation. In the end, I guess that’s what I’m really asking.
Do justice. Be a blessing.
-Dan Carter is a husband, father, neighbor, reader, runner, and Senior Pastor of Calvary on 8th St. located in Holland, MI. www.calvaryreformedholland.org