Jesus said, “Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Matt. 5:37). How can anyone claiming to follow his teachings possibly support the American political process?
I am convinced, and will remain so until proven otherwise, that there is not a single politician who makes any effort whatsoever to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Help, Lord, because the godly are all gone;
the faithful have completely disappeared
from the human race!
Everyone tells lies to everyone else;
they talk with slick speech and divided hearts.
Let the Lord cut off all slick-talking lips
and every tongue that brags and brags,
that says, “We’re unbeatable with our tongues!
Who could get the best of us with lips like ours?”
- Psalm 12:1-4 (CEB)
Now, lest anyone reprove me for sinking into cynicism, let me tell you that this realization actually sets me free. There’s no more pretending, no more getting my hopes up that someday, somehow, someone will get it right.
If I’m going to “take a stand” as a Christian with regard to political matters, especially on the national level in an election year like this, here is what my stand will be: I do not believe any of the the candidates. Period.
Truth-telling does not exist in the American political process. Oh, some politicians may represent certain facts a little more accurately than others, but there is not one who tells the truth. There is not one who actually cares enough to effectively educate the public on what really goes on in Washington, how things work, and what the influences are that affect decisions.
Convention weeks are the worst. It’s all hype and bluster, half-truths and downright misrepresentations of the opponent. It’s all about putting oneself in the best light, manipulating feelings, stirring up patriotic impulses, and using propaganda and clever speeches to create brand loyalty. It’s the American advertising game writ large, and damn the truth, we will sell our product.
Here are a couple of recent examples of the dearth of honesty, integrity, and truth-telling.
First, Alice B. Rivlin’s article in the Daily Beast, “The Great Medicare Compromise,” in which she asserts that both parties are fervently engaged in shameful scare-mongering on the subject of Medicare.
If you aren’t already convinced that current politics are dysfunctional, just listen to the campaign rhetoric on Medicare. Democrats accuse Republicans of seeking to “end Medicare as we know it,” while shifting unbearable health-care costs to struggling seniors; Republicans accuse the president of crippling Medicare by transferring huge sums intended for Medicare to pay for Obamacare.
…In fact, neither side wants to destroy Medicare—or even change it very drastically. But each wants to scare seniors away from their opponents—a truly irresponsible tactic that is leading millions of fearful seniors to believe the winner might actually gut their benefits.
Rivlin shows how both sides are invested in not telling the truth about how Medicare actually works, how it is funded, and how all the parties creatively cook the books to come with their own plans to “save” it. Instead, they bombard the public with attacks on their opponents’ plans, knowing full well that neither side has any real answers. It’s not about having better ideas, strategies, and plans and communicating them in such a way that the public can understand and embrace. It is not about governing and serving America. It’s about winning. It’s about wanting to be the party in power that gets to make the decisions.
And then there is Sam Stein’s report, published in The Huffington Post about the Romney campaign’s tendency to play loose with the facts in recent ads.
Mitt Romney’s campaign said on Tuesday that its ads attacking President Obama’s waiver policy on welfare have been its most effective to date. And while the spots have been roundly criticized as lacking any factual basis, the campaign said it didn’t really care.
“We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said at a panel organized by ABC News.
Couldn’t have put it clearer myself, Mr. Newhouse. Like I said, there are lies, damn lies, and the American political process.
And before you get all bent out of shape and think I’m picking on Romney, we can take an example from FactCheck.org about the all the silly smoke being raised by the Obama camp about Romney’s taxes:
The Obama campaign strikes another low blow with a TV spot accusing Mitt Romney of “personally” approving a notoriously abusive tax-avoidance scheme and suggesting he may have paid “zero” tax. That’s badly misleading.
It wasn’t Romney who was avoiding taxes, it was Marriott Corp. And there’s no evidence to support the ad’s speculation that Romney himself paid no income tax, or that he did something illegal.
Let me say it again: If I’m going to “take a stand” as a Christian with regard to political matters, especially on the national level in an election year like this, here is what my stand will be: I do not believe any of the the candidates. Period. Truth-telling does not exist in the American political process.
Christians have long struggled with understanding their role in the American political process. I’d like to suggest one: the church should be the prophetic voice that presents an alternative vision of society and publicly demands that our politicians tell the truth.
Instead of supporting the present political system by trying to participate in it and change it (and instead finding ourselves inevitably changed), we should start “John the Baptist Societies.”
First, these groups would leave the process and take their stand in the “wilderness,” where they would call the people to repent and put their hope in the coming Kingdom of God. N.T. Wright has argued persuasively that John’s call to repentance was not just about personal sin. It was a political statement in Herod’s day. John was calling Israel to turn from the various political solutions to foreign domination and political corruption that were being offered and to cry out to God for a new Exodus and return from Exile. Josephus tells us that Herod beheaded John not only because the prophet called him to personal account for his marital infidelities, but because so many people were turning to him that the ruler feared an insurrection. The role of the church is similar. Recognize the absolute bankruptcy of the system, come out from it, and call people to submit to God’s rule.
Second, these groups would serve as prophets to the state, publicly calling every person and party in our political system to tell the truth and deal honestly with the public. The straw that broke the camel’s back for John was when he publicly criticized Herod’s cruelty, deceitfulness, and immorality. He lost his head — are we willing to face that? The prophets in First Testament days likewise called Israel and Judah’s kings to truth and justice. They mostly stood outside the walls of power and spoke the truth, damn the consequences. Christians should be the ultimate fact-checkers, people who insist that our dealings with one another be based on truth. Let your yes be yes and your no be no — everything else is of the devil. Jesus said that, folks.
American Christians, it’s time to face the truth. No one in Washington and no one who wants to be in Washington is telling you the truth. Set yourselves free from bondage to false hope that leads time and again to crushed expectations.
Go to the wilderness and raise your voice.