Each year, when political and social resolutions come before my church’s regional conference, I quietly vote against all of them, no matter how well intentioned. At best, they are a waste of time and energy.
Here’s what I see.
- Large meetings are a poor venue for having a meaningful discussions about anything. “Three speeches for” and “three speeches against” generate more heat than light. Even the people who agree with me usually sound stupid when arguing on the floor of the conference. Most people don’t know how to have these kinds of conversations in small groups, much less in large meetings. Floor debates don’t produce insight or understanding. They only produce winners and losers.
- One final resolution presented at this year’s conference was considered late in the afternoon on the last day of conference when we were already running behind schedule. Even though the resolution proposed several specific legislative remedies to the presenting problem, there was no debate. As soon as the resolution was presented, the bishop asked, “Are you ready to vote?” The measure passed, but not unanimously. The official report will say that we passed a resolution, but it will not portray the utter lack of serious consideration it was given.
- We usually look like we are chasing the latest headlines. We are reacting to the world’s agenda and not setting our own.
- Why these resolutions and not others? There are a lot of important issues in the world. We are highly selective in our indignation.
- Resolutions that call for government actions or for the passage of laws are calling for the use of force. All law is coercive. It’s not that I oppose the use of legal force; as a member of the Army, it should be obvious that I believe there are times that the use of force serves the cause of temporal justice. It is important, I think, to distinguish between the corporate role of the church-as-the-church and the role of individual Christians when it comes to political power. Christians who live in free societies have the responsibility to use their power as citizens for the good of others. However, there is no purely good or purely right political power. Every act of political power has unintended consequences, and whatever good it achieves is only temporary and local. Individual Christians should live responsibly in the world, with their character shaped by the church’s word, sacrament and common life. To the best of their ability, they should use their God-shaped wisdom and to govern and influence society, even partnering with unbelievers who share the same political and social goals. The sword, however, does not belong to the church and the church’s power is not found in the secular means of influence. It is not the church’s vocation to legislate for the world.
- Political resolutions put together by church committees are inevitably simplistic and at least partially misleading. They present only one side of an issue, reducing it to slogans and catch phrases. Contrary to the picture painted by our resolutions, there is no monopoly on political wisdom, not on ends and certainly not on means. Church leaders are not necessarily experts in the matters on which they pontificate. Some laity do have the technical expertise, experience and institutional connections to speak with authority on complex social problems. But when the church itself tries to speak as an expert on matters outside of its realm of expertise, it makes itself look foolish.
- By unconditionally identifying the resolution’s pronouncements with the church beliefs, political resolutions implicitly demonize and marginalize those who see things differently.
- Resolutions make people feel good, as if they have done something meaningful for the well being of others. They haven’t.
- We have an overly high opinion of our own opinions, their validity and their importance.
- Nobody outside the church gives a dam what the church thinks.
The church does have to govern its own life and sometimes voting is necessary for such matters. I am happy to assist the church with governing itself. However, when asked to help the church govern the world, I think I’ll pass.
- Just Say No
- On the Force of Law
- On the Power of Democracy
- Some Thoughts for Free Citizens
- Preachers and the Economy