Where is the Love in the Political Parties?
By Reverend Tom Capo
Preached on 5/10/2015
In Washington and in most state capitols, finger pointing, blaming, yelling, discrediting, and finding fault in the “other” political party is how our government is working, or rather not working. Calling Republicans Nazis and Democrats Communists is not uncommon for political pundits on the left and on the right. Gerrymandering districts and huge amounts of money, with the accompanying political influence, are the way politicians stay in power.
Here is Political Scientist, Paul Enrique C. Casas’ view of today’s political conundrum. Liberals feel change is good. And those on the extreme left want lots of change/change everything. Conservatives want to change slowly and have very little change. And on the extreme right, they want no change or even want some of the changes that has happened reversed. Both Democrats and Republicans who are moderate in their political views want to change some things and leave others alone. At least right now few of those moderates are getting elected or even want to be involved in politics because they believe that the radicals and reactionaries in the two political parties have taken over and are unwilling to compromise.
With the extreme left and right controlling the political parties, it is not surprising that the party who is in the majority acts like the crocodile man who owns fire and refuses to share it. Is it any wonder there is so little love between our politicians and political parties? Where is the rainbow bird to whisk away the fire, to show them how to share that power?
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. ~ Chief Seattle
We believe each person has intrinsic worth, and should be treated with dignity and respect. They should be afforded universal human rights because they are humans and they have worth. Universal human rights should not be denied them because of some specific characteristic or difference.”
Let’s step back for a moment and look at Democrats and Republican and examine the broad generalizations of each of these political parties. A Democrat is typically known as a supporter of a broader range of social services in America than those advocated by Republicans; in other words Democrats want the government to play a role in helping others and the party supports a larger government. Republican philosophy is based on a limited influence of government, particularly the federal government, and a powerful and influential foreign policy.
One study done at the University of Pennsylvania found: Modern Republicans’ moral foundations are embodied in concepts like individuality and loyalty; modern Democrats’ moral foundations are embodied in concepts like equality and protection (Intern. Journal of Research in Marketing, June 30, 2011).
“We found that while both Republicans and Democrats tend to equally value justice and caring for the vulnerable, Republicans place a much higher value on issues of [ideological] purity [like being a “true conservative” or a “true Christian”] and respect for authority,” said Karen Page Winterich, study co-author and assistant professor of marketing at Pennsylvania State University. “Given these differences, Republicans are more inclined to donate to a charity when these values of purity and respect are met, whereas Democrats are more inclined to donate when the emphasis is purely on equality or protection rather than respect or purity.”
As I continued to explore political differences, I can across this article in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (Feb 23 2009): “Although claimed differences in values have played a prominent role in recent U.S. politics, the value systems of typical Republicans and Democrats have not been evaluated [recently]. In 4 studies, party members were compared on extrinsic (money—financial stability, popularity—wanting to be liked, image) and intrinsic (intimacy, helping, growth) values. Republicans were consistently higher on extrinsic relative to intrinsic values; while Democrats were higher on the intrinsic value of helping needy others.” Some of you might not agree with these generalizations and some of you might believe that this research paints a picture of one party being better, however you would define better, than the other. I want to emphasize that what I am describing is differences between groups, not judging one group as bad and the other as good, not that certain values are better or worse. They’re just different.
“You need not think alike to love alike. ~ Francis David, Unitarian
We believe, despite the differences in ideology throughout our country, we should try to maintain some level of civility and respect in interactions, working through conflict for the benefit of our country.”
As a religious community what effect can we have upon our politicians to find some love, to encourage them to be better leaders of to our country? Jim Castelli, a journalist wrote: “Religion is bad for American politics when it undermines the civil religion: when it speaks of political matters with the certitude of faith in a pluralistic society in which faith cannot be used as a political standard; when it treats opponents as agents of Satan; when it weakens a sense of national community; when it violates the precept of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which formed the basis for the First Amendment -- the precept that any American should no more be treated any differently than any other American on the basis of his or her opinions about religion than on the basis of his or her opinions on literature or geometry … Religion is good for American politics when it supports the civil religion; when it speaks out with civility and respect; when it accepts the principles of tolerance and pluralism; when it appeals to a shared sense of morality and not to religious authority or doctrine; when it reminds us that we are a community, not a collection of isolated individuals; when it reminds us that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. ~ Christian New Testament Book of Matthew 7:12
We believe all people, especially those who are disabled or economically disadvantaged, should be able to get basic needs met. Although many non-governmental organizations do honorable and necessary work in meeting the needs of the less fortunate, the government’s efforts are absolutely essential and need to be maintained at adequate levels. As (Democrat) Vice-President Hubert Humphrey once stated, ‘The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.’”
In the Fall of 2012, members of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County, of which I was a Board member, decided that they were sick and tired of all the fighting and finger pointing in our government and decided to do something. We sent a letter to all the people who govern us—our mayor, our city council people, our state representatives, our federal representatives, and the President of the United States. All of them received the same letter, signed by all the religious leaders in our Council. There are excerpts from the letter in this sermon (see quotes embedded in sermon). The letter contained quotes from holy books, religious and spiritual women and men, along with what we, a group of diverse religious leaders, felt were important principles and values: civility, respect, compassion, charity, stewardship, fairness, equality, peaceful resolution to conflict.
Whether or not this letter would make any difference, we felt we had to do something. We could not stand by and watch our government being ineffective, uncivil, unkind, disrespectful, and divisive. We believed that our legislators needed to be reminded about the shared values of we, the People. We did receive a few letters back from various government officials, some form letters, one handwritten, some local, some national, in appreciation for what we had done.
We ended the letter with this: “As you contemplate these principles, our desire is that you will embody them in the work you do. In difficult times, these standards are often neglected. May you uphold and reflect these in your decision making and leadership of our country. You are invited to respond with your views and comments. Also, we request that you share this letter with your colleagues. The prayers and blessings of our many faiths be with you.”
“Unitarian Universalist Dr. Bruce T. Marshal wrote: ‘Optimism, as I understand it, is an attitude of expectation that a particular result will occur—that a person will recover from illness, that we will achieve a specific goal, that the Publisher’s Clearing House will pick my number from among the billions submitted. The dictionary defines optimism as “an inclination to anticipate the best possible outcome.’”
Hope is less specific. It’s an attitude that looks for possibility in whatever life deals us. Hope does not anticipate a particular outcome, but keeps before us the possibility that something useful will come.
We are told that an optimistic outlook is a good thing, but I’ve rarely found it so. Optimism often leads to disappointment. When the best possible outcome doesn’t occur, we are let down, may even feel betrayed…
Hope is more resilient, more enduring, more helpful. In a serious illness, for example, there are often setbacks. In the face of these, optimism may wear down. But hope encourage us to move forward despite the setbacks…
[Psychoanalyst] Erich Fromm observed, ‘”To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate it there is no birth in our lifetime. Those whose hope is weak settle of comfort or for violence; those whose hope is strong see and cherish signs of new life and are ready every moment to help the birth of that which is ready to be born.’”
It is easy to complain about the divisiveness and lack of love in our government. It is easy to want to be optimistic that things will change and be disappointed when they don’t. As people of faith, as Unitarian Universalists, we are called to move beyond complaint and to take action. We are called to put aside empty optimism and embrace hope that encourages us to move forward despite the setbacks. Certainly we can use our prophetic voice to speak on issues that are important to us. We are also called to hold hope that change will happen and be ready when it does to assist in its birth. When the Inter-Religious Council sent the letter to the political leaders, it was out of a sense of hope, not optimism. We, the members and friends of DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, can also remind our political leaders of the principles and values that are essential to living effectively in a pluralist world, with hope in our hearts. We come here, to DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, to be reminded to be our best selves, to be reminded of our values and principles, with hope that we will live our values and principles in all that we do. Our world is full of misinformation, chaotic sound bites, consumerism, and hate mongering. I believe it is an act of lovingkindness and of hope to remind each other and our politicians of the values and principles that guide us and other people of faith. We can ask them to consider these principles and values as they make decisions, as they work with one another, as they lead us. As it turns out most of us—Republicans and Democrats, Humans-- share many of the same values and principles – we all want to help those in need, we do believe in civility, compassion, charity, stewardship, fairness, equality, and peaceful resolution to conflict. These values and principles may be expressed in different ways, but they are still in the hearts and minds of many, if not all, of our legislators. I really believe that none of them want people to go hungry and none of them want us to be involved in a war. I urge you to resist the Roman Circus foisted upon us by the political pundits, the talking heads more interested in a juicy soundbite than thoughtful inquiry and thorough examination. Resist the urge to turn politicians and political parties into two-dimensional parodies of decent people trying to do the best they can in a political system that, for all its flaws, is still a system that seeks to be representative of our values and beliefs.Unitarian Francis David said: “You need not think alike to love alike.” If change is to happen in government, we, you and I, must continue to hold the hope, to hold the image in our hearts, that love can be a unifying principle in our government. We must keep working across party lines and religious divisions for civility, compassion, respect, working together for these values to prevail in our government, and we must continue to remind our legislators how important civility, compassion, respect, working together, and love is to people of faith, of all faiths. And perhaps one day with love as a guiding principle, our political leaders and government will truly reflect the values of “a more perfect union.”