Loved ones have often asked me over the past 20 years about my decision to leave the field of politics and enter ministry. For many, the choices seemed too stark. They couldn’t begin to understand how – or why – I could be attracted to two fields that most think are so incredibly different.
I never understood the two as being far apart. From the time I was a child, I instinctively understood both fields to be about wanting to change the world in a positive way. It was primarily the mechanisms for implementing change and manner of articulating the need for change that differed.
If I’m being completely honest, there are times when I feel pulled to move back in the direction of politics. My passion for building bridges is perhaps one of the greatest needs we have in political circles these days. I think I could do the tough work that few seem willing or able to do.
So why do I stay in ministry?
There are many, many reasons. One of which I was reminded as I watched California Governor Gavin Newsom speak at a rally celebrating the defeat of the attempt to recall him on Tuesday night. Let me tell you about that reason.
One of the things that politics instills in candidates early on in their first race is that you need to project a strong, knowledgeable, in-charge persona always. If voters see a candidate who acts open and vulnerable – and God forbid go so as far to admit mistakes – then political gurus say the candidate will be seen as weak and easy to defeat.
For that reason, Gov. Newsom projected a joyous air that talked about how strong the affirmation of his administration and its values were. He did a really good job (in my humble opinion) of saying the vote hadn’t just been about him: the vote had been about a long laundry list of policies that had been preserved. That part of his speech I really liked!
There was one huge piece missing for me. To use the language of my 12 Step program, he missed a golden opportunity to make amends with voters for things he had done that contributed to the move to recall him. I hoped he would included a short statement that might have gone something like this …
“While I am humbled by this expression of support tonight, I want to take a moment to acknowledge things that I done that undermined your trust in my administration. Looking back, I regret my decision to go to an event at the French Laundry restaurant without a mask – at the same time I was pushing for mandates that required all of you to wear masks at such gatherings. I also understand that some of you might be frustrated that at the time I was pushing for restrictions on public schools, my own children were enrolled in private schools that didn’t face some of those restrictions. While it is incredibly challenging at times to balance the role of Governor (one who puts the interests of the public first) and father (one who puts the interests of his children first). Nevertheless, I could have tried to balance these positions more effectively. In both cases, it created the appearance that I was above the laws that I work with the legislature every day to institute and enforce. Moving forward, I will try to do better and regain some of that trust I lost.”
I don’t know about you, but those words would have brought me to my feet.
One of the things I appreciate about being in ministry in a Progressive community, is that I don’t have to try to pretend – or project – that I am perfect. Anyone who watches a broadcast of our weekly service at www.woodlandhillscommunitychurch.org can find at least a half-dozen imperfections of mine in the first 10 minutes of the service most weeks. 🙂
One of the tenets of our faith is that we human beings aren’t God (or the Infinite). As people (or finite) we all have our shortcomings. That awareness creates in our spiritual leaders (in many, but certainly not all cases) a sense of humility and willingness to talk about our foibles in a way that most political candidates can’t or won’t.
So, I guess the way I can channel my frustration from the other night is to help name this dynamic for folks. Candidates and officials project an image of perfection – and an accompanying defensiveness – because they think that’s what you demand of them.
As a former political candidate and current pastor, I can help folks bring a less rigid and demanding set of expectations to their candidates that gives them safe space to own up to their foibles. For by constantly reinforcing the false belief that OUR candidate – or OUR political party – is perfect (and “the other side” is evil and malicious), we continue to manufacture hatred and polarization in this country.
Here’s hoping we grow in our ability to let politicians, pastors, and everyone in between be their own authentic selves – free to admit their shortcomings and make their amends when needed. Only, then will we grow in our ability to come together and heal: as individuals, as a country, and as a global community.