Ongoing lessons from Congress for the church

As a long-time student of politics and theology/faith/religion/etc, I have been watching the recent events of the US House of Representatives and their attempts to elect a Speaker of the House as well as the the ripple effect from it. And I’ve been thinking about the lessons that the church can learn from this, if any.

Here’s what I’ve got so far.

  1. Leadership is messy. But you probably already knew that. And here’s another obvious observation that becomes even more obvious in light of recent events – it’s even messier when the stakes are higher and the margins are slimmer. That’s because each person gets to assert their limited power more and more. If you don’t think that applies in a church, think again. Lot’s of church operate on an assumption of consensus, which means that they want everyone to be in agreement. This gives a lot of power to the folks who, if they want to, can throw their weight around and demand certain things, or cause problems if they so choose, depending on how messy a situation, or on weak the leadership situation is. But this isn’t specific to church of course – this is any human organization really. It’s just humanity that we’re talking about and how humans operate when they gather together to make decisions, involve power dynamics, and are in community.
  2. Compromise vs. “Purity” – this is the fight on full display within the GOP conference. This is what it’s all about folks. The Trump loyalists faction in the GOP who are holding out on Rep. McCarthy want a Speaker of the House who is their version of a firebrand uncompromising “conservative.” Someone who will stick it to the liberals type of leader. They are rejecting the so-called establishment Republicans who are willing to compromise and work with Democrats in order to pass legislation in order to govern. The question within the majority party is which guiding principle will they follow – the all or nothing approach of purity, winner takes all approach, the ends justify the means, or compromise, legislate, govern, you get some and we get some? This very much has application in the church because we have these same folks in our churches. There are very real consequences for your church for each approach. You’ll attract different types of folks, and you’ll repulse other folks based on your approach. And even beyond that, there are ripple effects. How open to innovation and new ideas is a purity-style church? What are the limits and boundaries of acceptable behavior in a compromise-style church? These are serious questions that need to be dealt with among others.
  3. Anxiety – OOOO – this is the unnamed, but ever present guest. It’s all around. It’s there in the story about the reality that we haven’t had this situation in 100 years. It’s there in the story about the donors who are squirmy about there not being a Speaker on the first ballot. It’s there in the story about adjourning early for the day. Anxiety in the uncertainty. Hmmm. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years it’s that humans have this deep need and desire to be in control. And they will do everything in their power to get it or at least have the appearance of control. And they will burn down the house if it makes them look like they are in control. Anxiety sets in when there is a lack of control. This definitely applies to our churches. Boy do we struggle with control. Which is ironic considering our whole theology is based on the notion that we are not in control, we have never been in control, and we will not be in control. That’s what we claim anyway. Yet in practice, we often set that aside and grasp at control all the time because we are addicted to control. Sin is a tough one, isn’t it? And control is very alluring. Letting go gives us anxiety, unease. Just look at how the church has handled the pandemic over the last couple of years – some churches handled the anxiety pretty good considering, while others crashed and burned. Some moved forward and others clinged to nostalgia – essentially unable or unwilling or too traumatized to let go of an imaginary or idealized past that soothed calmed the anxiety. How long will the Speaker race go on – depends on who is willing to be comfortable with anxiety the longest. What happens in your church – depends on who is willing to be comfortable with anxiety.
  4. How it all is talked about – this one is a bit more fuzzy. It’s about people watching. I think it’s fascinating to watch how people react to things. To watch how people respond to situations. For instance, it’s kind of funny to see some of the Representatives take a picture of themselves with popcorn quoting themselves saying “just getting some popcorn to watch the festivities.” They recognize that the situation is out of their control, so the best thing they can do is sit back and watch it unfold. Not much else to do. There’s the stories of other Representatives who are engaged in conversations and deal making – trying as they might to end the stalemate. There’s the stories of Representatives who are making statements essentially saying that they will not heed or give in. I’m always curious to see how long that lasts. Statements all. What are the long term ramifications? What happens in the future? Will these Representatives act the same way in a similar situation under different circumstance if the situation is reversed? Do their ethics change based on the situation? Is there consistency? Lots of questions. And yes, this relates to the church as well. How do we handle situations? Do our ethics change based on the situation, or are we consistent? Do we say one thing and then do something else? Do we have a price at which we bend or break? How much of our faith is the foundation of our actions? Are we the type that sits and watches, tries to cut deals, makes bold statements? Does it depend on the situation? Lots of questions. Who are we in the church? Why?

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