Reflecting on the Recall from a quiet Capitol Square

Well, the Solidarity Sing-a-long is back and as boisterous as ever but other than that…

I retired as a political pundit after confidently predicting in my high school newspaper in January 1976 that Jimmy Carter would received the Democratic nomination for president that year, so I have nothing to say about the recall. You’ll have to go elsewhere for commentary about winners and losers and all of that.

But as an eyewitness to the events over the last sixteenth months, I am struck by several things. First of all, a parishioner was in my office talking about the recall and other things. She had been very engaged in the process, regularly participated in the Solidarity Sing-a-long on the Capitol Steps, and earlier this week spoke to me of her deep anxiety about what might happen on Tuesday.

Today, she spoke about the justice of God, and Christ’s triumph over the powers of evil. We talked about the difference between the justice called for by God, the reign of God proclaimed by Jesus Christ, and the realities of the political systems in which we live. We can never succumb to the temptation to believe the political causes in which believe are somehow ushering in God’s reign. To do so, whether on the left or right, is to turn our faith into political ideology. We have seen that too often on the right, and those on the left should learn a lesson from that.

There is something deeper here, a deeper longing, a greater value that somehow got subsumed in the political process, subsumed to recall elections. And many of those most invested in the protests allowed their voice and concerns to be channeled into more narrow efforts at political gain and interest group politics.

Reasonable men and women can disagree about the power of unions (just as they can disagree about the power of corporate money in politics). What was lost over the last year and a half was the deeper sense that what was at stake was a vision of the common good, a sense that in order for difficult problems to be solved, people had to come together to talk about them. Sure, we’ve lost that on the national level; if I fault Gov. Walker for anything, it is for the tactics he and the Republicans used to divide us as a community.

We live in an era of “winner-take-all” and demonization. That is as true on the left as on the right; it is more and more true in the church as well.

The problems haven’t gone away. They’re still there, and in some respects, the problems (unemployment, for example) are deeper and more intractable than ever. But what I sense today is that there are some efforts being made to move beyond the deep divisions and the pain that has existed over the last year and a half here in Wisconsin; an attempt to reach out to rebuild community and a sense of the common good.

There is also some soul-searching going on in the progressive community, questioning whether the recall movement was the best way to focus energy and efforts. From my perspective, the recalls fed the fires of partisanship and division, and prevented Walker’s opponents from offering a compelling vision of an alternative to the vision articulated by Walker and others. There was a great deal about the importance of unions from the protesters, but I didn’t hear a word of debate or discussion about whether it was appropriate for the Teamsters and the IBEW to have their huge trucks parked on Capitol Square throughout the protests. To put it bluntly the election was fought over partisan politics and the power of unions, and not over issues of the common good.

If there is a role for communities of faith in our political discourse, it ought to be, as I’ve said repeatedly, that we provide a model where people with differing views can come together to discuss, debate, and disagree. We don’t do that particularly well, but if we can learn how to be community across the divisions that separate us, we can help to shape a vision for our larger society that allows us to come together to work for the common good, across our political, economic, and ethnic divide.

St. Paul wrote in Galatians, “in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. That vision of the body of Christ may not have been fully realized, even by Paul, but it should stand before us as a model for our religious communities, and for our civil society as well (where ethnicity, socio-economic division, religious difference need not prevent us for working toward a common good).




2 thoughts on “Reflecting on the Recall from a quiet Capitol Square

  1. What a real, rubber-hits-the-road ministry you have there in the aftermath of a contentious campaign. I know folks in your state and have heard how polarizing and difficult things became. You have this awesome opportunity to manifest the love of God in Christ, and I pray that all the fruit of the Spirit will be abundant with you as you minister to folks there.

    • Tim: Thanks for your words of support. It’s been an incredible sixteen months in Madison, and in Wisconsin. I’ve been fascinated by the developments since last Tuesday. It seems there is considerable interest from all perspectives, in finding ways to move forward and to rebuild community.

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