“Open the eyes and hearts of our lawmakers so that they will know and do Your will. . . . Help them to think of each other as fellow Americans seeking Your best for our Nation rather than enemy parties seeking to defeat each other. Replace distrust in each other with a deep commitment to creative compromise.”
Those are the words of a prayer uttered by Rear Admiral Barry Black, chaplain of the U.S. Senate. They are recalled in a piece written by Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware for Yale Divinity School’s Reflections publication. It is a prayer many of us are praying.
Coons has written a hopeful article, and that hope arises from the religious faith of many of the Senate’s members. Several members of the Senate gather each week for a nondenominational prayer breakfast.
“With no staff, no lobbyists, and no pretense, these meetings are rare opportunities for us to get to know each other as people: as parents, as children, as spouses, and as individuals shaped by life’s great triumphs and tragedies. When we see each other this way – as more than two-dimensional cutouts mapped to preconceived expectations – we can begin to focus on what brings us together, rather than what drives us apart.”
On the outside, we tend to only see the “two-dimensional cutouts” shaped by partisan politics. Coons gives a deeper look.
“In Senate prayer breakfasts, I have witnessed acts of extraordinary kindness and genuine compassion for each other as fellow human beings, rather than as walking distributors of party-line talking points. These weekly sessions are powerful reminders that from the most liberal to the most conservative, we share a love of family and country that far exceeds any policy or political disagreement. . . .
“Modern politics has pulled just a few threads from the cloth of faith tradition and made them points of division. In recent years, more often than not, faith has contributed to the divisiveness of our politics.
“That has not always been the case. The history of churches and political change in America is long and distinguished, and makes good on our obligation to ‘learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed’ (Isaiah 1:17). From the American Revolution to the end of slavery, from women’s suffrage to the movements for civil and labor rights, positive, progressive paradigm shifts have been centrally informed or directly led by faith groups.
“Our faith traditions – even the same faith tradition – can inform our politics in diametrically opposing ways. Yet the opportunities to find common cause are not as rare as some might think, and I have seen moments where interdenominational faith-based and secular leadership have come together to unite members of the Senate who might not otherwise see eye to eye. . . .
“We may disagree on policy and ideology, but share a view of humanity that is rooted in a calling and a commitment to those we serve – and that is a good place to start.”
Thank you, Sen. Coons, for reminding us that government in the United States is more than partisan wrangling; it is about serving.
This is the first of several posts I am going to write related to the this current issue of Reflections.