When I was in high school my career goal was to go into the legal field. But the courtroom wasn’t my final destination. I wanted to enter the political realm. Like so many others down through history, I wanted to make the world a better place, and I thought those who made the laws were in the best place to do that.
Obviously, law wasn’t in my future but my interest in the political realm never slackened. But, as a pastor/theologian, I see things through a different lens. I have always put truth above everything else. Truth must be the foundation of life, and must form our ethics. What we believe must drive how we perceive the world around us and how we live in it.
We are now knee-deep in the political season as local, state and national races have the candidates engaged in their campaigns. We are about to be deluged with flyers, ads, yard signs and political shout-outs masquerading as TV commercials. But here’s the deal: Few of these do what you and I really need, and that is to understand what the candidates actually believe, what their beliefs will motivate them to do and how they will go about doing it.
So, beginning this week, I’m offering you some conversation starters as you plow through the mass of mailings, dirt-slinging sound bites and office gossip. My hope is we all can really start fact-finding, and then think deeply about the choices before us, and finally, vote for those candidates whose pronouncements most closely align with our values.
Let’s start with two very important ways to govern a democracy.
First is the “elitist form of government.” Those who espouse this view believe a few educated, capable people should make the important decisions. Plato made the case for this in his Republic. In order to have a well-ordered society, those with the most intelligence and experience should be put in charge.
This view has much to commend it. We certainly don’t want the uneducated and daft to be running things. Yet, history has demonstrated that this can easily deteriorate into the few making the big decisions for the rest of us and asking us to trust them and obey.
On the other hand is what we know as “populism.” In populism, the people are given the most power. But, there are dangers here, too. Alexander Fraser Tytler said it best: “A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.”
Since both “elitism” and “populism” come with unwanted baggage, the framers of the U.S. Constitution put a system of checks and balances in place to guard against both extremes. And yet, as we all know, those checks and balances only work when those responsible to honor and submit to them are people of untarnished integrity.
It is crucial to understand that our governmental structure will only work if those holding office are honest, truth-loving and truth-speaking people. If they are, then even as elitist, educated and intelligent people they will listen to, honor and represent the people. Conversely, if a “populist” has integrity, he or she will stand for what is right even when the majority demands they get their way.
So, there you have it. Job No. 1 as we move toward election day is to recognize the integrity quotient of candidates you are thinking of supporting. Have they stayed true to their promises? Have they courageously voted their principles rather than party at times? Have they been transparent in letting you know where they stand on controversial issues? Most of all, have they refused to compromise their principles even if it meant losing?
As for me, I’d rather have an honest person of intelligence and impeccable integrity representing me than someone who was a professional politician was dedicated to using their political office for greater advancement and an upscale lifestyle.
Bottom line: Get invested in educating yourself as to the issues that matter to you, and then vote for those you can trust. After all, your vote is a treasure inherited from our forefathers. It is more powerful than currency. Don’t let it be bought cheaply. Instead, do what you can to spend it wisely.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.