Howard: How is the Gospel calling me to respond?

Published 1:00 am Saturday, July 15, 2017

Just before Labor Day in 1994, my daughter and I moved to Washington, D.C., for my sabbatical year as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow. One of the first things we did there was to attend the Labor Day Concert at the Capitol. Looking up at the Capitol with our flag flying from its roof brought tears to my eyes. It is a blessing to be a citizen of the United States, and that building and that flag reminded me of that.

It was also a blessing to have that year to learn more about how government works. The first three months were a crash course on health policy. Then, I worked on health care issues for nine months in the office of the Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota. While I am still no expert on government, politics, or health policy, I learned much that year.

When I returned to my faculty position after my sabbatical, people asked me if I had become cynical about government after seeing it up close. Heavens no, I did not become cynical! But, I became realistic.

I learned that our form of government – outlined in the Constitution – is a marvel. That is why I cannot be cynical. I learned that disagreements on policy are functional in government, if they produce new ideas, discussion, compromise, and good outcomes. Finally, I learned that our form of government is hard work. If it is to operate as it is meant to operate, it is hard work for those who are elected, and it is hard work for those of us who elect them. That is how I became realistic.

Because I love our country and our government, it is hard to watch the divisions in our country today. It is hard to hear the harsh, mean-spirited words that can come from all sides.

I recently read something that made me think there might be a way for us to do the hard work that is our part of government in a way that is true to our faith and better for our country.

Adam Hamilton, who founded and serves as pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in the United States, said he would like for his congregation to look at the news every day and think “I wonder how the Gospel calls me to respond to this.”

Now I do not think this would cause us all to agree on every issue. We Christians certainly do not agree on what the Gospel calls us to do in many situations.

But, if we began with the premise that we were seeking to respond to the news in a way that is consistent with our interpretation of the Gospel, then I think our disagreements would not become deep divisions and our words would not become harsh and mean-spirited.

We could disagree yet still love one another. We could disagree and still be able to talk in a civil, productive way that could bring about good for our nation and our world.

Among his disciples, Jesus chose Matthew the tax collector, who was a collaborator with Rome, and he chose Simon the Zealot, who opposed the Roman occupation and was willing to use violence to drive the Romans out. If both Matthew and Simon could be Jesus’ disciples, then surely Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, can both serve him.

So, look at the news and think, “I wonder how the Gospel is calling me to respond to this.”

I’m willing to try. How about you?


– The Rev. Cindy Howard is rector at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.