Some antagonists fight dirty, others turn to prayer

Jun 2 2011 - 11:33am

As an exercise in good writing, modern presidential campaigns are complete duds.

Here we are, 18 months before the election, and the bevy of candidates is still sorting itself out, coy challengers lining up like swimsuit models in a beauty contest, teasing us with "will I or won't I" hints before they officially enter the race or step aside.

This sputtering start leaves voters weary long before the first ballot is cast.

Where's the snappy lead, the clear beginning that draws readers in and makes them want to follow the rest of the story? Where's the compelling narrative? Good writin' this ain't.

But then, that was never really the intent.

Presidential campaigns are much more successful when viewed as gladiatorial entertainment. This introductory period of candidate tryouts is just a warm-up of sorts, a take-it-or-leave-it appetizer before the main meal. It reminds voters the big match is coming, where the stakes are high.

I understand the value of this antagonistic method of choosing our top elected official, and the logic of partisan politics. Until recently, I never really had reason to question it. Then I spoke with a couple of Presbyterian and Lutheran ministers about the ongoing church disputes regarding gay clergy.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently voted to amend its ordination standards in a way that would allow gays and lesbians to be ordained. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America took a similar step in 2009. Individual congregations and regional church bodies are now debating whether to accept these moves.

In talking with local church leaders, what struck me most was the similarity between their struggles and the national debate over what direction the federal government should take.

For example, Pastor Forrest Claassen with First Presbyterian Church of Clarkston noted some ministers and lay elders may have voted for the new ordination standards even if they oppose gay ordination, because they clarified that regional presbyteries have the authority to decide who can or can't be ordained.

This was an issue for Lutherans as well. Some congregations chose to leave the ELCA and join the newly formed North American Lutheran Church in part because the NALC purports to give local congregations a greater voice in approving changes in church teachings.

All this is very reminiscent of the debate over states rights and what decisions should be left to state legislatures versus the central government. The moral debate over gay ordination also seems to be an extension in some ways of the national debates over abortion, gay marriage and what role the federal government should play in mandating our national values.

The difference is in how congregations and voters deal with their disagreements.

Rather than a gladiatorial contest in which candidates hack away at each other while cheering voters take sides and throw rotten tomatoes, my impression is that church members have chosen to work out their differences through reflection, prayer and reading the Bible.

For example, the online comments posted on a Presbyterian Church (USA) Web site dealing with the ordination amendment were remarkably thoughtful and polite. People clearly disagreed with each other, but there wasn't any of the rabid name-calling that's de rigueur in politics these days.

"We are passionate about what we believe, and we disagree passionately," Claassen said. "But there's also a strong sense that we're in this together. We have a deep commitment to one another. That may be something the national debate could learn from."

Amen to that, brother.

Spence covers politics for the Tribune. He may be contacted at or (208) 848-2274.

(c) 2011, Lewiston Tribune, Idaho

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