November 7 – What the President Got Wrong

Refugee tentIt’s not been a good week for the President.  Tuesday’s election results were not encouraging, and even some of his once most ardent supporters have turned on him. And now, to top it all off, the E-pistle takes issue with a comment from his post-election news conference.

One of the reporters at the news conference asked the President, “Is the clock ticking? Are you running out of time? How much time do you have left? And what do you make of the notion that you’re now a lame duck?”

Mr. Obama responded by saying that he can’t avoid the lame duck label. Then he told the reporters what he said he had told his staff earlier in the day, “We have this incredible privilege of being in charge of the most important organization on earth — the U.S. government and our military and everything that we do for good around the world. And there’s a lot of work to be done to make government work better, to make Americans safer, to make opportunity available to more people, for us to be able to have a positive influence in every corner of the globe, the way we’re doing right now in West Africa.”

With appropriate humility, I hope, that is where I take issue with the President.  To be sure, the U.S. government is a very significant institution, organization, to use the President’s term. We do a lot of good and, yes, should work together to make our government better.  But, frankly, the U.S. government, no matter who’s running it, is a distant also-ran on my list of the earth’s important organizations and institutions.

My top three institutions on the earth’s most important list are, in reverse order of importance:

3. The family.  Families are where human persons are nurtured in their humanity and come to thrive as the people they were created to be.  The family is where we first and most deeply learn to love. It is where grace, acceptance, and forgiveness are experienced in the daily-ness of life.  Families are found in every corner of the globe, and make a difference for good in every one of those corners. And, yes, there’s a lot of work to be done to make families work better.

2. Marriage.  Obviously, family and marriage go together.  Families prosper best when a man and a woman are called into marriage and then, by birth or adoption, God blesses them with children.  In marriage, to use the words from our Book of Common Worship, “a woman and a man belong to each other, and with affection and tenderness freely give themselves to each other.” Marriage, when held in honor by all, is like a wonderful leaven that enriches all of human life.  And, yes, there’s a lot of work to be done to make marriages work better.

Marriage and family, these nearly most important of all institutions, are part of what we call “common grace.”  Like the rain that showers the whole earth, providing for the welfare of all, marriage and family are common goods in every corner of the globe.  They are so much more important that the U.S. government.

So, what is the most important organization on earth?  The church of Jesus Christ.  We are, to use the words of the famous theologian Karl Barth, the “provisional representation” of what God graciously intends for humanity, even the coming Kingdom of peace and justice and reconciliation with God and one another. In and through the church, the Body of Christ, God works to create a new reality where life reigns over death, forgiveness over sin, embrace over rejection, generosity over greed, joy over sorrow.

“Most important organization” barely begins to touch what the church is and how God is using it as we await the fulness of all things. I’ll take church over government any day.

The President said he told the White House staff, “We have this incredible privilege of being in charge of the most important organization on earth — the U.S. government and our military and everything that we do for good around the world. And there’s a lot of work to be done to make government work better, to make Americans safer, to make opportunity available to more people, for us to be able to have a positive influence in every corner of the globe, the way we’re doing right now in West Africa.”

I would change his words only slightly in sharing my thoughts with the beloved people of LPC. “We have this incredible privilege of being members of, and servants in, the most important organization on earth — the church of Jesus Christ, its worship and mission and everything that God does through the church for his good around the world. And there’s a lot of work to be done to make the church more faithful to her Lord, to make Christians more willing to risk their comfort and safety for the sake of others, to make the gospel real to more people, for God to use us, lame duck as we are, to have a positive influence in every corner of the globe, the way we’re doing right now in West Africa and so many other places.”

I hope the President has a good weekend after a tough week. Maybe he’ll go to church.