Protecting integrity in government: Our responsibility as believers
Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. These principles bind all believers.
These are good principles for politics, too, with urgent implications as we consider how to protect the integrity of our political process as the coronavirus pandemic continues to alter most aspects of American life. And such values are not the exclusive property of any one denomination, ideology or political party. They speak to and unify all of us.
In the coming months, we have a responsibility to transcend the partisan tropes about voting to figure out how we can ensure every American, regardless of age or strength of immune system, has the ability to vote in the election in November. The peaceful transition of power is fundamental to our American experiment in self-government. It has survived a Civil War, two World Wars and the Great Depression. Now our grandest tradition must be protected in the face of a virus that has changed most aspects of American life.
We have different perspectives as a millennial and a baby-boomer, but we share the same mission as Believers who have been active in national politics for three decades. One of us served eight terms in the U.S. Congress, teaching Sunday school every weekend in Tennessee and devoutly attending weekly bipartisan prayer gatherings in Washington while in office. The other grew up around politics, watching Democrats and Republicans break bread together regularly in DC — helping them find common ground and work together on issues. But that’s changing rapidly, and we’re all the worse for it.
Healing is a central part of the faith tradition we grew up in. And we believe that the mission of the church gives us a special responsibility to heal our politics and bring our nation together. And our opportunity is now, because the foundation of our democracy has been badly shaken by ethics scandals, access buying in Washington, and the corrosive influence of wealthy special interests.
In recent years, the amount of money spent to influence both our elections and government has skyrocketed. Undoubtedly, this exercise in buying influence has tilted the tables in American politics towards monied interests. It’s a truth acknowledged by the political right, which rallied around the populist promises of Donald Trump to “drain the Swamp” and the political left, energized by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s passionate attacks on Wall Street greed.
The list of ways that our system has become rigged to favor the wealthy and well-connected goes on and on, and it’s not a Republican or a Democratic problem — both parties are at fault.
For too long, political reform has been seen as the exclusive domain of the left. But poll after poll shows it isn’t: In five separate national surveys in the last year, Americans of all stripes cited the government as the country’s top concern over traditional challenges like healthcare, education, terrorism or the economy.
Despite profound policy disagreements, the average Republican and Democratic voter is in agreement that crony capitalism is on the rise, and it’s the powerless that suffer.
In the book of James, the brother of Jesus urged his followers to avoid showing favoritism — specifically warning against giving a wealthy man the best seat in the church and seating a poor person on the back row.
James’ parable could also be seen as a call to action for people of faith to wade into the reform arena on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are often unheard and unseen.
Nothing would be more encouraging than to see the American church help lead the campaign to promote integrity and give ordinary Americans a voice in their government, to answer the church’s calling to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
The good news is that in Congress there are specific reforms, with bipartisan support, that aim to tackle unaccountable dark money, fix our paralyzed federal campaign watchdog, and end the practice of swampy slush funds widely used by members of both parties. These measures would go a long way to ensure the voices of all Americans are heard, but we need evangelicals to play a leadership role in supporting them.
We must demand more from our elected officials, and from our own communities. To ensure the values of our faith and protect the founding principles of our nation, we must put country over party. Right now, we must call on the federal government to help states with critical funding to ensure that our elections are safe and secure in November.
This isn’t about pulpit partisanship — it’s about using our faith and values to unite our nation. It’s about guarding the Judeo-Christian values that underpin our form of government, values that unite all Americans.
Working together, faith leaders could inspire an era of bipartisan consensus to uphold ethics, transparency and accountability within government, without which we cannot heal. Let’s start by protecting the ability of all Americans to vote amid the extreme uncertainty of the evolving pandemic.
Zach Wamp served eight terms in the U.S. Congress from 1995-2011. He is a former chair of the National Prayer Breakfast and is currently the chair of the Gospel Music Foundation. He also co-chairs Issue One’s ReFormers caucus, a bipartisan group of 200 former members of Congress working on political reform.
Weston Wamp, a former congressional candidate, is the Senior Political Strategist at Issue One. He’s a local Young Life committee member in Tennessee. They are father and son.