Democracy is at once a gift and an achievement. Our forebears have given us the gift of freedom and equality, but in each generation we are charged with maintaining and perfecting that gift.
When we govern ourselves, we do so by giving voice to a wide array of perspectives and interests. We speak our minds, whether we are well-informed or ill-informed. We speak our hearts, whether those hearts beat with hope or fear, love or hatred.
This messy process culminates in a vote, and we agree to adhere to the will of the majority. No majority vote is a final decree about an eternally valid way of doing things. Instead, it is a temporary agreement to commit to a certain set of strategies for navigating the challenges of our common life. Democracy is a trial and error process.
The philosophers who inspired the Founding Fathers foresaw the threat that the majority could act in tyrannical ways. Accordingly, our political forebears inscribed in our founding documents safeguards against the tyranny of the majority.
In addition to majority rule, democracy requires a loyal, gracious, and constructive minority. Those of us in a minority are called to make a positive contribution to the solutions to the problems of the day in keeping with the will of the majority without sacrificing our integrity and our commitment to the truth.
Being a loyal, constructive minority is a difficult balancing act. Politicians of the left and the right have served as poor models for this over the past decade or so. Most of their energies have been devoted to devising strategies to gain majority status. In other words, they exert their energies toward gaining power instead of finding ways to wield that power in service to the common good. Democrats and Republicans alike suffer from this same malady.
A parallel exists in the polity of the Episcopal Church. The parallel is not perfect, since we do have the authorities of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason as well as a Body articulated into Holy Orders with well-defined roles and responsibilities. Nevertheless, we govern ourselves in the Councils of the Church by using a democratic process.
Sometimes, we find ourselves in the position of being a minority. As an ecclesiastical minority we face a challenge that bears a significant resemblance to those we face in the political sphere. Without surrendering our principles and our commitment to truth, we are called to make a positive contribution to meeting the challenges we all face together right now.
Mutual respect and an unwavering commitment to the common good are essential elements in every positive contribution to the Church’s life, as well as to our common political life. When we find ourselves in intractable arguments, we can agree together to find the things on which we do agree and work with our might and all our joy on precisely those things.
Here in Western Louisiana, we have much to do. Proclaim the Good News of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ. Serve the poor. Welcome the stranger. Comfort the sick. Visit the prisoner.
I love the United States. And I love The Episcopal Church. Neither is perfect. But they are good. And my lifelong commitment is to help them live up to the promise they hold. I am encouraged and grateful to see this same commitment in the faithful people of this Diocese.
This post is an excerpt from my weekly thoughts shared with the Diocese of Western Louisiana.