From the Book of Ben Sira:
Do not seek from the Lord high office,
or the seat of honor from the king.
Do not assert your righteousness before the Lord,
or display your wisdom before the king.
Do not seek to become a judge,
or you may be unable to root out injustice;
you may be partial to the powerful,
and so mar your integrity.
Commit no offense against the public,
and do not disgrace yourself among the people.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Ben Sira 7:4-7 – October 24, 2012)
There are a few folks flying all over the U.S. recently (and promising to do so for the next couple of weeks) who have not followed Ben Sira’s advice! Everyday for the past few weeks my mailbox has contained at least one and more commonly three or more expensively produced, glossy, color flyers extolling the virtues of one or the other of the political parties or candidates, or more often tearing down the other guys. Everyday for the past few weeks my voicemail has recorded a robo-call from some politician or political action group. Everyday at any hour of the day that I care to turn on my television set, I am treated to political advertisements and “news” shows. Someone is not following Ben Sira’s advice to “not seek high office or the seat of honor”! And we as a society are, I’m sad to say, disgraced among the nations by the spectacle of our electioneering.
And how could it be otherwise in a society like ours? In a culture in which the People are the sovereign, charged with choosing our leaders by popular vote, how could it be otherwise? We could, I suppose, try to limit the period of campaigning. We could, I suppose, try to limit the amount spent on political advertisements. I’m not sure these or other measures would work, but we could try.
What might work better is for everyone, more the People than the politicians, to remember and meditate upon the closing words of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
If we and those who seek our votes would simply remember that we are not enemies, and let ourselves be touched “by the better angels of our nature,” if we and those who seek our votes would focus on truth and on laying out a vision for our country and our world instead of tearing down the other candidate, if we and those who seek our votes would carry out our democratic processes in humility, then perhaps we would not need Ben Sira’s injunction to “commit no offense against the public,” perhaps we could be assured that our election cycles do not disgrace ourselves among the nations.
Until then, though, Ben Sira’s words are not merely an injunction; they stand as stark indictment of our political campaigns. God grant that when it is all over, the better angels of our nature can unite us again.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.