United Church of Christ

Commentary: Wise as Serpents, Gentle as Doves

The dust hasn’t even settled from the last shutdown skirmish that engulfed Washington, and here we are on the edge of another crisis. Congress is consistently at odds with itself these days. Isn’t it amazing how things can feel mired and stuck, but also like they are spinning fast and out of control? The more frantic and scary things get, the more I find myself wanting to respond with anger at the world around me.

How did we get here? We’ve become so deeply divided. The “other side” appears alien and foreign, and we get caught up in winning regardless of the collateral damage. This is not unique to politics. It happens in our lives too. It’s easy to understand how these very human actions manifest themselves on the broad scale of our government. We are human and those we elect to high office are also human -- deeply flawed and broken.

Personally, it makes me sad that Congress is such a bummer right now. I wish we could participate in the vibrant, active and pragmatic congress of my imagination, where people disagree but compromise, and where silly stunts are considered beneath the dignity of legislators. I hunger for another way.

Proverbs 15:4 reminds us that “the soothing tongue is the tree of life” and Matthew 10:16 says “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” Scripture tells us that wisdom trumps foolishness in every situation and we, as people of faith, have a unique opportunity to speak truth and wisdom into this political climate.

The next time you’re tempted to get into a Facebook fight with someone - take a moment to pray for discernment about how to respond. When calling your member of Congress to express your frustration– remember the exhortation to gentleness. In every interaction we have a choice to make -- Do I want to contribute to the cacophony? What do my words and actions mean, and how will I choose to wield them?

In my work I interact with members of congress and their staff often. I speak with them about the things that matter to us as a faith community - uplifting the vulnerable, supporting immigrants and refugees, ensuring that everyone has a chance at a life of dignity. These things matter deeply to me and oftentimes it is hard to speak with someone who has a dramatically different perspective on what the government’s role should be. But each time I am tempted to dive into the fray I remind myself that I’m not here for a cathartic moment of unleashed frustration, I’m here to try and make a difference.

This doesn’t mean we give up the struggle. Espousing a gentle spirit is not the same as being weak. Our strength can lie in our conviction that how we say something can deeply effect how people hear what we’re saying. Our ability to be in relationship with those with whom we disagree is a mark of our faith, and it can also makes us more effective as advocates. In a deeply divided time, maybe we are called to act as a resting place for others wearied by politics as usual. Perhaps by letting down our guard a little, we can make space for the spirit to work.

Katie Adams is the Domestic Policy Advocate for the United Church of Christ.

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