by Hal Bass, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Political Science
Former Moderator, CBF of Arkansas & CBF Global
Politics pertains to the arena and process for authoritatively allocating values in society. Contemporary American society is relatively evenly divided and highly polarized. Elections are our primary democratic means for designating and legitimating policy makers. Our two-party system aggregates diverse interests under party labels. Competition occurs both within and between these partisan coalitions. In turn, party coalitions can feature both stability and change. Small shifts in their composition and commitments can have substantial policy repercussions.
People of faith enter the political arena to advance and defend our values. We do so alongside others from our own faith traditions, those of other faiths, and those for whom faith is not a factor. Indeed, not all the values we ourselves embrace are necessarily faith-based. Realists recognize that across a wide range of issues, we will likely find ourselves variously partnering with and opposed to elements in each camp.
Nevertheless, we rely on our faith not only to guide us in our choice of values, but also in the ways and means we employ to promote and protect them. Here, for us, our faith-based guidance is clear and unequivocal. We are commanded to love all our neighbors, treating allies and adversaries alike with dignity and respect.
Sometimes, we prevail in the policy battles; sometimes we don’t. Both our victories and defeats can be short-lived. Often, neither is likely to be total, and acceptable policy outcomes can result from negotiated compromises. However, our present dilemma is that that our contemporary, winner-take-all culture discourages accommodation of competing interests, while our constitutional design encourages exactly that. My hope and prayer is that in the aftermath of this acrimonious election, we can all accept the outcome with grace and humility, and move forward with heightened civility and appreciation for the diversity that characterizes our society.
Baptists in the American South, owing to our European and early American experience as a persecuted minority, and the subsequent regional cultural dominance we exercised, appear to me to be exceptionally well-positioned to take the lead in healing our polarized polity. May we perceive in our Christian citizenship a call to pursue this vital and challenging mission and ministry.