Politics and the Church – Extrication From the Shoal Waters [Part 8]

There is a public relations principle that says once a person’s reputation has been tarnished, it can never be restored.  One of the most common strategies deployed by political campaign advertising in hotly contested races is to ‘carpet bomb’ an opponent’s reputation.  We might relate this to a ‘nav crew member’ trying to convince the ‘navigator’ that the ‘charts’ are out of date and cannot be trusted.  Do this enough and the whole ‘bridge crew’ will start to wonder what it is to do next.  This can keep the ‘ship of state’ in ‘shoal waters’ so long that escape would seem almost impossible.  So let’s continue on to see how our ‘charts’…Judeo/Christian principles and Constitution…have become so questioned.  Later we will look at what it takes to restore confidence in our ‘charts’.

During the height of the campaign season, it is difficult to escape advertising that features negative ‘judgments’, unsubstantiated character-bashing lies, and innuendo against an opponent with no regard for truth, civility, respect, or righteousness.  It is win-at-all-costs tactics, thus destroying the public’s trust in the political process as well as in the men and women who truly wish to serve their country through that process.  Because running for office has become a contest of who can come up with the most money, it is pretty much impossible for a citizen who truly wants to serve to even consider running for office.  The day of ‘citizen service’ may be over.  Since the 1970’s came to a close, Americans turned skeptical of the institutions that had served them so faithfully for two centuries.  The Gallup Organization has been studying national confidence in institutions since the 1970’s.  Let’s take a quick look at what they have found:

Institution                                 Confidence Level                 Confidence Level

Great Deal/Quite a Bit             Great Deal/Quite a Bit

2013                  2010                   1980-89

Military                                               76%                    76%                     57%

Church/organized religion              48%                    47%                    60%

Presidency                                          36%                     36%                    49%

Public schools                                    32%                      33%                    49%

Supreme Court                                   34%                     36%                    50%

Banks                                                   26%                       23%                   49%

Congress                                              10%                       11%                    26%

In the absence of such a high degree of trust in core institutions we have no choice but to turn to alternatives for insight and guidance, chief of which is ourselves.  These isolationist tendencies could very well signal the beginning of the end of a great society…a ‘ship of state’ on the rocks. This radical individualism is a direct result of the decline of our trust in these life-shaping institutions.  Today there is not a single institution among the core entities in which the nation has a great deal of confidence.  Over the course of the 1980’s only three of the seven institutions were rated at 50% or better.  With the exception of the military, confidence continues to erode.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, which compares the general or overall trust of core institutions across nations has come up with some disturbing facts about our nation.  Their research examines trust levels in government, non-profit organizations, businesses, and media.  In its most recent surveys of twenty-three nations, the United States ranked fourteenth in institutional confidence [Edelman, “2012 Edelman Trust Barometer: Global Results”].  That places the US squarely among a group of nations categorized as “distrusters”…those countries where most of the people are suspicious of their leading institutions.  Not exactly what we would expect or hope for …are our ‘charts’ that far off?

Ever since Gallup began asking questions in 1997, a majority of the public has admitted that they cannot trust the media to give them the straight scoop  [Kevin Robillard,”Poll: Distrust of the Media Sets Record”, Politico, September 21, 2012].  In another fairly recent national survey, two-thirds of adults (68%) confirmed that most of the news they receive about teachers is negative [Hechinger Ed,”New Poll: Public Trusts Teachers, Likes Technology and School Choice”, August 17, 2011].  In a study among members of the nation’s second largest Protestant denomination, it was found that its pastors don’t trust the denomination’s officials…pastors not trusting their pastors.  They also distrust people in their congregations…criticizing them for being selfish and having unrealistic expectations.  Meanwhile, the laity associated with the denomination generally do not trust or respect their pastors, believe that denomination officials don’t really care about the laity, and are even wary of the motives of other congregants.  Denomination leaders were even dissatisfied with the seminaries that produce the denomination’s pastors [Dan R. Dick,”In God We Trust, In Church We Don’t”, United Methodeviations, May 29, 2009…http://doroteos2.com/2009/05/29/in-god-we-trust-in church-we-dont/].

It’s not only the institutions that are in question, but the leaders of these institutions.  Few institutional leaders are highly rated by the public.  Less than half of all adults say they have high levels of trust in clergy (47%), judges (45%), bankers (27%), business executives (22%), and members of Congress (8%) [Art Swift,”Honesty and Ethics Rating of Clergy Slides to New Low”, Gallup politics, December 13, 2013].  These are the people responsible for guiding and protecting our spiritual and moral development, our justice and liberty, our financial stability and security, our commercial productivity and lifestyle resources, and the creation and evaluation of our laws!  Harvard Institute of Politics found that our young adults are more cynical than ever, more cynical than older adults, and reflect declining trust levels in our cultural leaders [Harvard University Institute of Politics,”Levels of Trust Continue to Slide Across the Board, All Institutions Below 50%”, August 3, 2014].

We,’the crew of the ship of state’, are turning inward, becoming more self-reliant…sometimes at the expense of our fellow ‘crew members’…, and more skeptical as time goes on.  We are less interested in pursuing the common good because we feel that those who should be leading us out of the ‘shoal waters’ are instead pursuing their own personal good…making sure they have a ‘life jacket’.  We have built up a wall of resentment toward those in power, assuming that they are abusing their position and power to advance their own agenda or, at the very least, the agenda of a small segment of the public.  Americans may subconsciously know that institutions matter, but they consciously argue that the original, laudable purpose of institutions…to serve people better…has been usurped by a new outlook, that of seeking to serve the institution itself.  Today we find ourselves in a society that has developed a new worldview.  It is a perspective that has limited hope for a better tomorrow and little heart for institutions that could foster better outcomes. Without strong, visionary leaders of integrity who can reshape institutional performance, improve public communication regarding our reality, and engage people in a restorative process, this is the destiny that we are accepting.  We must remember that we are the “government”. If the government is non-functional, it is because we, the people, have allowed it.  We have not asked the ‘hard questions’ of our officials.  We, ‘the crew’, must demand action on the ‘bridge’.  If we don’t, we will all find ourselves ‘treading in shoal waters’ and the sharks will be circling.

Next we will look at a start for the required turn around…the family.  It is the first institute that God gave us.  Let’s not abandon it but bring it back into prominence.  It’s one of those ‘charts’ that can save the ‘ship of state’.

– Bob Munsey

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