Is Politics Too Dirty to Talk About?

During the 2008 election, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the multimillion-best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life, held a forum with then-candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.

It was during this forum, when asked the question about “when does a baby get human rights,” said the following in one of the biggest political cop-outs in history:

“Well, uh, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or, uh, a scientific perspective, uh, answering that question with specificity, uh, you know, is, is, uh, above my pay grade.”

Because of the uncivil tone of this election year’s presidential campaign, Warren has decided not host another forum. Here’s what he told the Orange County Register:

“We created the civil forums to promote civility and personal respect between people with major differences. The forums are meant to be a place where people of goodwill can seriously disagree on significant issues without being disagreeable or resorting to personal attack and name-calling. But that is not the climate of today’s campaign.”

If anybody could bring some civility (honesty) to this year’s presidential election, it’s a minister of the gospel. Like Obama’s “pay grade” answer, Rick Warren is copping out.

Yes, politics is dirty (sinful), and so are marriages, business, Little League, and everything else in life. Our nation was founded on the belief that religious man undergirds a society. “In the last resort, our civilization is what we think and believe. The externals matter, but they cannot stand if the inner convictions which originally produced them have vanished.”1 Dirty (sinful) politics is simply the reflection of sinful men and women — politicians and voters included. “Or, to put it another way, we are getting what we deserve. We are reaping what we have sown.”

“So when a sleazy candidate gets elected, or when your local newspaper or TV station seems to favor the abortionists, or when a jury in Cincinnati says an abominable set of photographs isn’t legally obscene — when any of those things happen, don’t leap to the conclusion that someone did a number on us. Consider instead the sober likelihood that the sleazy politician really represents the values of the people who voted, that most subscribers to the paper and those who watch TV really don’t care about — or even prefer–abortion, and that precious few jurors are willing to sit in judgment on anything.2

Politics is only as good as the people who make it their calling and those who put them into office either by voting or refusing to vote. The maintenance of good government is dependent on good people. Of course, this is true of everything — from the local grocery store to the family restaurant down the street. George Washington, in his Farewell Address (September 17, 1796), gave this advice to the nation:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

No governing document can create freedom, national stability, or security by using compulsion to induce compliance to a set of ideals. The best political intentions are no match for the will of the people. In purely human terms, people are the determiners of the goodness of a nation’s political system. John Adams wrote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”3

When self-government is abandoned for self-serving opportunism, we should expect a decline in the health of the nation. Politics will indeed remain dirty and infect all of us with its poison if we sit on the sidelines and can only point how filthy the whole business of politics is.

  1. Paul Johnson, The Enemies of Society (New York: Atheneum, 1977), 117. []
  2. Joel Belz, “Evidence Mounts: We Are Still a Small Minority,” World (October 13, 1990), 3. []
  3. J. Howe, “The Changing Political Thought of John Adams.” Quoted in Wayne House, ed., Restoring the Constitution: 1787-1987 (Dallas, TX: Probe Books, 1987), 10. []