How can we say we’re one nation, indivisible?
When preachers start meddling in politics, they rightfully venture with trepidation. The principle of church-state separation should give us pause, but the line is hardly straight and there is also error in not venturing.
Religion touches the entirety of life, of which politics is one part. Church-state separation does not mean separation of God and government or religious convictions from public policy. It means people are free to practice their faith without interference from government, that government shall make no laws to favor or disfavor religion, and that religious groups may not endorse parties or candidates and at the same time retain their tax-exempt status — which presumes principled but not partisan advocacy.
With that then, this: Since many these days think government should be run more like a business, my question is, which business? A friend of mine is the managing principal of a local firm that is highly profitable and at the same time voted one of the best companies to work for in Dallas. Their three operating values are worth considering for government, too.
One, institutional excellence. It’s long past time we reject the axiom “close enough for government work.” Good government should mean well-managed, well-worked and well-accounted government. How government works is as important as whether government works. Taxpayers are shareholders in government. They pay for public business to be conducted on their behalf. Whatever size government you want, you want excellence. And if you have excellent government, the debate over size is less rancorous.
Two, entrepreneurial attitude. Businesses thrive when they look for better ways to do things. Sometimes that involves risk that government cannot afford to take with taxpayers’ money. For example, cities have gone broke recently because they invested money from public employee pension funds in high-risk mortgage-backed securities. That’s not entrepreneurial; it’s foolish. But government should pilot new approaches. It should modernize technology to be more efficient at delivering services to citizens. It should not become complacent just doing the same thing again and again, expecting different results.
Three, and most important, the Golden Rule. My friend’s company operates with a corporate credo that says that everyone who works there — from the owners to the custodians — should be treated the way investors would expect to be treated. As a result, they provide the same benefit plans for health care, disability and life insurance, and retirement funding for all employees. This isn’t socialism; owners and managers still make more than rank-and-file employees, and owners still make unmandated decisions for their company. But they ask themselves how they would want to be treated if they were in another’s position.
The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Every religion has its own variation on this that amounts to the same ethical standard.
Some people will vote this fall based on their religious convictions about issues like abortion, gay marriage and the freedom of religious institutions to opt out of government mandates that violate their moral convictions. Well and good, regardless of what side you are on. But demonizing neighbors of opposite viewpoints, demeaning the wealthy or poor for being wealthy or poor, or voting only for “people like us” violates the Golden Rule principle of public faith.
We will be “one nation under God indivisible” when we stop dividing ourselves in the name of God. We are a diverse people politically, but under God we are the same — sinners all, striving together to benefit all.