An open letter to my congressman’s soul

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I just wrote the letter that follows, and I intend to deliver it in person to Congressman Crowley’s local office in my neighborhood tomorrow, and also to hand it out at a rally to be held out on the sidewalk in front.  In so doing I will not be identifying myself as a Quaker, but only as a Christian constituent of Rep. Crowley’s.  I mean this as a kindness to my fellow Quakers, who might otherwise see me as an embarrassment to themselves.

This realization cost me some pain.  The Friends I worship with are respectful of my Christian faith, but many don’t share it, and we don’t discuss that much — which I acknowledge as my own failing.  Now I think pretty much everyone loves Jesus the compassionate healer, the wise teacher, the bold protester of injustice; but many, I think, have trouble with the idea of a Christ that grants eternal life to those that come to Him.  Many more, I’d guess, have trouble with the ideas that we are fallen from a better state; that we are  in bondage to sin, and to an evil influence that might fitly be called “the father of lies,” and while in this state cannot free ourselves by our own unaided efforts, but are in need of the free gifts of repentance and salvation; and that if we make no effort to escape this bondage, we are liable to choose — yes, choose — the darkness of damnation over the light of redemption, with painful consequences in the life to come.  “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt. 7:13-14 – New Jerusalem Bible)

This world-view of mine makes it feel much more important to me to warn an elected official against the consequences of sin than to lobby or bully him into voting the way I want him to.  God does not want him damned (Ez. 33:11, 2 Pet. 3:9); neither must I, if I value my own salvation.  This may put me in the position of looking like a fool in the eyes both of Congressman Crowley and of my fellow opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that’s to be expected in a world where the norm is adversarial competition and confrontation.  But more important than how Joe Crowley winds up voting on the TPP is the purity of heart with which I approach him, because if my letter to him is a mere pretense of loving concern meant merely to affect its readers on the sidewalk below, then the Divine Witness in Crowley’s heart will feel my hypocrisy and not hear me.  Lord, purify my heart for tomorrow’s meetings with people, and let what happens be in accord with Your will: in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Congressman Crowley,

The peace of Christ be with you. There is talk that you may soon decide to declare support for the fast-tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), or even appear as a Democratic co-sponsor for fast-track legislation. If you could support either the TPP or the fast-tracking of it with a clean conscience in the sight of God, I’d have nothing to say to you except “God bless you and keep your conscience clean forever.”

But you know and I know that the TPP’s an evil thing, and that as you sow, you must reap: give pain, get pain. You may be thinking about some fancied good that might be brought about by the TPP, but good ends will never justify evil means, as your education in Christianity should have taught you (see Romans 3:8). This means that if you sin against your fellow human beings by trashing child labor laws, disabling people’s efforts to exercise good stewardship over the earth, undermining legislation protecting the common rights to wholesome food, water and clean air, castrating collective bargaining for fair working conditions, keeping third-world nations in perpetual debt-slavery, and robbing the sick and the aged of their moral right to affordable generic medicines, you and President Obama and the rest of the TPP’s supporters, Democratic and Republican, will have a whole world full of victims to answer for, and ages and ages of personal suffering to pay in this life and the next. As your brother in Adam who must care for your salvation as he cares for his own, I beg you not to do such a horrible thing to yourself!

Set an example for all the others in Washington! Say “No matter what retaliation I may face from the moneyed interests that put me in office, I’ll answer to God for what I do, and not to them!” We both know that they need someone to be the first to do that!

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2 Responses to “An open letter to my congressman’s soul”

  1. Rich Accetta-Evans Says:

    John,

    You say “…This world-view of mine makes it feel much more important to me to warn an elected official against the consequences of sin than to lobby or bully him into voting the way I want him to. ”

    Like you, I think it is more important to speak to the Congressman’s spiritual condition – or direct him to One who can – than to “lobby” or “bully” him into a particular vote.

    However I don’t think the letter as quoted hits quite the right note. Instead of “bullying” him with a threat to vote for someone else, you threaten him instead with something far more horrible – – seemingly with damnation or purgatory.

    You write ” This means that if you sin against your fellow human beings by [all sorts of evil things that you presume he knows he’d be doing by voting the wrong way]…you and President Obama and the rest of the TPP’s supporters, Democratic and Republican, will have a whole world full of victims to answer for, and ages and ages of personal suffering to pay in this life and the next.”

    I see two problems with this approach. First, if you did indeed succeed in frightening the congressman with visions of divine punishment, and if this prospect caused him to change his vote, then this would surely not serve your stated aim of helping him toward salvation. You would merely be providing him with a selfish motive to do what you consider the right thing. Trying to save his life, either temporal or eternal, would not earn him any credit in God’s eyes – – After all, consider Jesus’ saying “He that would save his life will lose it”.

    Second, it doesn’t seem to me that this line of thought will truly speak to the congressman’s condition. It is unlikely that he consciously thinks the TPP is evil and has determined to vote for it anyway because of pressure from moneyed interests. More likely, he has not truly been able to see the TPP for what it is. I think it might be better to ask him to consider searching questions about the consequences of the TPP and about possible alternatives, and to face these questions honestly in the Light. Consider yourself and him to be fellow humans with imperfect insight and with a need to be shown the Truth.

    Thanks sharing this letter and providing the opportunity to respond.

    – – Rich Accetta-Evans

  2. Rich Accetta-Evans Says:

    After some reflection I want to say something further about this topic. Although I stand by the substance of my response to John’s letter as far as it goes, I realize now that I should have been more forthright about the inadequacy of my own witness to Congress about this issue. Unlike John I have not even made the effort to address this on a spiritual basis. I used the website of Friends Committee on National Legislation to fire off form letters to my Congressman and both of my Senators. I did customize the letters a bit to express more accurately my own particular views, but I’m sure they were received as pretty much what they were – part of an organized lobbying effort by a pressure group (albeit a very tiny pressure group).

    I felt some compunction about doing this, but did not summon the energy or time to make a more personal appeal. I was troubled by two other aspectsof the FCNL site that seemed to me inconsistent with a purely Quaker witness: It forced me to identify myself as with a title of Mr. Mrs., or Ms. – – something which I would never do AND it compelled me to address each politician as “the Honorable…”. This, quite apart from being contrary to the traditional Quaker stand against honorifics, was also in this case somewhat dishonest. Only a few days after I sent the letter, my “honorable” Congressman was caught on camera threatening to throw a television reporter over the balcony.
    None of this changes my views of John’s letter, but it should have caused me to be a bit less smug and a bit more generous in what I said. Whatever the shortcomings of John’s approach, I think it was more fitting and proper than my own.

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