November 4, 2015

Lessons from the Pope

Although I am an ordained deacon in the Antiochian Orthodox Church, I am observant of the wisdom offered by religious leaders of many other denominations.  Oftentimes, the spiritual guidance provided by leaders of different faiths tenders valuable insight into our own personal conduct, as well as the character of our social institutions.  This was most certainly true during Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States, which included stops in Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia.  During his six-day trip, the Bishop of Rome shared moments of profoundness that should provoke some soul searching among our elected leaders.  I would like to highlight one theme of particular importance that emerged during his time in our country.

While in Washington, D.C., Pope Francis became the first pontiff ever to appear before a joint meeting of Congress.  This historic address generated perhaps the greatest media buzz during his trip, and not just because he brought then-Speaker John Boehner and Senator Marco Rubio to tears.  In his speech, Pope Francis covered a wide-range of politically divisive topics, including immigration, religious liberty, environmental protection, social justice and the sanctity of human life.  Nonetheless, almost to a person, members of Congress from both parties took to social media to post photos of the Pope and join in the chorus of praise for his wisdom.  They all wanted to be seen in the center of this historic event.  The question is, will the Pope’s message have a shelf life of more than a week?

We would be wise to remember the main point of the Pope’s message.  Juxtaposed in his call to action on moral issues was an impassioned plea for both unity and action among politicians, as one is insufficient without the other.  Pope Francis rightly noted that the “challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States.”  Continuing on, he reminded our representatives that their responsibility as members of Congress is to enable our country, through their legislative activity, “to grow as a nation.”  Note that Pope Francis didn’t say, “legislative inactivity.”

So, why are our political leaders not accomplishing much good today?  Why are we seeing discord among our representatives?  In short, because of the growing ideological rigidity found in both parties. With many Republicans and Democrats pandering to their respective fringes, the spirit of compromise that has allowed our country to become a “shining city upon a hill” is on life support.  On some of the most intractable issues that demand action by Congress, our politicians must rediscover the courage that has, on so many occasions in our nation’s history, allowed legislators on all sides to lead their constituents to embrace beneficial compromise rather than to be led by them into a stalemate of endless partisan warfare.

I believe that if we are to make America great again, our elected leaders must approach their office in a manner described by Pope Francis, seeking pragmatic compromise where persistent inaction is inexcusable.  This almost certainly means some element of bipartisan accord to help our nation and its people grow.  As we know so well, nowhere is this leadership more urgently needed than on the issue of immigration.  All members of Congress know that to accomplish immigration reform—including border security—will require support on both sides of the aisle.  So if our politicians agree that reform is necessary, then they must take a leap of faith and cooperate.