Rejecting the View from High Above


I’m reading a book commended by two friends – James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State – that I suspect has bearing on Tuesday’s elections. The Facebook posts I’m seeing from disappointed Democrats assume that many people voted for Republicans against their own interests perhaps either because they believe Fox News type propaganda or because they simply despise the black man in the White House.  I’m not so sure, and as I continue reading Scott, I am growing less sure.

Planners from high above the ground level where the people live and go about their days do not seem to understand why people resist and subvert their grand designs, but the reality seems to be that those designs look grand only from far above the people. Democracy needs to be a conversation, not just a vote for the best design; it needs to engage us together, not just pit us against each other. 

The people have ways of subverting the grand designs of top-down (authoritarian) planners who think they know what is best for everyone.

It seems to me the Democratic Party and the current administration have failed to have such conversation with us on, for example, the Affordable Care Act (which I personally support as better than doing nothing although not really good enough) and corporate education reform (which I oppose as worse than doing nothing). The people have ways of subverting the grand designs of top-down (authoritarian) planners who think they know what is best for everyone. I highly recommend Scott’s book, but be warned it is classified as a textbook that, while quite understandable, is not light reading by most standards.

When people feel threatened, they react defensively. The less they understand changes coming their way, the more defensive they become. The less control they feel they have, the more frightened and therefore angry they grow. The less they feel regarded and respected as people, the more likely their anger will increase to rage, perhaps beyond the reach of rationality. Hearing themselves demeaned as racist ignoramuses or privileged exploiters neither calms their anger nor appeals to their reason.

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Darned Government


When I led workshops for newly elected church officers, I asked them to question the term “church government.”  What does government have to do with people seeking to live by faith?  People unite with churches for a wide variety of reasons, but many come in search of some form of healing, comfort, hope, or sense of purpose in life.  Especially, I think, in the United States, many consider their motivations and even their faith itself personal almost to the point of private.  So why would a church need or want any form of government that, of course, puts rules and restrictions upon individual liberty?

It never took the people in such workshops long to understand the need for church government.  The questions are, “Who makes decisions for the church?” and, “How are those decisions made?”  At the simplest level, “When do we get together?” and “What do we do when we get together?”  For that matter, who are those included in the pronoun “we”?

When I opened my seminary textbook on church administration, I immediately saw two principles.  The first told me that if church decisions are not made by the people properly responsible for making them, they will be made by someone else.  The second, very like the first, told me that if decisions are not made in the way prescribed for them, they will be made in some other manner, through some other procedure.  I wish we the people of the United States of America better understood and more reasonably accepted those two principles.  We don’t seem to realize that apart from our government, there is no United States of America because government is the manner in which we hold together and make decisions as a nation.

Anarchy, the absence of government, would not mean decisions were no longer made for all of us; it means they would be made by the most powerful for their own advantage without restraint.  Democracy is a form of government designed to limit the exercise of power by the powerful so that we the people may have more control over our shared national, state, and local life.  The powerful are the natural enemies of democracy because its exercise limits their freedom to use and abuse the rest of us as they please and to take as much of wealth, privilege, and enforced prestige as they can grab.

The non-powerful resent government when it forbids or restricts their doing something they wish to do (for example, drive at 80 miles per hour through residential neighborhoods), when it costs them money (as, of course, it must if we are all to pay our dues for our shared benefits), when it requires them to consider the common welfare and not just their own, or when it protects the rights of some minority they dislike.  The non-powerful resent government also when it violates their rights, intrudes upon their privacy, restricts their freedom to no good purpose they can see, or sells them out to the very powerful interests from which it should protect them.  So, yes, government itself, usually called “the government,” has considerable power that may be exercised properly or improperly.  To regulate this government power, we have a system of checks and balances, and those who govern us under this system must stand for re-election or depart their elected offices.  We need also the vigilance of educated and informed people not swayed by fear, prejudice, and ignorance to vote against their own interests.  This last part is the hardest.

Folly rules the land when the powerful, who resent democratic government, convince the non-powerful that government is their enemy.  If they could, foxes would gladly persuade the chickens that the door on the coop is an unnecessary and unfair restriction of their freedom and that the dogs’ barking in the night (when a fox approaches) is a disturbance of their peace.  Foxes do not have such opportunity to fool their victims into cooperating in their own destruction; the very wealthy and powerful do.

Individual Achievement and the Common Good


In educational policy and practice, as in a democratic society as a whole, balance is needed between these two goals and their corresponding measures of satisfaction: (1) the liberty and success of the individual and (2) the thriving of the whole (the community, state, and nation) including all its people.  I have added the phrase, “including all its people,” because the misuse of numbers can make “the whole” into something that does not truly include all its people.  Here’s a simplistic example.  Suppose I made a million dollars last year (dreamer!) and you made $20,000, and this year I make two million dollars and you, having lost your job, make nothing.  “We” (the group consisting of the two of us) are doing much better this year, even though financially you are doing terribly.  Our average income has soared.  Doesn’t knowing “we” are prospering make you feel better as the mortgage company forecloses on your house?

So, in a democracy, the whole must include all the people, not an average or sum in which the impoverishment and misery of many people is hidden behind the extreme prosperity of some.  Indicators of national economic success become lies if fewer and fewer people are being paid a living wage.  Remember that term, “living wage”?  These days we are reduced to arguing over the “minimum wage” as the ridiculously rich seek ever cheaper labor to exploit.  We are now told that 23% of children in the United States live in poverty, almost one in four.  We cannot rightly regard ourselves as a rich nation when so many of our children are poor, hidden statistically behind the vast wealth of a small minority of financially elite people.

In my previous post, “Public Education Is Not a Race,” I referred to Stefanie Fuhr’s article in Sojourners magazine, “Public Education for the Common Good,” and recommended it.  Fuhr drew from a contrast between (1) a democracy of desire and (2) a democracy of worth.  She cited as her source for this contrast Philip Phenix’s, Education and the Common Good: A Moral Philosophy of the Curriculum.

What is all this talk about “the common good”?  Don’t we send our children to school so that they, our children – “my child!” – can gain what they need for security and prosperity in life?  I want my child to “get ahead”!  Ahead of your child?  Well, nothing personal, but I have to look out for my own.  You look out for your own.  May the odds be always in our children’s favor (reference to the Hunger Games as a parable for our times).  And if the odds are not currently in my child’s favor, then I want options, I want choices, I want a charter school or a home schooling plan or whatever it takes to put the odds in my child’s favor.

As a parent, should I not look out for the well-being, security, and success of my own child?  Yes, I should, and sometimes that parental responsibility requires my making a choice for my child I may wish were not necessary.  In principle, I want the public school to thrive for the benefit of all the children, but if the public school is a disaster area for its children, then I may have to make a choice I don’t like for the sake of my own child.  This parental desperation is what the privatizers, stealers, and destroyers of public education are exploiting for profit.  On the parents’ part, it’s not always greed and selfishness but fear and love.  I’d like to rescue the whole system but cannot, and it’s now or never for rescuing my child.

Democracy should allow room for the individual to achieve satisfaction, to thrive in life.  I avoided the word “prosper,” even though it can be a synonym for thrive, because we equate prosperity with wealth (of money) which is really only one, very limited, kind of prosperity.  Room for the individual to thrive implies freedom for variation.  That is, the individual must be allowed, encouraged, and enabled to be an individual and to develop as an individual in his or her own particular ways.

But the individual is not an island.  Democracy is “we the people,” not just “I the individual.”  Balance is needed to keep “we the people” from becoming a faceless mass in which individual liberty is lost.  Balance is needed also to keep the individual from becoming autonomous, utterly self-centered, and heedless of the well-being of others and of the common good.  There is no “we” without “I.”  Neither is there any “I” without “we,” but we Americans seem to have trouble understanding and accepting that second truth, so thoroughly have we imagined life to be a competition in which some win while many lose.

To cover up the blatant selfishness of this competition model of life, we speak with some reverence of “equal opportunity,” which is fictitious in practice and irresponsible in theory.  That’s the Hunger Games.   There is no equal opportunity in the United States, and as long as life is seen and lived as a competition, there never will be.  There will, of course, continue to be people who don’t care to win by beating others, who just want to “live and let live,” who might be quite happy if all could thrive and achieve both security and satisfaction in life, but they are the losers in the competition whose peaceful hope is rendered fictitious by the machinations of the rich elite hellbent on taking as much of everything as they possibly can.  The spokesperson for the real players in the competition is J. K. Rowling’s Professor Quirrell in book one of her Harry Potter series: “A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil.  Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was.  There is no good or evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” (Philosopher’s Stone, 211)

Furh quotes Phenix as saying that the second type of democracy, the democracy of worth, “centers around devotion or loyalty to the good, the right, the true, the excellent.  Devotion is different from desire.  It is primarily other-regarding rather than self-interested.  It invites sacrifice and loyalty instead of conferring gratification.”  This is high-minded stuff, high enough that it may seem beyond reach realistically in any human society, especially one in which individual liberty to strive for personal success is so highly valued as in ours.  But public education is founded upon the balance between individual satisfaction and the common good of the whole people, the society.  We don’t have public education just for the huge collection of individuals (our children) and the satisfaction of those adults who happen to have children in school; we have public education for the benefit of the whole – “we the people,” the nation as well as for the smaller units of the whole, the state and the community.  Democracy depends upon the education of as many as possible of its people.  Public education is a cooperative undertaking, not a competition.  It’s done for the whole people as well as for the individual children, which is the reason we all pay for it and should all continue to pay for it.  Fuhr writes, “‘Race to the Top’ forces states to implement policies in which students, parents, and teachers compete with each other for school funding that focuses on collecting data instead of nurturing a learning environment that supports the common good.”

In my next post, I’ll consider what I regard as Stefanie Fuhr’s most vulnerable point which is also, I believe, her strongest point.  She concludes, “Our public school system is in need of a revolution that is guided by love.  Our children and future generations deserve our devotion to the notion that public education is a common good for all.”  Love?  Wow!  I can hear the laughter from the vultures circling over public education as the hyenas tear it apart.  Next time I’ll explain why I think she’s right, much more right than the hyenas or the vultures can comprehend.

Public Education Is Not a Race


The whole idea of “Race to the Top” assumes that the education of our nation’s children is a competition and, indeed, a cluster of competitions: child against child, teacher against teacher, school against school, state against state, and our nation against the other nations of the world.  The name of No Child Left Behind implies, falsely in its practice, that all will share in success; Race to the Top suggests a few winners and many losers.  That’s one factor in the harm being done: education as a competition.

What is the prize?  What is to be gained by getting to the top, above the rest?  The reward-and-punishment (carrot and stick) nature of this competition, with its rhetoric about preparing our children for competition in the global economy, indicates that the prize is material success for the individual, to be enjoyed in the most materially successful of nations.  It is a free market dream that is supposed to inspire our children and their teachers to beat the rest in this race, to out-compete the opposition, to rise above the masses of our world.

The pleasures and joys of learning are, it seems, for wimps.  In this race, satisfaction is to come only from winning, and survival depends upon not losing.  No wonder, then, school districts cheat on the tests.  Why would they not cheat when only winning matters?  It’s like the Hunger Games, and so it’s foolish for competitors not to try to put the odds in their favor.

Consider the proclaimed assumptions of this race to the top: (1) all children come to school equally capable of learning, (2) the only differences that can determine outcomes lie in the quality of the teacher and that of the school, because (3) no outside factors or individual differences among the children can be admitted to influence student learning and testing outcomes.  But, brace yourself for this contradiction, curriculum should be standardized and all teachers should teach the same way at the same rate, so all are on the same page each day and are following the same methods and practices.  Huh?  If there is to be no difference in teaching, how can teachers make the difference?  If curriculum and teaching methods are standardized, how can the difference be in the schools?  And if all children are equally capable of learning and must be assumed to learn in the same way, how can they score so differently in the same classroom with the same teacher?

Of course, outside factors can influence greatly children’s ability to learn, and individual children differ significantly from each other.  Does any parent with two or more children find them to be identical?  No, not even if they are identical twins.  They vary in countless ways, including how they understand and respond to questions (including test questions), where their interests lie, how their abilities develop, and how they learn (and at what pace).

It seems apparent to me that some, indeed many, are meant to lose.  If education is, after all, a race, then most will lose.  If the assumption is that all will improve by virtue of competing (which is false in practice), toward what end, what outcome?

I think too many of us fail to grasp and appreciate the distinction between democracy and individual autonomy.  Democracy is a cooperative venture designed to take government out of the hands of the elite by putting it into the hands of all the people through their representatives.  It is cooperative, not competitive, which is the reason elites are always tempted to hate it.  For them, democracy should be that of the board room: not one vote per person but one vote per share of stock owned.  That’s proportional voting which is not democratic at all.  It empowers the already powerful, the elite, and marginalizes the rest of us.

If democracy is by nature cooperative, why should the education of our children be competitive?  I’m not suggesting the competitive ever will be or should be taken out of education (or a democratic society) completely.  Our children need to discover what they are “good at,” although – be careful! – they could be good at much more than most realize or are allowed to realize.  And isn’t that the issue?  The “race” theory of education convinces children they are losers, and many of those children will believe that lie and will be stifled by it.

Who, then, suffers?  Just the child who gives up, drops out, or hangs back?  Just that child’s family?  No, we all suffer.  Democracy says we all matter and are together in this matter of being a community, a nation, and, indeed, a world.  We should be educating our children for fulfilling, productive, and cooperative life in a democracy, not training them to be wage slaves (or managers) in a Walmartized world.

The other day, I read an article in Sojourners magazine that described two very different understandings of democracy.  The article, written by Stefanie Fuhr, employs the distinctions she draws from Philip Phenix between (1) a democracy of desire and (2) a democracy of worth.  The article, “Public Education for the Common Good,” is here and is well worth reading. I’ll look further into Furh’s article in my next post. For now, I’ll say that in a democracy, public education is for the common (shared) good as well as the good of each individual child, not for the hyper-success of the best test takers and those who excel at keeping the odds in their own favor.

Makers and Takers


Who built the Great Pyramid of Giza, oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?  There seems to be general agreement that it was constructed as the tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek).  So, his is the name attached to it, and we might surmise it was built at his command.  I doubt, however, that he helped to move any of the stones from the quarry to the sight or put his shoulder to the task of setting even a single stone in place or, for that matter, the task of designing and engineering the project.  Probably the actual labor of constructing (making) this wonder was performed by slaves driven by taskmasters who may themselves have been slaves or just a half-step higher on the even more formidable pyramid of the Egyptian social hierarchy.

Presidential candidate Willard Mitt Romney has declared forty-seven percent of the people of the United States to be “takers” because they pay no federal income tax and, he says, take no personal responsibility for their own lives.  And why do they pay no federal income tax, even though most of them do pay state taxes, sales taxes, etc., and either pay or have paid throughout their lives payroll or self-employment taxes for Social Security and Medicare?  They don’t pay federal income tax because they don’t make enough money.  Most either work or else are retired or perhaps disabled from having worked all their lives, but Mr. Romney says they are takers.

He himself, on the other hand, has made piles of money (he won’t say how much or what federal income taxes he has paid) through asset management specializing in private equity.  His firm, Bain Capital, sometimes helped companies restructure and survive (partly by firing people), and sometimes loaded them with debt and walked away with hefty sums of money as they went bankrupt.  He calls himself and his kind of people “makers.”  The former employees laid off as part of Bain’s restructuring plans and those left jobless when some of those companies being helped went bankrupt became, through Bain’s helpful actions, takers.  They became takers of unemployment compensation and maybe of food stamps or even for a while, like Romney’s father at one point in his life, public assistance (welfare).

We are living through what I call the Walmartization of the American workforce, although Amazon might be almost as good a figure to represent what is being done to smaller businesses and to people.  Vast numbers of Americans are being kept financially marginal and dependent upon businesses that treat them as wage slaves without job stability, benefits, or collective voice.  Is this deliberately created dependency not a larger problem for the American people than dependency upon government safety-net programs which are, after all, our democratic way of sharing responsibility for each other in a free society?  The Mitt Romneys of our business world say people should be independent but do everything in their power to keep them dependent and subservient.

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A Problem for Democracy in Penn’s Woods


Moving back into Pennsylvania after a 27-year absence has been mostly pleasant, given the obvious difficulties involved in getting rid of stuff and transporting the remaining stuff to a new (smaller) home. Sure, I had to pay sales tax on my small utility trailer a second time because I could not produce a receipt from New Jersey proving I paid the tax when I registered the trailer there. Logic does not satisfy bureaucratic requirements, especially where money is involved. New Jersey will not register a vehicle without seeing to it that sales tax is paid, but who can find the receipt shortly after having moved? Oh well, states have their little “gotcha” rules for people moving into them, and this one got me for only about twenty-five bucks.

Much more disturbing is Pennsylvania’s odious voter ID law, passed by the Republican dominated legislature to try to give victory in the state to Mitt Romney. See Gil Smart’s interesting column about the law with its intended and unintended results here. What will be the consequences of repressing Republican votes and well as Democratic ones? Is it even possible that local election officials will let familiar white adults vote anyway, despite their lack of acceptable identification? What kind of mess might Pennsylvania find itself in?

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About the Self-made Person Nonsense


Day after day, I am hearing President Obama misquoted as having said, “You didn’t build that.” What he actually said told a truth so commonplace and obvious that it needs application to his argument in order to be meaningful at all. The application was to the truth that, as John Donne put it, no one is an island. What we may think are individual liberties are made possible and safeguarded by our living in a liberal democracy. Likewise what we may be foolish enough at times to regard as our own completely individual achievements.

A dentist wrote an irate letter to our local newspaper here in Lancaster County objecting to the president’s words as he misunderstood them. Indignantly, he contended that he had achieved his own success with no help from the government unless, of course, one wishes to count the roads on which his patients drive to his office. He apparently believes the only benefit he receives from living in America is the road system, and he seems to think also that he taught himself everything he knows, from scratch no less, and that he has created his own little world without support or cooperation from a community, the state of Pennsylvania, the nation, or the world. He has received, supposedly, no benefit from history, from those who came before us. I suppose he invented and developed dentistry himself, founded his own college and dental school, and set up his own economic system that enabled him to get started in practice.

The absurdity of the “self-made” person should be apparent to anyone who thinks about human life. But there’s no reason to rush to the opposite (almost as absurd) pole that would dismiss a person’s own initiative, effort, patience, and persistence as meaningless. President Obama didn’t tell me I didn’t work for whatever it is I have achieved. He simply reminded me of the obvious truth that I didn’t do it all by myself. I would add, then, that my life should not be lived just for myself, either. Like it or not, we are relational and communal creatures, and all our achievements come within relational and communal contexts. We depend upon the work and sacrifice of others in all matters of life.

Biblical faith goes further by insisting that all that is good in life comes to us from the grace of God and so should be received, no matter how hard we work for it, with much more thankfulness than pride. For example:

When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. [Deuteronomy 8:12-18 NRSV]

One good thing about the attitude of thankfulness, besides its honesty and consequent humility, is its willingness to share, to lend a hand, to work with others. If I am thankful, then I cannot live by the mantra, “I got mine; now you get yours.”

Another Principle from an Older Democracy


Last time, I wrote about a principle of representative democracy long held by Presbyterian churches. Our Presbyterian representative democracy is older than that of the United States but also much simpler for all the obvious reasons of size, wealth, and power. For my explanation of this principle and application of it to the present crisis of integrity and responsible representation in the Congress of the United States, see my previous post. Now I have another.

This second Presbyterian principle becomes murkier when I try to apply it to the representative democracy of the nation. It is this: no one should serve on a committee who opposes the very purpose for which that committee has been established. Perhaps it sounds simple. No one should serve on the church council’s Christian Education Committee who thinks the church should not be engaged in Christian education of any sort. Likewise and perhaps more likely, no one should serve on the Stewardship Committee who thinks the church should not ask for financial support from its members. Is it always so obvious? No, it is not. Try this one: no one should serve on a General Assembly (our highest council) committee charged with investigating and rethinking a hot-button issue who opposes investigating that issue further and listening to differing opinions and testimonies. If you’re not willing to listen and converse, don’t serve. See, it’s already starting to get murkier, and we haven’t even switched yet from church to national issues.

When a church council at any level establishes a committee, that council should seek to include a variety of views and opinions, especially those shared by many in the church but also those of minorities; it should not include someone who wishes only to stonewall or undermine the responsibility the council charges that committee to fulfill. Such a person should not be asked to serve on that committee, and if asked, should decline. If a mistake is made, and such a person becomes a committee member, then demonstrates opposition to the purpose with which the committee is charged, the council should remove that person from the committee, which very seldom happens.

Now comes the hard part. How might this principle apply to our national government, to Congress and the executive branch – not only the presidency itself but cabinet positions and agency offices, as well? Differences of view and opinion are one thing, contempt for the office and the body itself another, but the lines become difficult to draw.

I first started wondering about this principle as it relates to the representative democracy of the United States when a television news report said that then Vice-president Dan Quayle spent much of his time advising corporations on ways to circumvent the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency. Did he really? If so, why was he Vice-president of the United States? Do our representatives and senators really seek to chair committees so they can prevent those committees from fulfilling the responsibilities with which they are charged? If so, why are they in Congress? When does a variant opinion of how the job should be done cross the line and become an obstruction to the very purpose of the committee?

It has been said that politics is the art of gaining power, government the art of solving problems. We seem now to have people engaged in politics and seeking so to gain power who preach that government cannot and should not solve problems – that everything (except the military and the rewarding of cronies) should be left to the free market to operate as it will. Where does such a notion leave the American people? Out in the cold, I suspect.

Our government is our democracy. Without it, we have none. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address concludes with hope and determination, “. . . and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The absence of government is anarchy, not liberty, but anarchy does not last because someone seizes power, and that someone is not the people.

When we scorn our government for its very existence, we renounce our democracy and give our country over into the hands of those with the power to seize control with no democratic restraint. When we say that government is the problem, we shut the people out and leave it to become as problematic as influential powers can make it. Scorning government is a great American pastime; it is also great cover for the foxes raiding the hen house.

Lesson from an Older Democracy


The Presbyterian form of church polity or government, the system by which the church makes decisions, is that of representative democracy. In this system, the people elect representatives to deliberate upon issues and questions of the church’s life, ministry, and mission and to make reasoned decisions as faithfully and fairly as they can. The church is governed by the councils comprised of these representatives. If this arrangement sounds familiar to people in the United States who are not Presbyterians, the reason is obvious: the system of government in our nation is also that of representative democracy.

Elected representatives bear responsibility, not simply for legislating the will of the majority of the people they represent, but for delving into, studying, debating, analyzing, and deciding issues the majority may comprehend poorly. The leaders of the church are not to be guided by opinion polls, which often represent more of prejudice and misunderstanding than of reason or faith. Church councils are not to be scornful of the people’s needs, thoughts, and feelings, but neither are they to be overly swayed by outcries from the angry, frightened, or self-congratulating. They are, rather, to listen, study, deliberate, think, and pray before reaching decisions, especially on complex or controversial matters.

And they must compromise. The needs of churches and people are not always simple or one-sided. The needs of one group may conflict with the needs or desires of another. Councils must be especially aware of the needs of minorities among the people and most especially those of minorities that are unpopular with the majority or that have been regarded as inferior. Because democracy operates by majority rule, it must be balanced diligently by protections of the rights and needs of unpopular minorities; otherwise it becomes a tyranny.

Because elected representatives are to think, deliberate, and compromise, they are charged not to make up their minds in advance but to be open to reasonable argument and new information. Electing bodies such as presbyteries are not to instruct their commissioners to the denomination’s General Assembly how to vote on an issue, and if it is discovered that such instruction has been given, that presbytery’s commissioners are to be denied seats in the Assembly. No commissioner must ever promise ahead of time to vote a certain way. The church council must be a deliberative body, not a collection of mere delegates voting as pledged.

I think we need a similar understanding of our representatives in Congress. No elected representative or senator should be pledged to anything but the Constitution of the United States and legislative process which has evolved from it. We need our two houses of Congress to be deliberative bodies open to reason and compromise for the good of the nation and its people within the context of the world and its people. Though such a rule does not to my knowledge exist, I believe that no elected representative should be seated in the Congress of the United States if that person has pledged to an inflexible position on some complex issue such as taxation in response to the ever-changing forces of the national economy.

In short, no one who has signed, for example, Grover Norquist’s anti-taxation pledge should be in Congress or in the Oval Office. Such a person has been wrongly committed by such a pledge to corrupting the deliberative process of a representative democracy. We need responsible, thinking representatives, not puppets.