Resumes, Record, References and Rhetoric

It is not an easy task to make an informed decision when it comes to hiring someone, especially in a ministry field such as my own. There are so many competing issues with which to contend, not the least of which is the notion that all such applicants have that God has led them to apply for the position. Hiring, supervising, and firing people seems such an easier thing in a secular context where personal feelings and question of faith need not be given much (if any) consideration. Certainly when I was laid off from my position in the insurance industry some years ago, no one in management seemed especially concerned about the impact of that decision on my faith. (Ironically, it was wonderfully providential as it afforded me the necessary space and time to transition smoothly into my current work).

However, there are clearly some issues that translate into a secular construct, as I’ve laid out in my title. These four: resume, record, references, and rhetoric (I love alliteration!!) are the key things I examine when weighing in on a hiring decision and I believe that these four things are important to examine in the context of politics.

Resume: The resume is quite simply a candidates (job or political) history of relevant experiences and education. When hiring, it is very important to examine, because experience in a similar type job can tell you a lot about whether a person has the requisite understanding of what the job they’re applying for entails. In ministry it means that youth or missions work relates more easily to campus work than say, parish work with the elderly. In politics it means that executive leadership (governorships, business executive) translates more directly to president than does legislative work — which is why we don’t typically elect senators to the presidency. Legislators rarely have experience running anything other than their mouth.

Record: The record is what person has actually accomplished in their previous work. When I hire someone, the fact that they’ve achieved certain demonstrable goals, or accomplished certain objectives counts for a lot. In politics it should be the same: examination of the actual policy changes achieved or bipartisanship, or significant legislation, or initiatives accomplished matter a great deal.

References: Usually I don’t let references make or break a hiring decision, but they can be the difference between a solid yes and a strong maybe; sometimes they bring me to a full NO! References give insight to the kind of people and relationships a person cultivates. In politics, references are best not done through the lens of endorsements, because the endorsing parties have too much to gain, but by examining the kinds of people, institutions, and associations a politician has. One or two oddities are forgivable; three or four ought to give SERIOUS pause.

Rhetoric: I say rhetoric just because it starts with R, but I mean the interview. This is the least important part of the process for me, because the interviewee is doing all he or she can to impress me and answer the questions the right way. All an interview can really do is give me a face to face sense of the person, or perhaps give them an opportunity to clear up anything that seems untoward from the other 3 things. In politics, the election campaign is the interview, so I don’t put much stock in anything the candidates say about what they’re going to do. They are just interviewing for the job and will tell me exactly what I want to hear.

Of these four, the record counts the most. If the rhetoric matches the record, then it is believable. If not, the person is not honest. So if a candidate claims to be a unifier, look for evidence in their record, their resume, and their references. If a candidate claims to be bipartisan or wants to work in a bipartisan way – examine the record. If he/she has done it before, then believe them. Otherwise they’re lying. If a candidate has lots of bad references and associations, question their judgment and disregard their rhetoric. It really doesn’t matter how well a person interviews / campaigns if everything else about them doesn’t add up. Likewise no matter how poor someone interviews, if the rest of the things stack up, hire them.

Our current president interviewed /campaigned very well, as a compassionate conservative and a unifying figure, but his resume showed a track record of minimal accomplishment, cronyism, partisanship, and pretty poor executive experience. Is it any wonder that his administration has been so thoroughly unaccomplished, and plagued with cronyism, excessive partisanship and horribly administration? The administration of the next president will not reflect his rhetoric, but his record; of that you can be sure.

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Annnnnnd… the dominoes start to fall – CT recognizes same sex marriage

Just reported a little while ago, the Supreme Court of the state of Connecticut reversed a lower court ruling against the recognition of same sex marriage. Connecticut is the third such state to move in this direction, though NY state’s supreme court has already ruled that they must recognize same sex marriages that have been performed in other states.

Gay rights, especially same sex marriage rights, are THE civil rights issue of our time, or at least that is how the issue is largely presented in the media. In the course of my adult life, homosexuality has moved quite rapidly into the conscience of mainstream America as an acceptable, though not necessarily welcomed, reality. Most people are still uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality and even more are opposed to gay marriage, though notably they often lack a sustainable moral philosophy to underlie their opposition. Mostly it comes down to a kind of “ick”‘ factor and some sense that it just isn’t quite right. Inundated as we have been as a society in the last twenty years with the normalcy and acceptability of homosexuality, most people really aren’t quite sure why they’re opposed to gay rights, and at minimum self censor lest they be thought to be homophobic. Certainly most people haven’t really thought through the issue in any way other than the bare minimum required to get on with their lives. This is most especially obvious among our youth for whom homosexuality is regarded as one reality of a diverse society among many, without any particular morality attached to it.

Due to the nature of the controversy, the same sex marriage issue is unlikely to be quickly resolved at the state level before it is kicked upstairs to the federal courts. Both candidates Obama and McCain are ostensibly opposed to gay marriage or want to leave it to the states, but it is very unlikely that either will have the luxury of maintaining their default position if elected to the presidency. This issue is not going away. The Defense of Marriage Act is unlikely to remained unchallenged, though the Supreme Court has heretofore turned down opportunities to take it up. It remains a controversial piece of legislation.

Christians have a different set of concerns as the church (and I speak broadly here) is currently convulsed with controversy over the issue. Few churches openly embrace homosexual practice as valid from a scriptural or historic point of view, and even those churches which are most “liberal” have not gone so far as to accept homosexuality entirely. Unlike politicians, pastors do not have the luxury of remaining uncommitted on this issue as it directly affects the pastoral, priestly, and prophetic roles of the church. Contrary to the beliefs of some, most evangelicals are not unconcerned about the impact of their theology on the lives of those within and without the congregation who are gay, nor are they especially homophobic — which is a word that is thrown around far too easily these days. They, and all Christians who hold to historic Christian orthodoxy on issues of sexual ethics, tread uneasy ground and the convulsions of a social earthquake shift the landscape around them.

Many Christians, having “failed” to act quickly during the Civil Rights era, do not know want to be seen as being on the “wrong side of history” and yet also want to remain faithful to scripture. Others believe that their embrace of gay rights is being faithful to scripture. Caught in the very center of this vortex are those Christians and their families who are themselves gay and seek to live with integrity and in obedience to Jesus.

All of this brings to mind the scripture from Psalms 11.3: If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The foundations of societal consensus on the meaning of life, what marriage is, the ethics that ought to govern social relations, and the role and function of the family have all been consistently undermined over the past 80 years with remarkably predictable results.

From the sexual revolution (the real one in the twenties, not the fake one of the sixties) onward, churches have been consistent in first actively fighting, then passively resisting, then grudgingly accepting and finally actively endorsing social change. The path from the acceptance of artificial birth control as a right to the normalization of divorce, straight through to women’s liberation (which has happened in ALL the churches complementarian and otherwise) is clear and will likely lead, inexorably to an embrace of homosexuality as a valid practice. The link between all of these seemingly disparate matters is clear as Mary Eberstadt says in First Things:

Before 1930, no Christian Church permitted the use of contraception, but that year’s Lambeth Conference, with its approval of contraceptive intercourse, was the beginning of the end. “If a church cannot tell its flock ‘what to do with my body,’ as the saying goes, with regard to contraception,” writes Eberstadt, “then other uses of that body will quickly prove to be similarly off-limits to ecclesiastical authority.” In short, homosexuality and sexual promiscuity will—and did—quickly follow.

And so it is. Are the foundations destroyed? If so, what can the righteous do?

Sayings that shaped me: “I know one thing”

Spent some good time in Atlanta last week and had a chance to meet face to face with David Park as well as eat some very good Korean food (which is almost a good enough reason to move to Atlanta). Shared with David a bit of my family history, and came from that inspired to share some of the phrases and meanings that shaped my world view. Today I tackle: “I know one thing…”

This phrase, “I know one thing” was spoken countless times in my youth and was directed usually towards one or the other of us children as a warning. We could, and often did, argue back and forth with my mother about almost anything. She was an exceptionally patient woman and tolerated far more “back talk” than most would. However when she uttered the magic phrase, “”I know one thing” all arguments were cut short. And yes, that is the extent of the phrase. She never did say what the “one thing” was, and we were too wise (and too scared) to ask. You see that statement indicated that whatever our objections and excuses, the time for argument and discussion was done and the time of obedient implementation had begun. None of us wanted to really know what would happen if we continued to argue. My mother had declared that she knew one thing, and if pressed we likely would have discovered that one thing had something to do with a switch, a bathroom, and a whole lot of crying.

What lessons have I drawn from this phrase and what has been its meaning in my life. In many ways, nothing at all. It’s just words my mother used to threaten us when she was fed up. But in other ways it is quite profound. Her statement along with countless others she and my father used over the years were in many ways nonsensical threats which we and they knew would never be carried out. Nevertheless, those words, and the featured phrase in particular delineated for us the limits of both our autonomy and of the power of our reason. It was a lesson, painfully learned at times, that there is a principle of authority present in the world to which reason and rights must bow. “I know one thing” meant that regardless of our opinion, reasoning or feelings about the matter at hand, our actions, indeed our will needed to bend to an authority higher than our own.

In light of how we think and understand or talk about authority now, this may seem arbitrary and my mother may seem to be some uncaring tyrant. Indeed this is far from the case. She was a loving, tolerant and extraordinarily patient woman. However she understood and instilled in me the essential truth that her rights and responsibility to establish the limits of my behavior and to set norms of conduct within the household did not derive ultimately from anything extrinsic to her position, whether the reasonableness of her request or the consent of the governed. Her authority was intrinsic to her status and her role as our mother. She was in fact quite reasonable, very sensitive to our needs and concerns, and altogether rather more solicitous of our requests for inclusion in the decision making process than many of her peers thought beneficial. At the end of the day though, she was in charge and held both the responsibility and the right to decide. She did not derive that right from us; it was inherent in her position as the mother.

My mother’s care and leadership in my life was a reflection, though a pale and flawed one, of God’s care and leadership of his creation. And just as my mother’s authority was inherent in her position as a mother, so too is God’s authority inherent in his divinity. Though God is good and loving and holy (and parents reflect that reality albeit imperfectly) his rights vis a vis his creation do not derive from that goodness, love or holiness. Our authority is derivative of our position in the created order and is a reflection of our being made in the image of God. His authority is inherent in his being and is a reflection of nothing. It is rather an emanation of his very self (if God can be called a self in any meaningful sense of the word). God need not appeal to anything outside himself to justify his authority. He is the author and therefore authority belongs to him.

This notion of intrinsic divine authority is not appealing. The arbitrariness of God in this respect is disconcerting in the same way that my mothers was. Some of her rules and decisions seemed to us at the time entirely arbitrary, lacking in sensitivity, immune to sound reason and flatly unfair. In hindsight I recognize the great wisdom, keen insight, and loving concern of many of her decisions, and those choices continue to guide my behavior today. Others of them remain inscrutable and indeed were only expressions of her own particular ways of doing things – which I promptly dropped when I left the authority of her roof.

At issue though is NOT the wisdom or loving nature of God’s decrees, though indeed they are perfectly wise and loving, that is not the basis upon which his authority rests. When we base our submission to God upon the loveliness or reasonableness of his commands, we set ourselves up to either mount a defense of those commands which seem unloving and unreasonable or to redefine his commands in such a way as to accommodate what we believe to be loving and reasonable. That was the original temptation of the garden; to reinterpret God’s commands in such a way that it became evident to our first parents that a reasonable and loving God would not withhold the goodness of the forbidden tree from us — surely he did not mean we would die.

I wonder how things would have turned out if when asked about the tree God had said, “I know one thing….”