On “Reconciliation” and “Deeming”

Pelosi-reid-obama The term "reconciliation" makes a preacher think of 2 Corinthians. It makes most people now think of the health care battle. I find the term rather ironic at this point in history. "Reconciliation" is dividing the country. Don't even bring up "deeming." God help us all if the phrase "redeeming" ever enters this mess. As I write these thoughts on reconciliation, deeming, and trust in leadership, consider that:

  • Nancy Pelosi objected to "deeming" so vehemently she took the Republicans to court over "deeming" back in 2005. Now, she believes it's a natural part of the political process and the Republicans are hypocritical for decrying its use now. That last part is true enough. However, in the interest of fairness, it wasn't on anything nearly this large, and regardless of Republican behavior in the past it's also hypocritical to use it when you were enough against it to take the matter to court just a few years ago. Hypocrisy cuts both ways.
  • 81% of Americans say currently they believe healthcare will cost more than whatever the CBO numbers say it will. How's that for cynicism?
  • The poll average for congressional job approval today stands at 18.7% and falling.
  • Only 27% say the country is on the right track.

This all points to the fact that Americans don't trust government. This post isn't about whether Americans should trust government or not. It's not even really about the health-care bill. It's about leadership and trust. It's about what happens when trust in leadership erodes and how it erodes.

When trust in leadership erodes to the level it has at present, it would seem to me the last thing one should do is use obscure tools at one's disposal to avoid a vote on the issue at hand and risk lengthy court battles on the issue. Why? Because people will trust government (and by extension it's leaders) less.

Trust is the holy grail of leadership. Lose it and you lose your ability to lead. While I admit openly that I am not for the current health care proposal, most Americans agree with me that the process here has gotten way out of hand. I really would feel the same way if the same tactics had been used against the proposal. I don't trust government right now, and thus, I'm not in the mood to let it lead more than I must. It doesn't appear I'm the only one.

If in fact the health care bill becomes law through either "reconciliation" or "deem and pass" (especially the latter) I fear we are in for a fresh and powerful wave of cynicism toward government in this country. This cynicism will not exist primarily because of the bill's contents but rather the butchered process by which the bill came about—a process that appears to involve back-room deals and legislative trickery while ignoring of the will of a strong majority of Americans. While some assert that no one really cares much about the process, they couldn't be more wrong.

Government's current behavior is just not how good leaders do things, though I know some who believe that in this case, the end justifies the means. "The end justify the means" is certainly not a Christian way to lead. Neither is blaming prior regimes or conveying an attitude that says, "you did wrong, so now that I'm in power I get to do wrong. For you to object to me doing what you did makes you a hypocrite." Actually, it makes you both hypocrites, and both wrong.

I've seen this sort of leadership maneuvering in dysfunctional churches when elder selection processes, change of minister, or other leadership shifts occur. A new elder(s) is appointed and is ecstatic that he can now show the minister who is boss. A new preacher arrives with a preexisting agenda to take a church at peace and doing some great things headlong into some issue about which he feels passionately. He won't let anything stop him. He'll slip it in here or there, use passive aggressive tactics that eventually become simply aggressive tactics. Perhaps he even builds a coalition to pressure the elders. The next thing you know, Charles Siburt's phone is ringing. God doesn't bless it.

Those of you who read this blog know what a fan of strong leadership I am. It's vital to government, to churches, and society in general. Strong leadership knows how to persevere through tough times and opposition. America voted these leaders into office and need to set them free to lead in appropriate ways. We want our leaders to be strong leaders. However, strong leadership is different from abuse of power. While legislative reconciliation may be a legitimate tool under certain circumstances, in the opinion of this humble blogger, this is not such a circumstance. The process has become so questionable that, unfortunately, there is hardly a way for the President to win here.

If government wants citizens to trust and follow, it'll have to play openly, more fairly, with more integrity, and it's going to take time. It will have to do what it says it will do—whether working in "bipartisan" fashion, broadcasting discussions, or changing the way Washington works—for the better. People will follow trustworthy, strong leaders. They will not follow if they don't trust you. All church leaders should keep this in mind: they will not follow if they do not trust you—nor should they. I commented on this further in a post in February that seemed to strike a chord. In it, I said,

"In order for the church to prevail, we must get to a place where we choose to trust one another and to earn one another's trust simultaneously. If our default is set to "distrust" until trust is earned…all mistakes will be magnified and all victories seen from great distance. It will also take a looong time to develop and typically only one side is called on to behave in a trustworthy way. If we simply say, "trust us," without acting in ways that engender trust, we are asking too much…and real trust is unlikely to ever form."

This bill hasn't been voted through because America could hardly trust her leaders less. To be fair, Obama-Pelosi-Reid aren't the only government leaders to lead this way. However, they are in power right now and thus they are responsible for acting in ways they decried as unfair or unethical before they came to power. To them I say, you can lead with strength and integrity. We expect you to. To me and all my friends in ministry, God expects the same from us.

Questions: Why do you think some Christians find it hard to trust church leadership? What can church leaders do to engender trust?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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5 thoughts on “On “Reconciliation” and “Deeming”

  1. Several authors who write about the End Times say that they don’t view the US as part of that script. How close are we to being broke, ignored, powerless, godless and unable to recover. Russia, China and Iran can do anything they wish. It’s only when we try to destroy Israel, that we will all be unable to survive. The US has served it’s purpose in the timeline. Obama, Harry, Nancy and we are performing our roles in the process. We think that we have brought perfection to the world. We are not living in eternity until Jesus comes again.

  2. The problem with the world is ME. All of the hypocrisy and selfishness that I see in the world around me I see in my own heart as well. Genuine trust begins with brutal introspection and repentance. The apostle Paul certainly understood that. Everyone in AA understands that as well. WE DO NOT.
    We have ALL become experts at analyzing the flaws and mistakes of each other. Some of us have even made a career of it. We know how to break down and tear down our opponents (enemies?), but we don’t even imagine ourselves contributing to the problem instead of the solution. Our only hope is to start using the language of “we” instead of “them” to describe the crisis we’re facing. It’s only when we fully appreciate what it means to say that “ALL have sinned; ALL fall short of the glory of God” that we will begin to imagine Jesus as the savior of ALL.
    My sister recently left a Church of Christ that she had attended most of her life because, as she faced the crisis in her own family, she didn’t hear any of the language of “we” as she did at a local community church in her neighborhood. We cannot continue to offer “help” for everyone in the community while refusing to seek that help for ourselves. It just won’t wash anymore. The truth is, while we offer Jesus as a savior to others, we need Jesus more than ever, because the insidious temptation of pride and self-deception is never stronger than when we do (read C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters to understand that – “Let him write a book about it!”)
    Recently, I read a book recommended to me by Randy Harris, called, The Mystic Way of Evangelism, that analyzes both the currently plight and future hope of the church better than anything I’ve read in years. Ironically, when I recommended it to my sister she was already reading it because the preacher at her new church recommended the week before (I think he gets it). As I read it I wept, considering my own spiritual corruption and hypocrisy and the prospect of my own “redemption.” In comparison, the current political debate is, once again, just the symptoms rather than the disease. Unless we own up to our own duplicity, railing at the “state of the union” is an exercise in self-deception and hubris. We’re already too good at that. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” “Drop the stone, just drop the stone.”

  3. You knew that I would have to comment  I am really grateful for your entry, and if I could divorce your comments from the current health care reform effort, I would have no disagreements with it at all. I think all of us regardless of party or stance dislike these kinds of debates and the resort to these procedures. As a person who cares foremost for the preservation of our democratic system of government over the accomplishment of any policy objective, I am saddened by the seeming effort to resort to these tactics. I also dislike the hypocrisy of it, on both sides. Speaker Pelosi should not use a protocol that she formerly opposed, but Republicans also should not be screaming to high heaven because the Democrats want to use the very same procedure they used to give tax cuts to wealthy people so that we can provide health care to more of the American population.
    What really saddens me about the trust issue is that I wonder if we have gone beyond a point of no return. I seriously think we could be in the last years of the greatness of our republic if we do not correct the cynicism and distrust, address the situations that are causing it, and solve some looming and large problems. If we cannot treat each other with respect and cooperate on something as important as the health care of our citizens, how are we going to resolve entitlement reform, immigration and Social Security? Something has to change. I am not sure what, or who, but somehow our institutions and leaders must find a way to earn back the trust.
    I know you may disagree, but I do not think that is possible as long as we entertain ourselves with 24 hour cable news shows that feed the distrust and heighten the drama. I know I am in a minority, but I really don’t think that the problem is a lack of leadership as much as ignorance, apathy and unfair criticisms of the American people. We do not have a direct democracy – California does, and it’s an utter failure. We have a representative government whose leaders are called upon to make choices for us, and sometimes, according to Madison in Federalist Papers #10, decisions that are right for us but which the majority does not support. Most of the public servants I know make very tough decisions every day, and try sincerely to lead. But with the constant yelling and screaming on television and radio, and the over dramatization of issues, it’s hard to do. Besides this, if people can’t trust Obama, I am not sure who it’s going to be. He’s squeaky clean, has had no accusations of ethical lapses, and tries doubly hard to listen and compromise with his opponents. That seems to me to be the kind of leader who could help us with our trust issues, but some of us are hell bent on destroying him because we disagree with him. The challenge for all of us, and for me, is to learn to trust leaders that we do not agree with – just as in church too. Sometimes we just have to trust they are doing what’s right for us. I honestly gave Bush the benefit of the doubt on the war in Iraq because I trusted he knew things we did not – I wish my friends on the other side of the aisle would give Obama the same gift.
    As to this health care situation – Once trust has been eroded in any situation, we usually resort to survival. I think that’s what you are seeing here, Tim. The situation for the GOP nationally is not good because of demographics, and they know that their only hope for recovering from 2008 is to ensure that Obama is perceived a s a failure. They have a vested interest in obstructing everything he does. I hate that, but I understand it. It’s important for my GOP friends to understand that me and many of my Democratic friends have fought for over a decade for some kind of health care reform, and some of my older progressive friends have fought for it since Roosevelt and Truman. My conservative friends need to understand that a) this is very important to us, just as abortion or a tax cut might be important to the Right, and b) we’re tired of fighting monied interests who always are going to have the upper hand on this. This situation could have been very different. On many occasions, Republicans have been invited to the negotiation table on health care. Over 147 Republican amendments are included in this bill. And yes, even pilot projects for tort reform and selling insurance across state lines are included. There is no public option of any kind. Yet, it doesn’t seem to matter to my conservative friends who are determined to defeat this.
    Speaking for me, and for my party, I absolutely refuse to let that kind of politics end a very worthy effort to provide health care to millions, to provide more affordable insurance for those who can’t afford it, and to end discriminatory insurance practices. I don’t like it at all, but I also despise the kind of partisanship and selfishness that led to this situation. So here’s my response: Cram it down. If health care insurance companies are going to spend millions to convince people to vote against their own interests, then I’m pretty determined that they are not going to win. That’s what elections are for, and we will pay in the fall if we are wrong.
    Where were the concerns about reconciliation when the Congress used it to pass the Bush tax cuts, resulting in $1 trillion of our current debt. They were totally unpaid for, and exceeds the cost of this health care bill over ten years. Is our problem really reconciliation, or that we just disagree? Seems like a fair question to me if we weren’t raising these concerns before now.
    Once we are past this bill, I hope that Obama and our leaders will find a way to restore trust. But if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t know how to do it. Until our people are convinced that we have more to gain by hoping and trusting, than in complaining and criticizing, no leader can restore our trust and no institution can earn it. We evidently need a crisis to get us to put away the childishness I’ve observed these few months. The sad news is that we do have a crisis – several of them – and we are wasting time in silly games while Rome burns.
    I would take great delight in being part of an effort in our churches or with friends to restore that trust. But it will never be restored if we have to insist that our own side wins, and that the other side is not worthy of governing. Perhaps we need Stephen Covey to lead us in a national initiative on trust.