Farewell for Now
Today I officially hand over the Public Policy editorial reins to Heidi Unruh, who will be introduced in the coming weeks. For over two years, I've had the privilege of sending you my thoughts on public policy, both domestic and foreign. I hope they have been helpful and perhaps even sometimes provocative and challenging. Mostly, I hope they have reflected something true about public life. I may have something more to share on an issue from time to time in the future. For now, I leave you with one additional (practical) thought.
I urge you to choose prayerfully a public issue to explore and really seek to understand, including the competing perspectives of it and the purported policy remedies. There are so many: abortion, capital punishment, disenfranchisement, embryonic stem cell research, environmental degradation, poverty, restorative justice, the un- and under-insured, and the list goes on. Or choose a country or city and learn about the challenges it faces. None of us has enough time to know more than one or two public issues or conditions well. So pick one or two and immerse yourself so deep in the issue or unjust conditions that you begin to have real compassion for the real people who suffer these conditions. It is natural for us to "suffer with" (i.e., the English translation of the Latin root word of compassion) those we know well. The image that comes to mind is Jesus in great emotional pain while overlooking Jerusalem (Luke 19), the city that didn't (and still doesn't) recognize "the things that make for peace."
As you begin praying regularly about the issue, commit yourself to studying it and, over time, doing substantial spadework to establish some level of expertise. Pray for wisdom to see the public issue as God sees it. This will naturally lead you to wade into Scripture and, hopefully, to begin dialoguing with other disciples of Jesus to think through how their faith helps them see the issue truthfully. Pray, too, for those who suffer and for those who have the capability to address the unjust conditions appropriately, whether legislators, nonprofits, business leaders, bureaucrats, volunteers (you included!), or all of the above. Talk to others and join groups or organizations working on the same issue. Try to stay connected (by reading and dialoguing) to each of the competing sides of the issue even as you formulate your own perspective on the issue.
This is an important and demanding ministry. It will require you to expend precious time and personal resources. It may require excursions, including costly ones, to see the issue up close and experience it firsthand. It may even call you out of your neighborhood or vocation. But all of these activities comport with God's command to the exiles in Babylonia when he said, through Jeremiah: "Seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf" (Jeremiah 29).
Sure, the civil liberties of the United States tempt us to pursue our own creaturely comforts as long as we don't violate the rights of others. However, rather than the "pursuit of happiness," biblical prophets tell those who have ears to hear to pursue service. Indeed, Paul reminds us of the irony that true freedom avoids self-indulgence even as it moves us to "become slaves" to others (Galatians 5), an echo of Jesus' claim that he came "not to be served, but to serve" (Mark 10).
This mission, if you choose to accept it, is not "mission impossible." But it is improbable—that is, if one believes studies demonstrating widespread apathy among Americans toward public policy issues and, as a result, the unsurprising lack of knowledge of them as well. If you decide to "seek the shalom of the city" you will join a small minority of other disciples working to "repair the world "(tikkun olam). As in traditional forms of ministry, you will be the hands and feet of God doing kingdom work "on earth as it is in heaven."
Until we meet again.
Bret Kincaid is associate professor of political science at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA.