When I was in junior high school, I thought about running for class office. Our class had four officers—president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. The president and vice-president were always boys, and the secretary and treasurer were always girls. We were not an especially enlightened class. We weren’t woke, as they say today.
The officers did nothing except give the appearance of student participation in the school’s governance, as if that were a real possibility. When our class president went down to Mr. Peter’s office and asked for a Coke machine to be installed in the cafeteria, which had been the single issue in his political campaign and platform, Mr. Peters sent him packing.
I thought of running for office because it would look good on my college application, which was woefully short on both extracurricular activities and academic success. Alas, when one graduates 77th out of 78 in the class of ’79, no number of exalted positions can ease your way into college. That’s when you need a rich parent who can donate a couple million dollars to the college of your choice, which I didn’t have. What I did have was a mother who knew the Catholic nun in charge of admissions at Marian University. Sometimes it is who you know, and it always pays to know a nun.
No one told us only boys could run for our class presidency and vice-presidency, that just seemed to be the natural order of things, what God intended, that the males ran the show and the females took the notes and counted the money. We lacked the imagination to do it any differently.
We’ve been speaking about the qualities of healthy nations. So far we’ve said that in healthy nations, those who can help those can’t, while holding accountable those who won’t. Healthy nations give careful thought to their alliances, commitments, and promises, and once made, honor them. They give their word, then keep their word. Healthy nations are not defined by their borders, but by their character. Healthy nations devote their energy to uniting people around noble ideals. Healthy nations live fully in the present and prepare wisely for the future. Healthy nations make it possible for its citizens to pursue happiness, so they might have the best lives possible. In our last time together, we said healthy nations nurture cultures and climates of peace.
Today, I want to add to our list by saying healthy nations have leadership that is representative of its population. They are careful not to place political power in the hands of one group, but rather work to ensure power is shared among men and women; white and people of color; rich, middle-income, and poor; the elderly, the middle-aged, and the young; the conservative, the moderate, and the progressive; the urban, suburban, and the rural. It listens carefully to business owners, the people they employ, and the unemployed.It seeks to ensure those wielding power reflect the diversity of the nation. In healthy nations no one is handed power because of their wealth or ancestry. Rather, those who hold power earn that authority by virtue of their competence, wisdom, vision, and commitment to democratic ideals.
Now I’m a white, straight, well-off guy from Indiana, so I’ve been a little late boarding the train of inclusion. As far as I was concerned, things were working great. Whee! I was having fun! But now I’m starting to ask a few questions. Like how come, if only 3% percent of Americans are millionaires, why are 66% of Congress members millionaires? Why are they so much wealthier than the rest of us? When did they get their money? Before or after they went to Congress? How does their wealth effect the decisions they make, the bills they pass, whose taxes they raise and lower, the causes they embrace? I’m just curious.
I have other questions. Women comprise 50.5% of the American population, but only 20% of Congress. How would America be different if more women were in Congress? Would our schools receive more funding? Would we spend less on war? Would we tolerate immigrant children being taken from their parents? Would crimes against women and children be taken more seriously? Would we spend more on medical research and development? Would we have universal health care?
The median age in American is 37—half of all Americans are under 37, the other half above. But the average age of Congress is 60 years. I’m not knocking old people. I hope to be one myself someday. But did you know we reach the peak of our mental capacity and creativity around the age of 42? The average age of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence was 44 years-old, but more than a dozen of the signers were under 35. Edward Rutledge and Thomas Lynch were only 26. Why have we resisted the leadership and perspective of younger people and how has this adversely effected our nation? Is this the reason we have a college debt crisis, and why, even in this robust economy, the wages of young workers have remained stagnant?
We’ve made great strides with the inclusion of people of color in Congress, but we’re not there yet. It’s even worse in business. There are only three black CEO’s leading Fortune 500 companies. Only 4.8% of the CEO’s are women. How has this effected our nation’s priorities? Would it help Charles Gladden, who has washed dishes for eight years in the U.S. Capital Building during the day, but still spends the night sleeping on a storm grate at D.C.’s McPherson Square Metro Station.
Forty-one percent of Congress are lawyers. Would our priorities be different if Congress had more doctors, teachers, social workers, entrepreneurs, engineers, laborers, farmers, and the occasional poet?
So these are my questions. You probably have your own questions. At least I hope you do. Because when we start asking questions, there’s no telling what might happen.
It has become quite clear that there are, at the very least, two kinds of Christians in America. One kind reads the book of Hebrews, then tells us we must obey our leaders and submit to them. (Hebrews 13:7) Just go along and get along. I can assure you the author of Hebrews was not a Quaker. Another kind of Christian remembers Jesus telling us we were to be salt and light in nations that have lost their flavor and sit in darkness. (Matthew 5:13-14) These are the Christians who believe that when a nation has lost its way, obedience and submission are accessories to sin.
God help us if we sit on our hands, meekly doing what we’re told, thinking what we’re told to think, as if we have no salt or light to offer. Ask questions. Ruffle feathers. Stir the pot. Question authority. Do what Jesus did. Cast down the mighty, raise up the lowly.