Real campaign reform

A Christian Science perspective on daily life.

In a recent election, two men who'd lived and worked as colleagues in my district were opponents. Quite soon, the campaigning turned ugly. The candidate I tended to support was viciously and unfairly attacked, and unfortunately, he responded with a negative attack of his own.

Outside money suddenly started pouring in, producing slick mailers from each candidate, accusing the other of holding heinous and patently exaggerated positions. These arrived in our mailboxes, sometimes two and three at a time. While some pundits remarked that our district's elections were taking on statewide importance, our local newspaper, disgusted with the negativity, refused to endorse either candidate and publicly scolded them both.

After the ballots were counted, it became apparent that "my" candidate had lost with 49 percent of the vote. When the newspaper asked him whether he'd be able to work with his opponent in a civil manner, he replied: "For me to hold a grudge would be un-Christian.… To wish him ill will would be to wish the voters of this district ill will, and that would achieve nothing."

His willingness to accept the results and work for the district's progress is very encouraging, but I wonder if he'd spoken that way before the election, instead of going negative, would that have changed the results? It seems almost as if candidates feel they have to be negative instead of focusing on issues. Sometimes that approach tends to nurture the hurt rather than to heal it and let winners and losers continue living and working together.

In the United States for example, I don't think a week has gone by since the 2004 elections that we haven't seen references to red states and blue states, as though factions of the nation were at each other's throats. And with the 2008 elections a year away, we are nevertheless seeing a dismaying amount of name-calling and personal attacks rather than a campaign on issues.

Prayer can neutralize the hate and heal the grudges. This kind of prayer starts with the allness of God, which transcends all political ideologies, culture, language, race, and ethnicity. One such statement that I find helpful to my own prayer is in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Although it's ancient, it still rings with truth today: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. 6:4, 5).

Turning thought to the one and only God helps me see that our love for God must spill over into love for our fellow man, where no lines are drawn and forgiveness must be the keynote of our activities. To love the one God is to unite, rather than divide, the people. And while it's important to have a vigorous dialogue over issues, descending to personal attacks means we've lost sight of the all-good God, who loves all His children impartially.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, was well aware of the sometimes raucous nature of politics. In November 1908 – a presidential election year – she was asked about her politics. She replied, "I have none, in reality, other than to help support a righteous government; to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," p. 276). I find it helpful to measure myself against this standard, to make sure that I am in fact loving God supremely and letting this love govern my attitudes toward the candidates and issues.

To love God this way is important anytime, but maybe even more so when a major race is going on, such as the preelection campaigning in the United States. It ensures that we follow the Christian command to love our neighbor as ourselves while maintaining honest disagreements over politics, both domestic and foreign. And it contributes to a more peaceful public debate.

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