Watching Politics from the Pew: The World Demands Answers

Each week in Watching Politics From the Pew, Benjamin Bartlett offers a thoughtful Christian perspective on the latest political happenings in the news.

One inevitable feature of inside-the-Beltway gossip is White House office politics. We like to know all the details of how the executive branch is carrying out its role of enforcing the law and leading the country. We look for insight everywhere, hoping that anecdotes about one official’s skill at speech writing or a bureaucrat’s tendency to foster relationships with Congress will help us better explain (or criticize) the public actions taken by the White House.

This article is a good case study. Increased responsibilities for one guy (Peter Rouse) who tends to be better at dealing with Congress than another guy (William Daley) leads to a host of inquiries: Why the shift? Is this an acknowledgement that your disciplined executive style is a failure? What are the morale levels of White House staff? Did Congress specifically ask for this change? Can you continue to function if you don’t have a handle on congressional relationships? Should you even be talking to us right now? Can you justify the fact that you don’t use leaks as intentionally as your predecessor?

I have no basis for condemning these sorts of questions. I, too, am fascinated by the relationship between political product and back-room realities. But I am humbled when I realize just how difficult a thing self-justification is.

There are times when self-justification is, well, justified. After all, when someone makes unfair accusations, especially against a person in leadership, those allegations often must be answered with clarity and truth.

There are also times when self-justification proves that a person was correct, but it doesn’t remove the stain of learning that they were less than they could have been, as seems to be the case with Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky.

And then there are times when self-justification is a sign that someone is hiding something. Spouses everywhere are constantly grilling each other for information or accusing each other of wrongdoing, and self-justification is a defense mechanism to stave off accusations or to try and turn the tables, forcing the other person to admit wrong.

The simple fact is that human beings are egotistical, self-righteous creatures, and we will fight tooth and nail to avoid admitting sin. We are ashamed of our sin, but we use prideful tactics to cut short any suggestion by anyone else that we ought to be ashamed. We try to be dictators of our own life storylines.

Lives changed by the grace of Jesus, freely given, ought to be better at confessing sin. Self-justification should be used to honor Christ and reveal the truth rather than protect us from shame or guilt. If a roomful of White House reporters began demanding that you justify the things you are doing in your life, would your answers proclaim the gospel? Or would they proclaim your desire to be seen as faultless?

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.