Obama’s Parliament

In discussing our country’s Constitutional crisis last week I focused on the tension between our ideal of deliberative argument and conversation over against the realities of factional partisanship fueled by the desire for domination. Indeed, the ideal has always been a fragile, weak reed in the midst of the storms of human history. This Republic’s founders were more aware of it than most.

I have seen in this ideal a primary form of our spiritual longing for participation in God’s abundant creative life. In the structure of God’s purposes we find a “Constitution” – a covenantal bond — in which we can live toward greater mutual confirmation, affirmation, and care for our world. The practical form in which I seek to rehearse this life is the Roundtable experience of mutual nurture, conversation, and openness to God’s wider, transcendent purposes.

The assembly in which this fragile light is kept burning always exhibits some characteristics of the political orders in which we seek to live and work together, but it is also irreducibly different. This is the distinction we know as the difference between “church” and “state.” The question is to what degree our political orders might come closer to this deliberative ideal and how do we best live with the reality of our inability to achieve it.

In turning to a kind of Parliamentary interchange with the Republican Congressional delegation last week, President Obama can be seen as trying to institute aspects of this ideal in order to overcome the impasse in which we stand. Our strong executive and the way the founders divided the authorities of government have always been challenged by the Parliamentary vision, with its strong legislature. Senator McCain as well as President Obama have both expressed commitments to re-energizing government with this face-to-face argument, deliberation, and pragmatic problem-solving. However, they can only succeed in this effort if the broader American political culture is infused with the original ideal. This means publicizing the work of deliberative councils more than the raucous protests of so-called Tea-parties or impersonal internet movements. Both the little assembly of Roundtable Worship and the big assemblies of our general publics have crucial roles to play in this effort

Your comments are always welcome. For a practical start, check out www.everyday-democracy.org, one of many such efforts around the world.

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