Religion and Politics
During my recent life coach training we discussed several human development models. One that I particularly liked was Robert Kegan’s Theory of Consciousness Development where he defines six progressive stages of development. He defines Stage 5 as The Integral Self. Research suggests that 14% of adults are transitioning to this stage, and only 1% of adults actually attain it.
Several of the characteristics of this stage of development include:
• Is more accepting and understanding of other perspectives and positions
• Sees conflict as an opportunity to dialog across differences to bring about discovery and new understanding
• Comes to understand that some differences cannot be resolved
As we consider religion and politics, I think that it would do us all well to consider embracing this more excellent way. Two men that were on this path were former Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and the late Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts who were able to bridge their religious and political differences through friendship and mutual respect. I was moved to tears when I originally read the following speech that Orrin Hatch gave at Ted Kennedy’s funeral in 2009:
“America has lost a giant in politics and public policy. I have lost a close personal friend.
People called us the “odd couple,” which was certainly true. There are few men with whom I had less in common. Ted was born to a famous patrician family of Boston. He attended private schools and Harvard University. He was politically liberal and liberal in his lifestyle at least until he married Vicki Reggie, who set him straight. I grew up in a poor, working class family in Pittsburgh. Where Ted was the affable Irishman, I was the teetotaling Mormon missionary.
We did not agree on much, and more often than not, I was trying to derail whatever big government scheme he had just concocted. And, in those years that Republicans held the majority in the Senate, when it came to getting some of our ideas passed into law, he was not just a stone in the road, he was a boulder.
Disagreements over policy, however, were never personal with Ted. I recall a debate over increasing the minimum wage. Ted had launched into one of his patented histrionic speeches, the kind where he flailed his arms and got red in the face, spewing all sorts of red meat liberal rhetoric. When he finished, he stepped over to the minority side of the Senate chamber, put his arm around my shoulder, and said with a laugh and a grin, “How was that, Orrin?”
We did manage to forge partnerships on key legislation, such as the Ryan White AIDS Care Act, State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and most recently, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. Ted was a lion among liberals, but he was also a constructive and shrewd lawmaker. He never lost sight of the big picture and was willing to compromise on certain provisions in order to move forward on issues he believed important. And, perhaps most importantly, he always kept his word. When our carefully balanced compromise legislation came to the Senate floor, Ted often had to lead the opposition to amendments offered by Democratic colleagues that he would rather have supported. But, he took the integrity of our agreement seriously and protected the negotiated package. And, when my mother and father died times of deep sorrow for me Ted Kennedy was there with the right words and sincere sympathy. Ted was a man experienced in facing tragedy, having grieved more than his share, and yet became stronger for it. He and Vicki flew to Utah to attend my mother’s funeral, a gesture that will always mean a great deal to me.
We can all take a lesson from Ted’s 47 years of service and accomplishment. I hope that America’s ideological opposites in Congress, on the airwaves, in cyberspace, and in the public square will learn that being faithful to a political party or a philosophical view does not preclude civility, or even friendships, with those on the other side.
When reflecting on my dear friend’s life, my thoughts continue to turn to the future of this great nation. With the loss of such a liberal legislative powerhouse who spoke with conviction for his side of the aisle but who was always willing to look at an issue and find a way to negotiate a bipartisan deal, I fear that Washington has become too bitterly partisan. I hope that Americans in general and Washington politicians in particular will take a lesson from Ted’s life and realize that we must aggressively advocate for our positions but realize that in the end, we have to put aside political pandering, work together and do what is best for America.
Personally, I mourn the loss of my dear friend Ted Kennedy. I will miss sparring with him over policy, his unparalleled skills as a legislator, his wonderful sense of humor, and his generous nature. And Americans from all points on the political spectrum can surely admire the example of a United States senator who was dedicated to the last to advancing the vision of America that he held so dearly.”