As I write this, members of the House of Representatives are moving to a tenth ballot to elect their next speaker.
“House Paralyzed as Speaker Stalemate Drags On,” reads the top headline on the Drudge Report.
There’s nothing new about headline hysteria in America. Writers and editors are good at catastrophizing, and in many cases, eager to do so. After all, chaos often equates to clicks, eyeballs, and increased advertising revenue.
But history is a good teacher, and you might be interested to know that it once took 133 ballots across two months to elect a speaker back in 1855 and 1856. Slavery and immigration issues were roiling the country back then, and twenty representatives were vying for the top slot. Massachusetts’ Representative Nathaniel Prentice Banks eventually prevailed.
It’s likely you’ve never heard of the 1800s Congressman Banks, though there’s another Congressman Banks in the House of Representatives today. Jim Banks (R-IN) actually received a vote for speaker in the first round. But after prevailing as speaker, the 1800s’ Banks was almost nominated for president on the “Know Nothing” ticket in 1856, but at the last moment the nod went to President Millard Fillmore. Banks was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1857, vied for the presidency in 1860, and was selected to be one of President Lincoln’s generals during the Civil War. He certainly lived during a time of maximum disagreement. Banks died in 1894 at the age of 78.
If it’s all hard to keep up with, join the club. Political wrangling and sparring have been around forever. Contention is often portrayed as dysfunction by the opposition, and it can be, but at times it can be healthy and needed in the battle of ideas.
How things will shake out in the current debate over House leadership remains an open question, but perspective and history would suggest a leader will eventually be selected and the work of the 118th Congress will eventually move forward.
Scripture is rich with wisdom and counsel for believers who encounter disagreement. The apostle Paul urged believers at Ephesus to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). The writer of Hebrews suggests we’re to “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15).
Of course, the United States Congress isn’t an ecclesiastical body, nor is it made up of all Christian believers. But the beauty of the Bible is that truth is truth, and even those who don’t claim Christ would benefit from the practicality of the sacred text.
How much more functional and productive would Congress be if its members practiced what the Bible preaches and teaches?
Consider just a few of its sacred words:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
Back in the 1950s, Jill Jackson-Miller was a songwriter who had survived a suicide attempt. She had become despondent over a failed marriage. But then she was introduced to Jesus and discovered the “life-saving joy of God’s peace and unconditional love.” Jill remarried and with her husband, Sy, wrote a song in 1955 that would go on to great fame and popular praise.
“Let There Be Peace on Earth” was featured in Hallmark cards and has been sung in churches all over the world. It begins:
“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on Earth, the peace that was meant to be. With God as our Father, brothers all are we. Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony … To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
Syrupy and unrealistic? Well, despite the seemingly frustrating news coming from Capitol Hill, the very best news is that as believers in Jesus Christ, we can embrace and put the Bible’s wisdom into practice in our own lives and families. Peace does begin with us.
Let’s continue to pray for wisdom, discernment, and God’s truth to prevail in the 118th Congress.
Photo: Rep. Nathaniel Prentice Banks, Speaker of the House, 1857.