Gridlock

Gridlock

            This term is used often to describe the U.S. Congress. Because of the divisive partisan politics, they have been unable to take action even on issues in which there is common agreement.  The popular view of the Congress as dysfunctional has resulted in an attitude that all aspects of government are corrupt, inefficient, and stuck in the status quo to maintain access only by the privileged few. Recent controversial decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have produced backlashes in state houses with reactive legislation, that in many cases have been over-ruled. As a result, the nation has become even more divided with protests, counter-protests, and random acts of violence.

            Among the oldest protest movements was the Protestant Revolution. This “protest-ant” against the Roman Catholic Church challenged the status quo in which the clergy ruled with an iron hand, and the laity was shut out. In the centuries since then, the Protestants have splintered into dozens of denominations. Even the old mainline denominations: The Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians have divided over various issues.  The Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery and took 80 years to re-unite.  The United Methodist Church now threatens to divide again. A narrow majority want to maintain the status quo on doctrine as defined in The Book of Discipline.  They have been arguing about one issue for more than 40 years.

            Politics, religion, social mores, and fears reflect the societies in which they have evolved.  In the United States, even after 150 years, we have not resolved the issue of racism.  A decade of terrorists acts around the world have reinforced the fears of Americans since 9/11 so that we are divided by ethnicity. The generations of white, patriarchal, Protestant rule are being challenged, and many are being threatened by that and again want to maintain the status quo that provides them special privileges. Federal legislation banning discrimination based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, physical ability, or country of origin is being openly challenged.  We hate those who are different than us.  First, it was the European immigrants who were despised: The Irish, the Poles, the Catholics, and the Jews. Now it is the Muslims who are hated.

            Perhaps now it is the time to define gridlock: the manipulation of the functions of society to maintain the status quo.  That applies to race, religion, and economic status as well as politics. In recent political debates much has been made about “the 1% vs. 99%.”  That inequality occurred over a period of at least 30 years as the tax code was rigged to favor a few who held undue influence over Congress.  The common people came to understand that they no longer had a voice in their government or the economic system, and so they protested. The populism of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump supporters appeals to a challenge of the status quo and to establish a more equitable and productive system.

            Perhaps the most volatile flash point in both politics and religion of the past decade has been over the issue of how society is to deal with the issue of homosexuality. Same sex intercourse is not new, but same sex marriage is. The North Carolina General Assembly unwittingly pushed the transgender issue onto the national stage this year.  Do these people have the same civil rights as others?  The debate goes on and gets more hateful on both sides.  The Constitution and the Bill of Rights not only provide freedom of religion, but also freedom from religious domination.  At the time they were written, most European nations had only one state religion, and if you held different beliefs you were a criminal.  Now some people want to create a theocracy in the United States.

            Change is inevitable. It happens in social trends as well as economies. We are faced with globalization in both realms. It can occur peacefully or with violence.  Which will we choose?