Appraising GraceOctober 15, 2013
The continuing government shutdown debate shows Congress and partisan gridlock at its worst. Yet, today it also provided an unusual religious-political moment. House Republicans met this morning to plot their opposition to an emerging bipartisan Senate plan. During the behind-closed-doors meeting, Representative Steve Southerland of Florida led the group in singing the popular Christian hymn "Amazing Grace." Although the hymn likely makes an appearance in hundreds - if not thousands - of churches on an average Sunday, using it in a partisan meeting seems quite odd. Singing the song in a political gathering is a problematic appropriation of a sacred worship song. It also presents a unclear messaging for the Republican Party that finds itself at a record low approval rating as a result of the government shutdown. Did they sing the song to admit to being lost, blind wretches or to suggest they are the only saved, graced-covered ones? Either message probably does not work to well for them. Interestingly, "Amazing Grace" is a common song at funerals - and the representative who led the singing is even the co-owner/president of a funeral home! Perhaps House Republican leaders finally realize the impact their shutdown politics is having on the Republican Party (although the song reminds us that God forgives, it does not mean voters do). Regardless the motivation, the co-opting of the song for political purposes is troubling, and likely was uncomfortable for non-Christians like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. As I argued in my last book, the politicization of religion should concern believers. Perhaps House Republicans should do more soul-searching and less singing.