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Move along, no saints here

I know lots of people I would consider worthy of sainthood. Good, basic, down-to-earth folks who treat others with kindness and respect and usually put the needs of others ahead of their own — the quintessential characteristic of the faithful follower of world religious founders.

I search in vain, however, for saints among national and state government office holders. And possibly at no other time in our nation’s history have we been in greater need of honest, unselfish people in government office. Instead, we have politicians who put their desires for power and wealth ahead of the needs of the nation and its people.

In times like these, when politicians seem to have forgotten that they are elected to represent the average American rather than the titans of industry, we need saint-like patriots to remind them that representing us is their primary responsibility. In times like these, when some Americans argue (inaccurately) that the nation was founded on Christian principles, we need elected representatives who incorporate the Christian principles they espouse in laws and policies that incarnate the teachings of their Founder — laws that provide good medical care for the sick, food for the hungry, housing for the homeless and compassion for the mentally challenged and ill.

On Oct. 26, 2000, Pope John Paul II proclaimed the “Man for All Seasons,” the great English Chancellor Thomas More, the patron saint of politicians and statesman. It was an inspired choice, but I think the average politician today might find Saint Thomas difficult to emulate.

  1. Sir Thomas was a man of great personal integrity. Most politicians today seem to regard lying as a necessary requirement of the job.
  2. Saint Thomas was noted by contemporaries for not taking bribes. Such honesty was just as rare among politicians then as it is now.
  3. According to the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, Cardinal Wolsey, Saint Thomas viewed issues of public policy with a “moral squint.” Most politicians would view this as a severe handicap.
  4. The most morally-challenged character in the film of his life is the aptly named Richard Rich. Rich seeks to advance himself politically and economically, even if that means selling out his friend More. Like many politicians today, he succumbs to the temptations of wealth and status at the expense of his friends and supporters.
  5. Saint Thomas was willing to die rather than to compromise his beliefs. It is the rare office-holder today who can even boast of having firm beliefs.
  6. Saint Thomas was an original and creative thinker. Most politicians do as they are told by party leaders and strain their brains to come up with original ideas.
  7. Saint Thomas respected the law and refused to put anyone, including himself, above it. Most politicians only have respect for what they can get away with.

We are at a crucial moment in the nation’s history. If we continue to put more distance between the people and their representatives and the ideals of the Founding Fathers, we may not be able to reverse the course.

We are better than the people we elect. It’s time their values reflected ours.

Polk Culpepper is a retired Episcopal priest, former lawyer and a Washington resident.