When Civil Servants Aren’t
In the western world, Wikipedia suggest that the term “Civil Service” goes back to 1829 and the expansion of the British Empire — namely that the British government needed people with administrative and managerial skills to manage the resources, the production, and the commerce that took place in their various colonies. The basic principle behind such management, of course, is much older and we see ample examples of this through history. One very early example of this is the work of Joseph while he was serving in Pharaoh’s court.
The word “Civil” goes back to the Latin word, civilis, which refers to a citizen in a given region or city. In turn, behavior that was considered “civil” was understood to reflect that kind of behavior that promoted good will amongst those people who happened to be living in said community. The notion that those who govern are servants, of course, is also a Biblical one, finding its roots in Romans 13:4. When you put these ideas together, you get the notion that a civil servant is someone, ordained by God, whose role is to serve or otherwise benefit the people of a given region or city, promoting the well-being of all who live in said place. They were to be both civil in their behavior and to have the mindset of a servant, seeking the good of the whole, not their own personal agendas.
While the impetus for this essay was originally the shameful behavior of Representative Brian Sims, namely in his bullying of pro-life protesters in his district, the problem is more widespread than that. Sims, himself, is a predator who accosts women and youth, mocking and harassing them in the hopes of driving them off — seeking to use intimidation to rob them of their Constitutional right to peaceful protest. He is an embarrassment to the legislature of our Commonwealth and has made himself a laughing-stock to pundits nationwide. The only thing that surprises me is that he has not been slapped with a harassment lawsuit, but perhaps he already has.
I expect that it is safe to say that most of us expect better from those in political office. The problem is that while there are numerous men and women who do seek to govern with civility and integrity, it is the noisy, ignorant minority, modeled by Representative Sims, that stand out and give a bad name to all. Rhetoric and false information seems to drive much of our modern political process rather than reasoned dialogue and debate (no dear friends, mud-slinging and sophistry is not legitimate debate; legitimate debate is the reasoned exchange of ideas in the hopes of reaching a conclusion that is logically and morally best!). Again, Representative Sims is not representative of the many civil servants that I have had the privilege of knowing over the years, though sadly he is drawing attention away from that which is good given his antics.
So, where am I going with this? First of all, shame on all of our elected officials whose work revolves around their personal agendas. A leader puts their personal preferences to the side for what is best for the whole community. A leader seeks what is true and faithful to those standards that are established for the good of the community. In other words, if you are a Federal official, the Constitution of the United States is your measure and standard. For Representative Sims and others who lead the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is the Pennsylvania Constitution. For local officials, it is the local ordinances. For leaders in church, it is the Bible and the Constitution of the Church or Denomination.
Second of all, Civil Servants should be just that. What does that mean? In Biblical language, that means they have a lot of repenting to do. In more pragmatic, political language, we, the citizens, need to take our elections seriously and vote these self-centered, hate-mongers out of office. Folks like Sims are doing little more than wasting tax-payer money and undermining, rather than promoting, the good of the Commonwealth.
And, so what is the end in all of this? Friends, get involved in the political process. Vote and actively support candidates that not only support Christian values but also who understand the role of a “Civil Servant.” And, as you do so, make sure that you behave with civility. Back when Mitt Romney and Barak Obama were debating, each running for president, my son, then about 11 years old, took an interest in politics for the first time. So, we allowed him to stay up past his bedtime to watch the debates and then to discuss them. Even at 11 years old, he kept saying to me, “Dad, he didn’t answer the question he was asked.” Yes, and it was true of both candidates. If an eleven-year-old can notice sophistry like that, why do we tolerate it? How good it would be if political debates consisted of people actually concerned about solving the problems that face our society in a civil way and not in a way centered on personal or political gain.