|Commentary: Eliminate ‘pay to play’ politics|
A UMNS Commentary
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer
By Bishop Gregory Palmer *
Dec. 16, 2008
Our United Methodist Social Principles state, "When churches speak to
government, they also bear the responsibility to speak to their own
memberships." One of the four focus areas within The United Methodist
Church is principle-centered leadership. During this past week, the
people of Illinois have seen a collapse of the public trust.
On Dec. 9, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was taken into federal
custody on charges of political corruption. It was alleged that he had
engaged in a brazen attempt to auction off the U.S. Senate seat vacated
by President-elect Barack Obama.
As the duly elected governor, Blagojevich has the power to appoint
anyone, including himself, to the vacated seat — a power given to him by
the voters of Illinois. As part of that public trust, the people of
Illinois put their faith in the governor to exercise due diligence and
act in the public's best interest. If the allegations are true, that
trust has been violated.
As United Methodists, we affirm, "Churches have the right and the
duty to speak and act corporately on those matters of public policy that
involve basic moral or ethical issues and questions." It is this right
and duty that strike at the core of religious liberty in our country and
As we are well aware in recent years, the reputation of Illinois
politics has been soiled by ethical lapses by officeholders, and by
those who serve a season and then are charged and convicted once they
leave office. In response, lawmakers have taken a piecemeal approach to
ethics reform that has been less than effective because of the loopholes
built into the law--loopholes that invite its disregard.
This week very well could be a low point in Illinois politics, but it
is also an opportunity to demand real and meaningful reform of our
elected officials. I have initiated conversation with my ecumenical
colleagues to see what steps we can take as the religious community to
speak with one voice for real change in the way officials do the
people's business. It is time for all of us to be robust participants in
civic life and do all we can to restore the public trust.
I would offer the following first steps as a way in which to start that process:
- I call upon Gov. Blagojevich to respond in ways that promote a
restoration of public trust and moral leadership and the healing of this
- I call upon President-elect Obama to keep U.S. Attorney
Patrick Fitzgerald in place until these proceedings are concluded. As
presidential appointees, U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the
president. A disruption in continuity would poorly serve the people of
- I call upon United Methodists to demand from state
representatives and senators meaningful reform that eliminates "pay to
play" politics with stiff penalties for those who violate the public
trust. Several groups have offered comprehensive ideas around the way we
fund our political campaigns, which drive much of the perceived need
for such schemes.
- I call upon United Methodists to pray for Gov. Blagojevich,
his family and all of our elected leaders as we navigate historically
unchartered waters as a state. Take time to stay informed and join in
the public debate with the goal of restoring the public trust.
With God's help, even the most difficult times can be times of renewal.
*Palmer is leader of The United Methodist Church’s Illinois Great
Rivers Annual Conference and president of the United Methodist Council
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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