Governing Across the Divide

by Blake Barton Renfro

Sam Lloyd, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, has worked tirelessly during his tenure to make the Cathedral a voice of reason in a city of power. Lloyd is particularly concerned with exploring the intersection of faith and public life. In the fall of 2007, the Cathedral began a lecture series called “The Sunday Forum,” which convenes each week before the 11:00AM service. Writers, academics, journalists, politicians, and other public figures are invited to discuss topics that engage religion and civic life. Even in the midst of dramatic budget cuts, the Cathedral continues to sponsor a number of special programs which deal with American politics and religion. It would be easy to suggest that we live in overwhelmingly divisive times, where religious communities are in constant disagreement with the political establishment. However, those of us familiar with American history know that there has never been an era of religious and political utopia. The Cathedral’s public events are one venue devoted to intelligent conversation about the role of religion in American life.

Tuesday evening (5 October) the Cathedral sponsored a program entitled “Governing Across the Divide.” Sponsored by the Ignatius family, the event featured President Obama’s chief advisor David Axelrod and Joshua Bolton, chief of staff to former President George W. Bush. Moderated by Bob Schieffer, Bolton and Axelrod discussed, in Sam Lloyd’s words, “how civility and cooperation might return to the discourse.” Political insiders say that Washington is currently experiencing one of the worst periods of gridlock. Schieffer recalled how a recent guest on Face the Nation requested a separate waiting room, simply because he didn’t want to sit in the same room with a political opponent. This is just one example of the decidedly childish behavior among some political elites.

While time constraints limited a more in-depth discussion, both Axelrod and Bolton concluded that the media fuels political incivility. Both men expressed deep discontent over the media’s obsessive frenzy over attracting viewers. Joshua Bolton argued that political differences are wildly exaggerated by differing media outlets. “Governing Across the Divide” certainly didn’t provide any practical solutions to our political climate. Still, it confirmed my suspicion that some citizens are seeking a more intelligent answer to our political dialogue. The program is available on-demand.