Whether you were for the recall of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker or against it, any impartial observer would recognize it took courage to challenge public union’s uncontested practice of collective bargaining. Evidently, Wisconsin voters saw value in Walker’s fiscally conservative policies and austerity measures. The recall election was a testament to this.
If you take the politics out of it, there is a lesson to be learned for political and religious leaders alike. And here, I am careful not to confuse partisan politics with the higher principle at hand. I have little interest in how political parties fare as compared to the principles that are affected by the parties. In fact, the Republican establishment can learn a lesson from Walker as well. And to be sure, as the Catholic Church tries to wrest her religious liberty back from the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, her pastors can take something away from this recall election as well.
In order to balance the Wisconsin State budget governor Scott Walker had determined that it was inevitable that a sizable opposition group, namely, public unions, would mount against him. For weeks his life would be a kind of hell. In all likelihood, he foresaw that chaos would descend upon the capitol in Madison before fiscal stability could be recovered. But after the dust settled, the people of Wisconsin stood with him.
History and experience shows that our instinct towards social conformity is stronger than our humanitarian instincts. People will tend to tolerate the suffering of others -- and hence not lend a helping hand -- if they observe that the majority are passive in this regard. The anticipation of opposition, ridicule or persecution is enough to subdue anyone from speaking truth or doing the right thing.
This is why our Lord gave specific moral and spiritual incentives when he said that we are not to fear those who kill the body but rather the soul or that anyone who forsakes all for him will be rewarded a hundred-fold in this life and in the life to come. The mind who thinks with Christ is conditioned to see through short term sacrifices or setbacks in order to envision the long term gain.
This is why the Saints would often say that there is no crown without a cross.
As for religious or political leaders, the lesson to be learned is this: when a leader is will to go against the tide, a price is to be paid. But the courage which enables us to pay this price is contagious. Indeed, it has a ripple effect. Moreover, it is important to know that for every person you offend by speaking the truth or by doing the right thing, there are three more who are inspired by your example.
But here is the catch: those who will get offended by your words or actions will be more vocal than those who are inspired. In fact, the former may even get in your face. With this, there is a temptation to think they represent the majority when in fact they do not. I think this accounts for why so many pastors keep away from so-called controversial topics of homosexuality, cohabitation and contraception in the pulpit.
Quite often, those people who were inspired by you will let you know months, if not, years after you have spoken truth courageously or acted in heroic manner. Keep in mind that the price to be paid or the trial to be endured for cause of truth and goodness is always immediate, whereas the reward comes in its own time.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.