Some of the most principled people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting are Irish Republicans, British Socialists, and assorted radicals who’ve refused knighthoods offered by the reigning Queen of the United Kingdom. How radical can they be if they were offered knighthoods in the first place, you ask?
Some, like my Irish Republican friends were tortured in British prisons, solely because they believed in the idea of a united Ireland. Others are English republicans, meaning they would like to see the monarchy abolished and replaced by a parliamentary republic. These men and women, at one time marginalized, were later elected to the House of Commons. Some even served in the House of Lords. With the veneer of social legitimacy conveyed by elected office, phone calls came from Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. Powerful gifts equate to control. If they honor you, they own you.
At some point they were offered a choice; to swear an oath of loyalty to a crown they did not recognize or perhaps accept honors from a system which fostered oppression. (This was the decision John Wesley’s parents made when they refused swear the loyalty oath to William and Mary following the Glorious Revolution). For an Irish republican to accept an English knighthood (or other royal honor), you’ve given into the system of political and military tyranny which denies your freedom, the power of democracy, and endorses the flawed notion of divinely ordained rule. This is why Sinn Fein Members of Parliament refuse to take their seats in the House of Commons. This is why English republicans refuse honors from the Queen’s “Order of the British Empire”. Yes, these terms are meaningless honors in a 21st century world. There is no “British Empire.” These awards represent the living legacy of the greatest repression of human dignity the world ever witnessed. Where is the world not falling to pieces today that it isn’t somehow the legacy of Britain’s colonial past? Who would want such an award or title?
This history came to mind when I read the glowing press release announcing three new appointees to the President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Among the new appointees was Rev. Adam Hamilton, a United Methodist clergyperson. Rev. Hamilton has written countless books and is the pastor of the largest United Methodist church in the United States. He is a star in Methodist circles. My inbox and postal mailbox are regularly flooded with fliers urging me to purchase his latest study. He’s known as a mainstream voice within tumultuous times. Yet, here’s where I ask my question again: who would want such an award or title?
I’m not opposed to President Obama’s interfaith work or the council he’s cobbled together. I know they fund many projects. My problem doesn’t lie with the White House. They do their thing. I don’t like to see United Methodist standard bearers cozying up to political power, no matter how benign it seems. My problem’s with Adam accepting the offer. Why accept something which only benefits you, your career, your book sales, your speaking engagements and means nothing to the rest of Methodism? Why not turn down the offer to make a prophetic point about power, prestige, and where it doesn’t belong? It’s a lame duck; election year public relations stunt Adam. Did you think of not taking one for the team? How beautiful would that have been?
Why I am supposed to be excited about a United Methodist being nominated to a Presidential advisory council? The president will be out of office in less than a year. These appointments will end at that time. Besides, each appointment is for a one year term. How much advising can he do, with all the general conferencing and leading a big church in 11 months? This council might meet once before this November. The council will have no authority once President Obama becomes a lame duck. The office overseeing the council will exist until next January. So why do this Adam?
Adam will get a trip to the White House sometime between now and November. It’s not like he is going to become the United Methodist in residence at the White House. We’re talking about the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The religious equivalent of the National Security Council this is not. In one or two meetings, over nine months, how much advice can he offer? This all looks great on a White House press release but it means nothing to anyone in the pews. It will impact Adam Hamilton’s impressive resume. Why do this, Adam?
Here’s the thing: Adam Hamilton could have said no. He could have refused the president’s appointment. On principle, on ceremony, on the meaninglessness of the post, he should have refused for any number of reasons. He didn’t. I’m sorry Adam Hamilton sold out to the fleeting, feel good fame which comes with a White House appointment. I’m sorry United Methodists continue to trumpet style over substance.