Why I will go to Washington, DC by Jos Claerbout

Statement of Johannes Claerbout

For the Washington Semester Program

I will go to Washington, DC. The realization was daunting, particularly at 10,000 feet. The descent into San Francisco Airport last August was both a physical and spiritual homecoming. My self-imposed year of Alaskan exile had ended, and I was on my way back to college. Plummeting through the clouds at 300 miles an hour, I reflected on the lessons I had learned during the previous 16 months: never accept a job with a fishing boat captain who just "happens" to be looking for a full crew; never go ice climbing in tennis shoes; and never resign yourself to silence. Perhaps appropriately, it is on the last lesson that I wish to elaborate.

The last six months of my life have been fired by an hour and a half I spent in stunned silence almost eighteen months ago. It was October. It was in Alaska. In Anchorage. In a Denny's restaurant on a Thursday night. As her campaign coordinator, I had accompanied Joni Whitmore, the Alaskan Green Party candidate for US congress, to a speaking arrangement at this chunk of 24 hour Americana. Joni was to address an intimate group named the "Americans For The Constitution Club". An advocate for "returning power to the states", Joni hit it off great with this anti-Washington bunch.

Unfortunately, a fear of the United Nations and a hatred of bureaucrats were not their only concerns. Some time after I had finished my microwaved plate of resilient nachos, the leader of the gathering dropped an innocuous little bomb:

The first question had to do with homosexuals in the military; it was all downhill from there. Smiles turned to frowns; croutons dropped half eaten from mouths agape when my candidate outlined her views on abortion; a pleading voice from the audience asked at one point, "Not even school prayer?"

It wasn't a pretty sight. To Joni's credit, she stood there and answered every query. Gagged by ignorance of the Christian Coalition, their agenda, or even the Bible itself, I was frozen in my seat, unable to say a word. In the months that followed, I often thought of that night: my ignorance of both the Bible and the Constitution; the conflict of "my" politics and "Christian Politics"; and of my utter inability to help a "good" politician. Rather than drop the issue, however, I became intrigued. A lifelong curiosity about the Bible finally yielded to an actual reading of it. In so doing, I found that none of my former fears need be realized. Ignorance is easily remedied and many of "my" politics were indeed "Christian" politics. Such a realization meant that at least on this one issue, I never again needed to stand by helpless while a good person was being skewered for her views. This final realization has helped guide my direction after returning to Pomona. I enrolled in Biblical Heritage my first semester back and am now in the midst of an intense independent study with Professor Menefee-Libey focusing on Christianity and American Politics.

The time I have spent reading the Bible has been enlightening. Each hour I have devoted to the study of faith and politics has been instructive. But there is a limit. As Michael Uhlmann has noted, this country may again be heading toward a religious revival, one which would no doubt have a great influence on its politics. Without a comprehensive understanding of both American faith and its relation to government, I could spend these upcoming years inactive once again, watching a country be torn apart by the extremities of religion rather than brought together by its potentially unifying message. To work toward this latter end, I must acquire political skills that, I believe, can only be gained in Washington, working with organizations already committed to this cause. One such group is the Interfaith Alliance. The education that began over a plate of nachos the October before last will not be complete after time in Washington, but would suffer without it.

Epilog I: Read about "Sinners".

Epilog II: Disillusionment.

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