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The GOP candidate for governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, who has no government experience but comes to the campaign from the corporate sector, speaks of “customer-service government.”

Several candidates with no government experience, like Snyder, suggest that their business acumen is key to success. I really don’t want to debate that issue, though I have my doubts that one can move from the business world into government all that easily.

What is interesting to me is the concept of voter/citizen as customer. In these campaigns, Snyder’s included, the citizen is addressed as a customer.

What does that mean?

If Snyder means that things like transparency and efficiency and even good service should be part of the governmental ethos, I would agree. But, if citizens are customers, or at least considered customers, does that not feed the consumerist mentality that makes governance almost impossible?

This puts government in the position of pleasing individual customers, which means it may not do what is right but what is expedient. I think we’re already there, but this only makes it more apparent.

But are citizens really customers? Are we not the government? And as government, should we not be concerned about the common good as well as the individual good?

As an American, I have only one government. It’s not like I can choose between Coke or Pepsi – you know, decide which one tastes better and choose it. It’s not even like choosing between banks – deciding which bank offers me the best customer service.

So what does “customer-service government” really look like?

And let me push the question into the church. Since the church has become increasingly tied to consumerist ideology, is the church member a customer? After all, when we look for a new church, we call this “church shopping.” And we decide not on the basis of the doctrine, but on the basis of the children’s program, youth program, the preacher, the music. Again, where in this does the question of the common good emerge?

There was a video going around a while ago comparing the church to Starbucks – suggesting that the church might look to Starbucks for guidance in “customer service.” Is that truly the way we ought to look at either church or government?

Doesn’t “customer” orientation take away the idea of responsibility to church and community? Are we not part of the “body politic,” even as Christians are part of the “body of Christ”?

Bob Cornwall is pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy, Mich. He blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey. This column is used by permission.

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