At what age should we prohibit people from being able to work? When should we start disregarding their wisdom? How do we determine the point at which their experience is no longer necessary? Former United States Congressman Joe Cunningham declares to know the answer to these questions.
In a recent interview with NPR, Cunningham stated that 72 should be the age limit to holding office and that older Americans should make way for a younger generation. He said, “our country and our state are being run by a geriatric oligarchy – people who stay in office way past their prime…” Ultimately, he suggested that holding on to power is a root cause of our political issues.
I’m a bit torn on the subject because there are those in leadership whose time has passed. On the other hand, there are those too young and immature to lead, or maybe to lead yet. However, before accepting Cunningham’s statements about the connection between advanced age and political problems, please consider how many of our past presidents served into their 60’s and 70’s; Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and recently both Trump and Biden. While we may decline in multiple ways, we simultaneously possess the ability to continue to grow in importance.
It is only fair to recognize the possible challenges on both sides of the age spectrum. There are examples of some in the younger generation who may make fools of themselves with unrealistic or impractical visions. Still, in the same breath, some in the older generation can sometimes lose flexibility or the willingness to change.
I do believe that term limits make much more sense. Those in public office or private business need to be challenged by new ideas. Those ideas are not limited by age. As I reflect, there are a couple of simple conclusions. One is that with term limits, the issue of those truly “past their prime” will take care of itself. The second is that the “people” should always be able to decide whether someone is qualified to hold office or not. In almost every setting, one of the leader’s key responsibilities is ensuring their creativity, vitality, perseverance, and wisdom are infused into the organization.
When Cunningham and most of our culture suggest that older people are useless, they throw away generations with essential experience, time, wisdom, and resources. If everyone had given up in their 60’s, Noah Webster would not have completed the Dictionary, Nelson Mandela would not have been elected president of South Africa, Benjamin Franklin would not have worked on the Declaration of Independence, and countless other examples. Considering all of this, what should we do? First, let’s not let the Joe Cunninghams of our world shape our thoughts and direction. Second, let us acknowledge that one person’s 80 is another’s 60. Third, let’s celebrate that experience does matter. The Retirement Reformation’s challenge to all Christ-followers is to acknowledge that God has a unique call to action for each of us and at every stage of our lives.
Agism will rob our world of things not even dreamed of yet. For many, the prime years are their latter years. Perhaps, someone should remind Joe Cunningham that his father served in office until he was 75.
We are called to be all we are called to be. Let’s ensure that the “why” in our lives is big enough to drive us forward, resulting in a passion for using our God-given talents to build the Kingdom and represent Jesus to all we meet. There are no age limits on faithfulness; there are no term limits on impact.