From time to time Americans are dragged kicking and screaming to the polls where we are asked to consider which candidates for public office we most trust with the future of our nation and which issues we consider most important. No matter our background we bring with us certain experiences that help to shape the decisions we make. For millions of Americans it is our experience as Christians that help define how and why we vote for certain candidates. Author Jim Wallis tells us that God is not a Republican… or a Democrat. But we also know that God is involved in the life of creation. Jews and Christians remember through Scripture how God set in motion the events which led to the liberation from slavery in Egypt and Christians remember the price of death God’s own son was dealt by the Romans for preaching the justice of God’s Kingdom. God cared then and God cares now. Our obligation in this time is to discern for ourselves what causes and issues God wants addressed. There is a political dimension to God and we will have to find a way to express that in the 2006 mid-term elections.
The Religious Right has painted God into a corner. I recently said in an interview that if you bring up the term “Christian” many Americans will associate the word with people such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. The Religious Right has been able to convince the media and many in the general public that their positions on social issues are the only legitimate Christian views to hold. However, Christianity has always been a diverse religion and for much of history the Christian voice has been one prophetically calling for social justice on behalf of those Jesus called “the least of these.” Christians across the globe, for example, opposed the US invasion of Iraq and Christians in many nations have been at the forefront of movements for economic justice, opposition to the death penalty, and for environmental protection. Christianity is not liberal or conservative. Those are modern political terms. Sadly, some have tried to co-opt Christianity to advance their partisan political agendas.
Those who narrow God’s message down to one issue – say gay marriage - miss the essence of our faith message. God calls on us to be a people of reconciliation and justice. Can Americans today claim to be following God’s will? We have a president in office that seems to believe that he was divinely installed in the White House and yet he peruses economic policies that have resulted in higher rates of both poverty and hunger in the United States. Rather than challenge current administrations policies that seem in area after area to be in conflict with Biblical teachings the Religious Right works to warp Jesus into a Republican spokesperson. Christians ought to be challenging both political parties on moral issues and not claiming that one or the other is godlier. No political part has ever advanced a Kingdom-centered platform.
Our nation (and the world for that matter) is racked by debates over the appropriate role of religion in public life. There are those who would argue that the United States is and always has been a Christian nation and that our government should be run on Christian principles. Some in the Religious Right would replace America's historical respect for religious pluralism and democracy with a theocracy. Are the teachings of Jesus a guide in this debate? Jesus “directly and repeatedly challenged the dominant sociopolitical paradigm of his social world and advocated instead what might be called a politics of compassion. This conflict and this social vision continue to have striking implications for the life of the church today,” wrote Marcus Borg in his 1994 bestseller Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Christians today should emulate the Jesus-model of non-violently speaking out against the dominate culture in a way that serves the cause of lifting people up and building community. We should always reject theocracy and embrace the democratic values that have allowed our admittedly imperfect society to thrive. In a pluralistic society “churches should not seek to use the authority of government to make the whole community conform to their particular moral codes. Rather, churches should seek to enlarge and clarify the ethical grounds of public discourse and to identify and define the foreseeable consequences of available choices of public policy,” read the United Methodist Social Principles.
My hope is that Christians can constructively engage in the political debates of the 2006 mid-term elections. Not all Christians think alike, of course, and not all will discern God’s will in the same terms. Are there, however, issues that the majority of Christians can (perhaps should) agree on as we consider our votes?
“Our Christian faith compels us to address the world through the lens of our relationship to God and to one another,” said the National Council of Churches (NCC) USA when that ecumenical body representing over 45 million American Christians issued a statement on Christian principles during the 2004 elections.
This blog entry – How Would Jesus Vote 2006 – is meant to help jump start conversations among Christians about what it means to be faithful to God in the voting booth. It is not my intention to tell readers exactly how Jesus would vote on any one issue but rather to raise some of the most controversial issues facing voters from one Christian perspective. Not all Christians will agree with the conclusions that I make about God’s will for us (though many certainly will) but I hope at least that all of us that claim the title Christian will see this election as an opportunity to focus on reconciling ourselves to one another and to the world.
So what are the issues Christians should be most concerned with?
During the last election cycle The Rev. James Forbes and Riverside Church of New York City issued a set of Prophetic Justice Principles. These principles, similar to the ones issued by the National Council of Churches USA, help define some of the most critical issues we face and are worth considering this year:
We, the members of faith communities in the United States, inspired by the Hebrew prophets, lift up the following questions to test public policy against the principles of righteousness and justice in our society. We ask the citizens and leaders of America to bear the following issues in mind as they seek to restore the spiritual, moral, and democratic values upon which our nation was built.
1) Does the policy represent the common good of society rather than the interest of an elite few?
2) Is the policy based on a true analysis and does it disclose its true intention? How likely is the outcome to achieve its proposed purpose?
3) Does the policy hold the prospect of reducing the polarization and fragmentation of the society due to race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin?
4) Does the policy have the capacity to be good news for the poor? Does it reverse the trend toward widening the gap between rich and poor?
5) Is the policy good for children, the elderly, and the disadvantaged? Does it show sensitivity to the spirit of the golden rule?
6) Does the policy refrain from the arrogant assumption that the powerful have the right to ignore the interests and subsistence needs of the less advantaged segment of the society?
7) Does the policy provide for free press, free discussion, and the expression of dissent, along with fair and just methods of participation in the democratic process?
8) Does the policy encourage respect for persons and nations other than our own? Does it respect the right of self-determination of other nation-states?
9) Is the policy based on a commitment to a global vision of cooperation and mutuality of respect rather than relying on unilateral military actions for empire-building and domination strategies? Does it use diplomacy as a valued instrument of statecraft in resolving international conflicts?
10) Is the policy supportive of strong measures to insure ecological responsibility and sustainability?
If you want to know how Jesus would vote start with these questions.