Saturday, November 04, 2006

T-2 Days and Counting: Voting God's Politics

My sister sent me the following column by Jim Wallis at Sojourners, discussing the need for Christians to vote their values and priorities. While the premise is honorable, the specifics got my dander up!

Jim Wallis: Voting God's Politics

Jim Wallis For years, we have watched the proliferation of voter'’s guides from the Religious Right that did all but actually endorse only right-wing Republican candidates. Before the 2004 election, their narrow list of "“non-negotiables"” included abortion, stem-cell harvesting, homosexual marriage, human cloning, and euthanasia. All the wider issues that the scriptures speak to were simply ignored. Never have we seen such a partisan use, abuse, and manipulation of religion. Well, those days are over, as many Christians, including a new generation of evangelicals, are demanding a broader and more biblical agenda - one that could challenge candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Oh, where to start! As I posted previously, politics is about a hierachy of values, and it behooves us to identify which candidate and party best represent us. If the Religious Right considered that Republican candidates were more representative of their beliefs, values, and concerns, I would certainly expect that those candidates would be endorsed.

He complains that the Religious Right had a narrow agenda. Maybe it was narrow because it was a list of their highest priorities, where they were most concerned with the direction our society was heading. To have a short list to focus people's energies and resources upon increases leverage and improves the chances for real change. A too-long list of "priorities" means that none are, and little is likely to be accomplished because efforts become diluted. When was the last time you were truly inspired by an over-long legislative laundry list included in, say, the President's State of the Union Address?

Please note, that for Conservatives, the narrow list of "“non-negotiables"” includ[ing] abortion, stem-cell harvesting, homosexual marriage, human cloning, and euthanasia falls into two categories of major concern: the sanctity of life and values that support strong families. Rev. Willis claims below that he cares about these issues too.

We have insisted that God is not a Republican or a Democrat, but we do believe there are principles and guidelines that should inform how we vote. This year, we have distributed more than 300,000 "“Issues Guides,"” which cover a broad range of Christian ethics and values that should inform our political decisions. You can still get a copy of the "Voting God's Politics Issues Guide."

We have highlighted the following principles and policies as a critical framework to shape our perspective on public policy and political leadership, and the questions by which all candidates should be evaluated.

Good. Rather than just complaining about the influence of the "Religious Right", he's entering the public debate. The down sides are that a) he implies that good Christians must necessarily agree with his interpretation of the Bible, b) that we must worry about everything rather than focusing our energies, and c) his framing of the issues is at times contrary to the way I and many others interpret the world around us.

Compassion and Economic Justice

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands (Isaiah 65:21-23).

God shows a special concern for those in poverty and acts in history to lift them up. The Bible teaches that societies should organize so that all members have genuine access to the resources needed to live a decent life and provide for those who are unable to care for themselves.

Does the candidate support measures that provide for family economic success and security by "“making work work",” that promote fair and decent wages, that show a serious commitment to lifting children out of poverty, and support policies on aid, debt, and trade that would bring extreme global poverty to an end?

That passage from Isaiah can also be read as a rebuke of wealth redistribution through taxation, government subversion of property rights (Kelo, for instance), windfall profits taxes, or other policies that separate productive citizens from the fruits of their labors. Is it economic justice when the "top one percent of tax filers paid 34.27 percent of federal personal income taxes in 2003, while the top ten percent accounted for 65.84 percent of these taxes"? (Source: Joint Economic Committee, "FEDERAL INCOME TAX SYSTEM IS HIGHLY PROGRESSIVE AFTER RECENT TAX CUTS". H/t TaxProf Blog)

The policies that Rev. Wallis thinks candidates should endorse sound good, because they show how much we care for those less fortunate. But the real test is whether the policies work in the real world. To take sub-Saharan Africa as an example, billions of dollars in public and private aid have been sent there over decades with little to show for it. One critic states, "Aid has destroyed the concept of civil society in Africa."

The term "fair and decent wages" sounds like code words for raising the Federal minimum wage, which is arguably part of the Democrat's non-agenda if they win control of Congress this election. But raising the minimum wage isn't necessary (and may be counter-productive, reducing availability of entry-level jobs). Real inflation-adjusted after-tax wages are rising because labor markets are tightening as the economy keeps adding jobs. The national unemployment rate just dropped again to 4.4%.

Peace and Restraint of Violence

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:4). Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).

We face a major challenge of how to resolve conflicts, reduce violence, and defeat terrorism without endless war. War has become a first resort instead of the last resort. In a world full of terrorists, terrorist states, unilateralist superpowers, and weapons of mass destruction, we need practical alternatives to an endless cycle of violence.

Is the candidate committed to a serious plan for ending the war in Iraq, to joining a real national debate on how to remove American forces while seeking both security and peace for Iraq, to the elimination of nuclear weapons, to supporting security and freedom in the Middle East, and to strengthening international law to fight terrorism?

Claiming that "[w]ar has become a first resort instead of the last resort" is a serious distortion of the Administration's policies. Iraq was invaded after 12 years of diplomacy and sanctions failed to induce Saddam Hussein to abide by numerous UN Security Council resolutions and prove that he had destroyed his WMD. The President has been criticized for the "rush to war" in Iraq, and for "unilateralism", yet the same critics complain that he insists on multi-party talks with North Korea and letting European nations lead on diplomatic efforts to constrain Iran.

The recent decision by North Korea to return to the six-party talks has been attributed, not to US saber-rattling, but to consistent pressure to cut off Kim Jong Il's cash flow and access to the international banking system. Additionally, the US has spear-headed a coalition effort called the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), to interdict shipments of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) . (Info on 2006 exercises in Baltic, Persian Gulf, and Australia.) The Administration appears committed to finding practical alternatives to all-out war.

I totally disagree with Rev. Wallis' candidate checklist on this issue. What's wrong with winning the war in Iraq? Why is absenting ourselves from Iraq considered more important than promoting justice (especially for women!) and helping the oppressed? Removing American forces before the job is done will only reinforce the enemy's impression that Americans have no stomach for long conflicts.

President Bush was absolutely correct when he said, "They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause government to withdraw." He also reminds us that "We're in an ideological struggle between people who hate and people who have hope. We've been through ideological struggles before. Freedom wins every time if we -- if we don't lose our nerve." (See my posts here and here.)

Consistent Ethic of Life

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).

We believe that all life is a sacred gift from God, and that public policies should reflect a consistent ethic of life - and address all the places where human life is threatened. We believe abortion is always a moral tragedy, but how do we find real solutions for preventing unwanted pregnancies and supporting women caught in very difficult and desperate circumstances?

Does the candidate support policies that will dramatically reduce the number of abortions, end capital punishment, and stop genocide, especially in Darfur?

I can't fathom why Rev. Wallis maligns the "Religious Right" when the issues list he ascribes to them is primarily concerned with promoting a "culture of life" instead of a culture of death. In March 2005, Brendan Miniter of wrote :

A flashpoint has long been abortion, but it's wrong to think this battle is entirely about "a woman's right to choose" or about protecting only unborn life. A large segment of the population feels that there has been a coarsening of our culture, that as a society we no longer view life as precious and valuable in all its forms. Abortion on demand is a sign of that coarsening, but so is euthanasia and the push to use stem cells from frozen embryos and tissue from aborted babies. Like Terri Schiavo's family, many Americans have decided they aren't going to remain silent as lives are discarded as "worthless."

As for Darfur, no one has figured out what to do. Even the UN can't make headway: its chief envoy was recently kicked out of Sudan for suggesting UN peacekeepers be employed.

Racial Justice

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Full humanity and dignity are denied when people are discriminated against for ethnic or racial reasons, whether intentionally or due to systemic structures. Racism is a sin and undermines the integrity of a society.

Is the candidate committed to reversing and ending racial discrimination in all aspects of our society, especially in the criminal justice and education systems?

Is Rev. Wallis willing to consider promoting a color-blind society by abandoning Affirmative Action in all its insidious guises? Over at Powerline, Scott Johnson writes:

The great victory of the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of moral persuasion: King persuaded Americans that it was wrong and deeply unAmerican to treat people differently based on the color of their skin. That victory of moral persuasion was translated into the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex in employment, public accommodations, and federally funded programs (including colleges and universities).

As Professor Edward Erler has commented, "No more powerful expression of a commitment to equal opportunity can be found in the annals of modern legislation anywhere in the world."

Despite the legal mandate of equal treatment, for the past 30 years many of America's educational institutions have blatantly violated the law in the name of "affirmative action" and "diversity." In reality these terms are extremely misleading euphemisms for the practice of gross racial discrimination.

Equal opportunity and equal protection under the law are important precepts in American government. However, many confuse equal opportunity with equal outcomes and presume that unequal outcomes are always the result of illegal discrimination. But Justice Clarence Thomas pointed out that "Government cannot make us equal; it can only recognize, respect, and protect us as equal before the law."

Human Rights, Dignity, and Gender Justice

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

We recognize each human being as created in God'’s image. We urge policies that both protect life and promote human dignity. On the issue of torture, for example, it really isn'’t the terrorists and what they stand for; it is about us, and what we stand for. On immigration, how do we welcome the stranger, respect the law, and insure national security? And how do we combat the growing epidemic of sexual trafficking and virtual slavery?

Does the candidate support humane and holistic immigration policies and comprehensive immigration reform? Do they insist on policies that end torture, stop human trafficking, promote religious freedom, and protect women?

The US Department of Justice hosted the second National Conference on Human Trafficking in New Orleans, LA from October 3-5, 2006. Numerous articles are available on the conference Resources page. More information on US efforts are at the USINFO Human Trafficking website.

Immigration policy is an absolute mess. 'Nuff said.

Strengthen Families and Renew Culture

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God (Romans 12:2).

Strong families are the essential foundation of a good society. A culture that promotes healthy families is necessary to raise our children with strong values. And parenting has become a countercultural activity in America. How do we find real solutions, and not just scapegoats?

Does the candidate support policies that strengthen marriage and families, restore integrity to our civic and business practices, and act to prevent violence in our society - especially the alarming incidence of domestic violence against women and children.

Many argue that social policies of the past 40+ years have undermined marriage and families, especially welfare policies. Thomas Sowell enumerated the failures of the War on Poverty. Rick Santorum pointed out that violence comes from neighborhoods where common denominators are lots of violence, broken homes, and absentee dads. He sees promoting marriage and reconnecting fathers with their kids as part of the solution.

Societal norms play a large role. Bill Cosby and Juan Williams argue that blacks embrace victimhood rather than empowerment. Says Williams, "I think it's a terrible signal to our young people about who black people are to have us constantly wrapped in the cloak of victimhood, and to have black leadership that in a knee-jerk fashion defends negative, dysfunctional behavior."

Good Stewardship of God'’s Creation

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). The earth is the Lord'’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it (Psalm 24:1).

The earth and the fragile atmosphere that surrounds it are God'’s good creation for the sustenance and enjoyment of all things. We support policies that protect creation from interests and activities that damage it. We believe global warming is a religious issue.

Does a candidate support protections to clean air and water, to reduce the dangerous emissions that cause global warming, to shift from our addiction to oil and fossil fuels to cleaner, safer, and more renewable energy sources? Do they support the transformation to conservation and new energy sources that could provide jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, help solve the Middle East crisis, and even reduce the threats of terrorism?

Two of the most memorable images I remember from the Apollo program were the "Big Blue Marble" and "Earthrise at Christmas." They drove home the concept of our planet being unique in the universe. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, we've made tremendous strides in cleaning up pollution. Even the once heavily-polluted Cuyahoga River has fish in it!

And yet, it's prudent to ask if spending large sums of money for small marginal improvements is necessarily the best use of resources. In a recent Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal, Bjorn Lomborg wrote:

Last weekend in New York, I asked 24 U.N. ambassadors--from nations including China, India and the U.S.--to prioritize the best solutions for the world's greatest challenges, in a project known as Copenhagen Consensus. They looked at what spending money to combat climate change and other major problems could achieve. They found that the world should prioritize the need for better health, nutrition, water, sanitation and education, long before we turn our attention to the costly mitigation of global warning.

He makes the case more authoritatively than I: we have more pressing problems than trying to counteract the presumed human contributions to global warming. If nothing else, the fact that the Stern report he dissects is full of errors and exagerations should encourage caution in making costly decisions based on questionable science. (Related post here.)

Next Tuesday, we will not establish the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not on the ballot. But you can vote to strengthen the common good. There are important things at stake in this election, including many lives in the ongoing war in Iraq. This is an important election for our country, and I urge all Christians to take time this weekend to think and pray about their choices, evaluate candidates on all these issues, then go to the polls on Tuesday and vote.

And after we vote, no matter who wins, we must be at the doorstep of politicians the next day to hold them accountable to the issues that arise from a broad biblical agenda.

As individuals, we need to identify our priorities and pick our battles accordingly. Politicians aren't the only ones who need to be held accountable. Our community and religious leaders need to be held accountable too, Reverend Wallis.

[Update: 11/5, 8:35 pm] Welcome Beliefnet readers! Sacred Frenzy tracked back and rectifies "The Great Omission". I also cleaned up some typos and formatting.