Friday, September 14, 2012


How I bring my Christian faith and perspective into national election choices

As Christian clergy and a community advocate, I face quandaries in national elections. I’m not a single-issue voter. I resist being ideologically stereotyped. And I resent distortion-ridden voter guides. I choose to sort through the paradoxes in candidates, parties and platforms. People of earnest faith have tough choices in the voting booth.

Here are five considerations I make when it comes to public leadership and the democratic process in national elections. I try take these to heart, also, as I live as an engaged citizen between elections. These help me bring the breadth of my faith and hope into electoral politics, even though they make choices less clear-cut.

1. WHAT DOES IT DO TO THE POOR? I ask of any candidate or administration’s positions, policies and proposals: What does it do to the poor? This is a bottom line in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures. It was to the poor who were being crushed by domination and struggling within their communities that Jesus of Nazareth primarily addressed himself. Domestic poverty and policies that impact the poor globally may not factor much in most elections. But all are diminished and the promise of democracy is betrayed when concerns of the poor are either ignored or pandered to while the real agendas are set mostly for the preservation of moneyed advantage.

2. BEWARE LITMUS TESTS. I don’t expect a candidate to be my brand of Christian or a professing Christian at all. I don't expect them to line up with all my values or presumedly right positions. Politicians love to wear righteousness on their sleeves and court faith votes and "values" voters. Beware: personal piety and pandering does not necessarily translate into sound leadership or policies that reflect scriptural integrity. It seems to me, for instance, that many politicians, once elected, have taken Christian groups for a ride over the past 30 years, giving only lip service to a very limited range of Christian concerns. Instead of holding candidates up to narrow litmus tests, I expect democratically-elected leaders to uphold the Constitution and lead with utmost wisdom, compassion and diplomacy in behalf of all the people.

3. COMPASSION BEYOND CLICHÉS. I look for a candidate whom I perceive will actually lead compassionately--not just claim to be compassionate. George W. Bush loved to claim he was a "compassionate conservative" while gutting real support and opportunities for the most vulnerable and leaving the much-vaunted faith-based initiative high and dry. How will the candidate give voice to those who are vulnerable and dominated? Will he or she be moved by more than lobbied self-interest, partisan pressure or news media reactions? Beyond personal benevolence, will the candidate seek to make America fairer, instituting policies that counter prejudices, extend equal rights and opportunity, and end poverty? Will he or she hold truth, human rights, and civil liberties higher than economic expediency?

4. USE OF VIOLENCE. I ask: How has a candidate responded to violence or used violence? In what measured ways will he or she likely act to prevent, respond to, or use violence in the future? Life is sacred, and killing--for convenience, by slow, suffocating neglect, in criminal acts, in capital punishment, or in battlefield action--has devastating consequences even when “good” results. We also know that violence begets more violence, the spiral increasing in intensity and breadth every time it is even “justifiably” used. The specter of the use of deadly force is, to me, a critical concern in elections. Will the candidate lead, not so much by the threat of violence and militarism, but with the winning power of sound policies, personal influence and diplomatic persuasion? Will the candidate use power responsibly and with an eye to ending violence abroad by the hands of Americans? To what extent will he or she influence all nations to abandon nuclear weapons programs, reduce and guard existing nuclear weapons caches, and turn away from militarism as the dominant method of crisis intervention and problem resolution?

5. AMERICA’S ROLE IN THE WORLD. Finally, I consider how candidates envision America’s place and role in the world. I continue to be concerned about an aura of American empire that threatens our nation's effectiveness as a global neighbor. Whatever the intention of a global war on terrorism, the interpretation and application of it has resulted in Americans and American-based interests being resented, hated, and unwelcome in more places by more people. This undermines redemptive spiritual and compassionate outreach efforts as well as economic market development. So, how will a candidate address this macro issue? Do they see it as a “winner take-all” battle, an ideological game, a religious war? Do they perceive enemies and rivals more than neighbors and potential partners? What direction will he or she take for the immediate and long-term future for America’s place in the world?

Certainly, I consider more than this when I vote. But, to me, these are primary. They reflect my understanding of the Bible and my sense of neighborliness and community in local, national and international dimensions. They reflect broad values and principles, not prescribed positions and pet policies.

I am not so naive as to imagine I will ever a see the candidate who perfectly fulfills these five considerations.  If so, they would likely not be electable!  But I consistently find electable candidates who demonstrate sensitivity to these considerations, not as a matter of pandering or promise-making, but as a matter of character, perspective, and responsible action.  Such people will receive my vote.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

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