In 2004, several conservative bishops and a few mega-church pastors like Rick Warren issued their list of "non-negotiables" intended to be a voter guide for their followers. All these leaders listed almost the very same issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. None of them included the word poverty : only one example of the missing issues found quite clearly in the Bible. I want to present a different approach this time around and share my list of "faith priorities" that will guide me in making the imperfect choices that always confront us in any election year, and then suggest that each of you come up with your own list of "faith" or "moral" priorities for this election year and take them into the voting booth with you.
In any election we face imperfect choices, but our choices should reflect the things we believe God cares about if we are people of faith [and our own moral sensibilities if we are not people of faith]. As people of faith we should all be "values voters" but vote all our values : not just the few that can easily be manipulated for the benefit of one political party or another. In 2008, God's reign is not on the ballot as far as I can see. But there are very important choices that will dramatically impact the common good.
I am in no position to tell anyone what is "non-negotiable, and neither is any bishop or mega-church pastor. But let me share with you the "faith priorities" and values I will be voting on this year:
1. With more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about how we treat the poor and oppressed, I will examine the record, plans, policies and promises made by the candidates on what they will do to overcome the scandal of extreme global poverty and the shame of such unnecessary domestic poverty in this, the richest nation in the world. Such a central Bible theme should not be ignored at election time. Any solution of the economic crisis that simply bails out the rich and even the middle class but ignores those at the bottom should simply be unacceptable to people of faith.
2. From the biblical prophets to Jesus, there is a presumption against war and in favor of beating our swords into instruments of peace. So I will choose the candidates who will be least likely to lead us into more disastrous wars and who will find better ways to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world. I will choose candidates who best understand that our security depends upon other people's security more than upon how high we can build walls or stockpile weapons. We should never expect a pacifist president, but we can insist upon one who honestly views military force as a very last resort only after all other diplomatic and economic measures have failed, and never as a preferred or habitual response to conflict.
3. "Choosing life" is a constant biblical theme, so I will choose candidates who have the most consistent life ethic, addressing all threats to human life and dignity that we face : not just one. 30,000 children dying globally each day of preventable hunger and disease is a life issue. The Darfur genocide is a life issue. Health care is a life issue. War is a life issue. The death penalty is a life issue. On abortion, I will choose candidates who have the best chance to pursue practical and proven policies to dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and so save precious unborn lives, rather than candidates who simply repeat the polarized "pro-choice" and "pro-life" mantras from either side of the debate.
4. God's fragile creation is clearly under assault. I will choose candidates most likely to care for the environment, who will most clearly take on the threat of climate change, who have the strongest commitment to convert our economy and way of life to a cleaner, safer and more renewable energy future. That choice could accomplish other key moral priorities like ending the dangerous dependence on Middle East oil. It can lead to job creation and a "greener economy" built upon the spiritual values of conservation, stewardship, sustainability, and respect for God's continuing creative hand.
5. Every human is made in the image of God, so I will choose candidates most likely to protect human rights and human dignity. Sexual and economic slavery is on the rise around the world, so an end to human trafficking must be a top priority. As many religious and military leaders have attested, torture is morally unacceptable under any circumstances, so I will choose candidates most committed to reversing recent American policy on the treatment of prisoners. I will also choose candidates who understand that our immigration system is totally broken and in need of comprehensive reform; it must be changed in ways that reflect compassion, fairness and consistency with the biblical mandate to "welcome the stranger."
6. Healthy families are the foundation of our community life. Nothing is more important than how we raise the next generation. As a father of two young boys, I am deeply concerned about the values our leaders model ion the midst of the cultural degeneracy assaulting our children. I will search out candidates who best exemplify and support strong family values, using the White House and other pulpits to promote sexual restraint and integrity, marital fidelity, effective parenting and putting family values ahead of personal and economic profit. I will choose candidates who promise to deal honestly with the enormous pressures affecting parents and families in America today, rather than candidates who scapegoat gay people for today's serious problems of heterosexual family breakdown.
That is my personal listing of "faith priorities" for this 2008 election year. I realize these are not "non-negotiables" for anyone else. Over the few remaining days of this campaign, it is time for each of us to make our her/his list of priorities. Make your list and invite others to do the same. Study the candidates and vote accordingly!