The Common Good

The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post Press Items
The discussion we are having about "the fiscal cliff" is really a debate about our fiscal soul. What kind of nation do we want to be? We do need a path to fiscal sustainability, but will it include all of us -- especially the most vulnerable? It's a foundational moral choice for the country, and one with dramatic domestic and deadly global implications. It is the most important principle for the faith community in this debate.
Religion is far too judgmental. Surveys show that many people think that, especially a new generation of young people who -- more than ever before -- are checking the "none of the above" religious affiliation box. I get it. But religious leaders tend to be judgmental about many of the wrong things; they are not making moral judgments on the important questions. So I am going to be judgmental, as a religious leader, about something I just read.
A lot of ink, pixels, and air have been used on the potential effects of the so-called "fiscal cliff." While many experts say that "cliff" is a misnomer (it's more of long slope in the wrong direction), there is at least broad agreement that it's not the right direction for the country's long-term health.
The day after the election, Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler said, "I think this was an evangelical disaster." Not really. But it was a disaster for the religious right, which had again tied its faith to the partisan political agenda of the Republican Party -- which did lose the election. But Nov. 6 was an even deeper disaster for the religious right's leaders, because they will no longer be able to control or easily co-opt the meaning of the term "evangelical."
There are good primers here on how we can personally find common ground. One of the president's dearest friends, Jim Wallis of Sojourners gives multiple examples in his recent release. So too, our personal initiative can be inspired by recollection of the work of the late Catholic Monsignor John Sheridan who built his theology not around snap judgment, but an inclusive, "theology of kindness," as he called it, that "loves recklessly" in the sense of always being open to the differing understandings of others. If nothing else, these approaches avoid rushing one moral point of view into law to be used as weapon against another. Majority approval of some uses of marijuana and same sex marriage, for example, illustrate how even the most dogmatic or categorical position can be rethought based upon an empathetic grasp of the needs of others.
The day after the 2012 election brought a great feeling of relief. Most of us, whether our candidates won or lost, were so weary of what elections have become that we were just glad the process was over. Many were disappointed that dysfunctional and bitterly partisan politics in Washington, D.C., had undermined their deep desires for "hope" and "change." Politics has severely constrained those possibilities by focusing on blame instead of solutions, and winning instead of governing. And, as the most expensive election in American history just showed, the checks have replaced all the balances.
This election is the first step in what we are hoping will be a strong U.S. commitment to ending hunger -- both domestically and globally. For more than a year, Christian leaders have come together to advocate for the formation of a "Circle of Protection" around funding for programs that are vital to hungry and poor people. As people of faith, it is now our responsibility to hold our newly elected president accountable for taking a stance against hunger and poverty.
Congregations might view the new Sojourners documentary called "The Line" that recounts the stories of poor people in our midst.
During the 2004 presidential election season, Sojourners put out a bumper sticker with these words: "God Is Not a Republican, or a Democrat." The number of orders was overwhelming and we kept running out. The simple message struck a chord among many Christians who were tired of the assumptions and claims by the religious right that God was indeed a Republican, or at least voted a straight-party ticket for the GOP. They also absurdly implied -- and sometimes explicitly stated -- that faithful Christians couldn't support Democratic candidates. We said that voting was always an imperfect choice in a fallen world, based on prudential judgments about how to best vote our values, that people of faith would always vote in different ways -- and that was a good thing for a democracy and the common good.
On the issues of poverty alleviation and educational equity, the Hispanic electorate has been very clear. What legislation will clearly protect the "least of these"? Our National Latino Evangelical Coalition is a signer of the Circle of Protection. Both President Obama and Governor Romney have responded to our call to lay out a vision for how they will respond to the issues of poverty at home and abroad. The nation's domestic budget and foreign aid commitments will be a marker for us to measure what this means. Latinos are disproportionately challenged by poverty, urban ecological challenges and educational disparity. In addition, our concerns with a disproportionate number poor Latinos living near power plants can't be ignored. We are looking for platforms that speak to these issues head-on. What political muscle will candidates leverage to ensure that "the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger" are cared for in the richest nation in the world? Our commitment to the Gospel requires us to ask this of the candidates.