The Common Good

This Was a Moral Values Election

Sojomail - November 15, 2006


Honoring MLK: Rhetoric and Reality

"Honoring Dr. King's legacy requires more than building a monument, it requires the ongoing commitment of every American."

- President George W. Bush, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the National Mall. (Source: Chicago Tribune)

"Race is so associated with class in the United States that it may not be direct discrimination, but it ... doesn't mean it's any less powerful just because it's indirect."

- Dalton Conley, a professor of sociology at New York University. The Boston Globe reported this week that data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows "white households had incomes last year that were two-thirds higher than those of blacks and 40 percent higher than those of Hispanics."

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

This Was a Moral Values Election

Many have now commented on the significant shifts among religious voters in the midterm elections, in what Steve Waldman described as the "Smaller God Gap" between Republicans and Democrats. Nationally, 29% of white evangelicals voted for Democrats - up from the 21% who voted for John Kerry in 2004 and the 25% who voted for Democrats in House races that year. And all evangelicals together (including whites, Hispanics, Asians, and African American evangelical voters, went 41% for Democrats and 58% for Republicans. Because that trend is also a profoundly generational one, it will likely grow in the future. An even bigger shift occurred among Catholics, with 55% voting for Democrats and 44% for Republicans - from the 47% of Catholics who voted for Kerry and the 49% for Democratic House candidates in 2004.

An important new exit poll, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and conducted by Zogby International, now shows why that shift occurred. The poll, released at a press conference today, offers more explanation of the substantial shift in religious voters in the midterm elections. Complete results are available from Faith in Public Life.

The poll shows that:

*Faith groups urging people to vote according to "kitchen table" moral issues had a 20-point higher national favorability rating and a 20-point lower unfavorable rating than religious groups urging people to vote according to abortion and same-sex marriage. This difference was even more stark between Catholic groups.

*In Ohio - an epicenter of faith-based organizing - religious groups urging people to vote according to "kitchen table" moral issues had a 25-point higher favorability rating and a 26-point lower unfavorable rating compared to those urging people to vote according to the wedge issues.

*Iraq was considered the "moral issue that most affected your vote" by 45.8% of voters, almost six times as many voters as abortion, and almost five times as many as same-sex marriage. Iraq was the top moral issue among Catholics, born-again Christians, and frequent church attendees.

*Poverty and economic justice topped the list of "most urgent moral problem in American culture."

*When Catholics were asked to name the most important value guiding their vote, 67% chose "a commitment to the common good - the good of all, not just the few," while 22% chose "opposing policies such as legal abortion, gay marriage, and embryonic stem cell research."

The new and dramatic poll underscores critical lessons from the 2006 midterm elections.

The moral agenda of religious voters has broadened beyond the two issues of abortion and gay marriage. When Focus on the Family's James Dobson says the "moral values" voters stayed home, he is simply wrong, and the data shows it. They just didn't think his "moral values" were the only - or most important - ones. More anti-gay marriage amendments did indeed pass, but by smaller margins than in 2004. As a headline in the Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) said, "Faithful voted on values: war, scandals and social justice all swayed religious voters."

And on those issues, the polls showed the following: 1) The American people voted to correct the disastrous mistake of the Bush administration's war in Iraq - and this was the motivating "moral issue" of the election. We need a new national debate on Iraq, leading to what the U.S. Catholic Bishops yesterday called "a responsible transition." 2) The American people voted to reject the economic unfairness of Republican leadership - and "economic justice" tops the urgent moral problems list for most Americans, despite decades of conservative media pounding that continually blamed the poor for their problems and relentlessly told us the best way to help working families is to make the rich richer. Every initiative to increase state minimum wages passed - with significant involvement and support from the religious community. Other exit polls also tell us that Americans are tired of the culture of corruption that now plagues Washington and, while ready to hold both parties accountable for better ethics, principally blamed the party in power for the moral abuse of the political process.

Even more striking were the election results in key states and districts where specific outreach was done with the religious community - this time by Democratic candidates and not just Republicans. In places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, Democratic religious candidates' outreach efforts were very successful and created even better exit poll results for them, with the votes of weekly churchgoers almost evenly split in some races (a key lesson for the Democrat Party's future). Even The Wall Street Journal reported, "More than in 2004, Democrats this year attracted voters moved by faith, and not just frustration. Exit polls suggest that Democrats made significant gains among several religious demographic groups, including both Catholics and evangelical Protestants." Too many religious voters felt betrayed by Republicans, but were made to feel welcomed and important by Democrats. Trust and outreach matter.

Every kind of Democrat won - liberal, moderate, and conservative. But there will be several new Democratic members of the House and Senate who combine a social conservatism on issues like abortion and family values (without gay-bashing or wanting to criminalize a women's desperate choice) with a strong economic populism, environmental concern, and anti-Iraq commitment. The Democrats showed a new pragmatism in selecting and supporting candidates who didn't always toe the old party line on some social issues and displayed a winning combination of moral values. I hope that doesn't become a mushy political centrism, but rather a new progressive path that challenges both the left and right on moral principles. There is a new moral center that looks to go neither right nor left, but goes deeper on important issues in seeking the common good. I'll be writing about the next steps on specific issues in the weeks to come.

Evidence of significant evangelical shifts on the moral issues that matter to them politically have been seen for some time now - and I see it every week I am on the road, especially among a new generation of evangelical pastors and students. Democrats don't automatically benefit from that, but any candidate who speaks a moral language of politics can. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals told after the election, "Look. To be biblically consistent you have to be politically inconsistent. Evangelicals have to follow their Lord first, and not simply bend to the whim of a political party for the advantages that come with it.... We need as evangelicals to take stock of where we are as a country - not just ecclesiastically and theologically and otherwise, but politically too. And right now is as good as any to take serious stock."

In the next election year of 2008, many moderate evangelicals and Catholics are, as they say in politics, "up for grabs." But as they say in churches, people are carefully thinking and praying as never before, and are no longer in any party's pocket.

+ Read and respond to comments on this article on the God's Politics Blog


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Jim Wallis on NBC's Today Show
Continuing a Today show special series called "The Mystery of Faith," host Meredith Vieira explores the growth of evangelical Christians in America and their changing political power. + Click here to watch the segment

Maryada Vallet: Dispatch from the Desert: Crown of Thorns
The origins of violence on our border are very deep. Families searching for livelihood and traveling north are now commodities of free trade and the shrapnel of a war zone, vulnerable and easily exploited.

Brian McLaren: Compassion and Hope in the Haggard Scandal
Perhaps this painful story will help more preachers (like myself) to back away from the easy answers and binary thinking that are so easy to dispense, and to reject the simplistic moralism Jesus diagnosed in the Pharisees, who, he said, loaded up burdens on the backs of others that they themselves couldn't bear.

Jeff Carr: Evangelicals 'Didn't Show Up'?
Unfortunately, Dr. Dobson's assessment that "values voters of '04 simply stayed home this year," is just not supported by the facts. According to the CNN/NYT/AP national media exit polls, evangelicals did show up: 24 percent this year compared to 23 percent of the electorate in 2004. The reality is that evangelical voters showed up despite being disillusioned and frustrated.

Tony Campolo: Questions Raised by the Haggard Scandal
I have heard so many of my colleagues in ministry express deep concerns over what this scandal will do to the image of the evangelical movement, but I have heard little concern among us for how all of this will impact those Christian gays and lesbians that we know. They are in our churches. They teach in our Sunday schools and sing in our choirs. Most of them are closeted brothers and sisters who suffer in ways that are impossible for the rest of us to even imagine. They are good people who do not take drugs or visit prostitutes. Will the ugliness of this sorry mess feed a diabolical stereotype of them, which is too often circulated in our churches by unkind preachers who have little, if any, understanding of homosexuals?


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Top Stories:

Declaring Victory
Christianity Today
"The Religious Right's dominance over politics and evangelicals has come to an end," said Jim Wallis, leader of the Sojourners/Call to Renewal movement and an adviser to Democrats. "I would say the Religious Right has lost, and the Secular Left has lost." His organization distributed more than 300,000 "Voting God's Politics Issues Guides" in an effort to thwart religious conservatives and prompt voters to think more broadly about what he believes a biblical political agenda entails.

Election signals decline of old school liberalism
USA Today

US elections victory for 'moral centre', claims Jim Wallis
Ekklesia News

Sex, Corruption Peeved Evangelical Voters

Who Won, Who Lost in Midterm Elections
Religion News Service

South Dakota voters overturn nation's strictest abortion ban
American Baptist Press

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.


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