But What Does All the Faith Talk Mean?

An open letter to George W. Bush and Al Gore from religious leaders

Never has there been more "faith talk" in a presidential election campaign. And yet, with less than two weeks to go before Election Day, voters have little idea about how all those pious words shape either candidate's policy direction.

I have written that Sen. Joe Lieberman did the country a great service by making it more acceptable for a political candidate to speak about his faith. In doing so, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee took the religion issue away from the Christian right, which had controlled discussions about faith and politics for too long. To his credit, Senator Lieberman has begun to relate his faith to issues such as the environment, care for the elderly, and hate crimes. But while both Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush also have spoken of their religion, neither has said much about what those commitments might mean in terms of their political beliefs.

For example, Governor Bush called Jesus his "favorite philosopher" and Vice-President Gore claimed he frequently asks, "What would Jesus do?" when confronting political questions. Does anyone wonder what Jesus might think of one of every five children remaining poor during the most prosperous time in the history of the richest nation on earth? Yet after both candidates raised the scandal of poverty in the midst of prosperity at their summer political conventions, neither has mentioned it since. Two days after The New York Times ran long articles on each of the candidate's religious history and views, The Washington Post ran a cover story on how the poor have been ignored in this election campaign, with both Bush and Gore appealing to middle class and swing voters.


Only in a black Dallas church did Al Gore recently remember to say that all our prosperity gives us the opportunity to "bring good news to the poor." But why is that only an issue in church? Apparently, it again falls to religious leaders to remind these politicians of the implications of their faith statements.

Fifty Christian leaders have just done that. During a recent gathering, the religious leaders challenged each candidate to tie their statements and professed commitments to an issue central to the Bible--how we treat the needy. Here is their open letter to the presidential candidates:

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Jim Wallis
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