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God's Politics

Part four of a dialogue between Jim Wallis and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed on the question: “What should values voters value most?”

Jim, I fear you have been paying only selective attention to religious conservatives. Conservative people of faith care about a broad range of issues, including tax relief, education, poverty, racial reconciliation, crime and drugs, welfare reform…and, yes, protecting innocent human life and defending marriage.

The Christian Coalition for instance, not only pushed for a ban on partial birth abortion but also for rebuilding African-American churches burned by arsonists motivated by racial bigotry. We worked for passage of a $500 per child tax credit for middle-class, working families – which Bill Clinton opposed and vetoed twice—and tax credits for charitable giving to the poor. We also worked for the most sweeping reform of the welfare system since the New Deal, moving 8 million people from welfare to work and replacing a culture of dependency with self-reliance and dignity. These aren’t narrowly focused issues, they are broad issues of human decency.

The pro-family movement has worked with U.S. Senators like Sam Brownback and Rick Santorum on foreign policy issues such as strongly supporting Israel and opposing genocide in Darfur. They were also critical to the passage of legislation creating a religious freedom office at the White House to monitor the violation of human rights based on religious beliefs around the world.

Religious conservatives gave strong support to President Bush’s faith-based initiative, which ended the discrimination against faith-based organizations delivering social services to the poor. My wife and I are involved in SafeHouse Outreach in Atlanta, which reaches over 300,000 people a year with after-school care, GED equivalency classes, and job training and placement. Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship work every day in prisons and jails all over the world to bring new hope to convicts, and to reduce the overall crime rate and recidivism through redemptive justice. These unheralded acts of compassion are a vital witness of faith. They hardly constitute a narrow agenda.

The war on terrorism is clearly another issue with profound moral dimensions. We face an enemy that is committed to the destruction of our civilization and denies basic human rights that we believe are God-given. Their targets are grandmothers at wedding receptions in Tel Aviv, families on holiday in Sharm el-Sheike, commuters in Madrid, and office workers in Manhattan and Washington. These extremists will use any form of violence and target any innocent person to advance evil. The United States and its allies are correct in opposing terrorists and the regimes that harbor and fund them.

Saddam Hussein presided over such a regime. He invaded Iran (causing over 1 million casualties), invaded Kuwait, fired missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia, harbored terrorists like Abu Nidal, and paid cash bounties to homicide bombers. According to the Dalfour report, he planned to reconstitute his banned weapons program once the sanctions regime collapsed. He paid $10 million to the North Korea government for long-range missile technology in violation of U.N. sanctions that would have enabled him to fire a weapon into European capitals. He used chemical weapons against his victims, including some of the 300,000 innocent Iraqis who lie in mass graves. The fact that this dictator is now on trial in a free Iraq is a just outcome in the war on terror.

By any objective measure, the religious conservative agenda seeks to enrich, strengthen and respect human life. Their witness of faith is part of what is right about politics in America, and most of the complaint against them is political fodder.

As for your proposal that people of good will work together to reduce abortion, I strongly support such policies. That is one reason why I support abstinence, Woman’s Right to Know and parental consent laws, because states that have adopted these measures have seen their number of abortions decline. But John Kerry will not win the support of pro-life Americans by pledging as he did this week to reduce abortion when he voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion (which Daniel Patrick Moynihan properly called infanticide) and has threatened to filibuster federal court nominees who do not pledge in advance to uphold Roe v. Wade.

I read the recent speeches by liberal Democrats on faith in the civic arena. I applaud them for speaking authentically about their faith. We need more discussions of faith in public life, not fewer. But their rhetoric does not always match their record. I hope that Kerry, Barak Obama and other liberal Democrats understand that pro-family Americans don’t have a quarrel with their faith; they have a sincere disagreement with them on public policy.

After all, they voted against Jimmy Carter, a genuinely committed evangelical Christian, and supported Ronald Reagan, the first divorced man to ever be elected President. Why? Because they agreed with Reagan on the need to grow the economy, strengthen national defense, and promote conservative values.

Therein lies the Democrats’ dilemma. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 26 percent of Americans think the Democratic Party is “friendly” to religion. That’s a drop of 16 points in just three years. What Amy Sullivan calls “the Democrats’ crumbling credibility on religion” can only be repaired by a change in governing philosophy, not by campaign rhetoric.

And, contrary to your view, I have no problem with people of faith addressing a single issue that is a matter of conscience. The fact that liberals were motivated primarily by civil rights and Vietnam in the 1960’s is hardly an indictment of their movement—it was evidence of their social conscience and a sign of their effectiveness.

Many Jews and Christians in the United States are members of organizations that work on the single issue of protecting the state of Israel. That is a noble goal. The same is true of pro-life and pro-marriage organizations, and civil rights organizations. The Anti-slavery Society of the 1840’s was motivated by moral fervor and profound sense of right and wrong, and some might say it focused on a “narrow agenda.” Yet abolishing slavery was a moral imperative.

That is why I hope you and I can have a constructive dialogue based not on criticizing this constituency or that for whether their agenda is narrow or broad, but whether it promotes sound public policy.

Do you agree, Jim?

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