We’ve asked other members of the God’s Politics Blog team to respond to the question that Jim Wallis and Ralph Reed debated last week: “What should values voters value most?”
When voting, I look for political candidates with a proven record of support for certain values. I also look for cautionary signs that lead me to avoid a candidate like the plague. What are those values and those warning signs? Here’s a working list:
* I look for candidates whose spiritual beliefs harmonize with the practical way they pursue policies and programs for a sustainable lifestyle with Earth and justice for people, especially destitute people and minorities.
* I’m wary as all get out of candidates who talk a blue streak about God, who, they claim, favors the U.S. as the “elect,” invested with divine authority to destroy “evil doers” such as Muslim terrorists or convicted felons on death row.
* I hate seeing politicians use God and religion to invoke fear of gay people, which quickly translates into prejudice and abrogation of their civil rights. (Have you noticed how often the issue of “gay marriage” surfaces during election time, then drops from sight until the next election?)
* I trust candidates who see our national budget as a “moral document”, as Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, referred to it, and who are outraged by the $400+ billions spent annually on instruments of destruction and war. Every month we pour $8 billion into the war in Iraq. Think what could happen if we poured those resources into reinvigorating public education, libraries, and the arts; universal health insurance; affordable housing; and alternatives to incarceration. Presently two million people are incarcerated in the U.S., more, per capita, than any other nation, and over half of those are imprisoned for non-violent crimes.
* I don’t trust candidates who claim to be “pro life” simply because they publicly state their opposition to abortion. What good is that if they do not also work vigorously and consistently to create social conditions in which healthy babies are born, children cared for, and families thrive?
* I look for “pro-life” politicians to list “eradication of poverty” as a top priority. Poverty in our nation is on the rise. During the last six years those living at or below the poverty line in the U.S. rose 17 percent. To allow even the existence of poor people in this rich nation, much less poverty on the increase, is totally unworthy of us as Americans and certainly not pro-life.
* I greatly fear candidates who advocate turning over responsibility for our poor and needy to religious volunteers and so-called “faith-based initiatives” while diminishing government’s rightful and necessary responsibility for the social welfare of all of our citizens. The code word here to watch for is “tax cuts,” especially when tax cuts are weighted to benefit the wealthy.
* I look for candidates who see us as global citizens, respecting and promoting international agreements which address our planetary crises (global warming, deforestation, depletion of potable water) and human rights (the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N. Convention against Torture). In the wake of 9/11 we desperately need political leaders who turn to dialogue and diplomacy as first and necessary steps for building peace rather than turning immediately to dropping bombs and sending in the troops as the way to get our “enemies” to submit to our demands at the negotiating table.
Finally, I look for candidates who have the wisdom of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who teaches that we will never win the “war against terror” by using violence. Such a war is un-winnable, he says, “as long as we have conditions in the world that make people desperate. When you are a father and you see your child go to bed hungry, something happens to you.”
Sister Helen Prejean is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille and a prominent anti-death penalty advocate whose work was featured in the film Dead Man Walking. Her most recent book is The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.