Wednesday morning, my phone rang, and on the other end of the line was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In an unprecedented invitation, he asked if I would speak to the nation in the Democrat’s weekly radio broadcast this Saturday. In the past, these addresses have been given by elected officials, but the senator thought a non-partisan religious leader could speak to the moral values our nation needs. I thanked him for the invitation, and said I’d get back to him.
Whether or not to accept was a difficult decision. I work hard to maintain my independence and non-partisanship, and didn’t want to be perceived as supporting one party over the other. But it was an occasion to get our message to millions of people, so I decided to accept. Our country faces pressing issues. We are in a time like no other. This requires new ways of engaging leaders, and the Americans they represent. Forums like this one are rarely offered by either party. I thought the good faith effort by Sen. Reid in risking a new approach should be met with my willingness to act in a new way.
I have always looked for opportunities to witness to gospel values wherever possible, regardless of the political party. In the early years of the Bush administration, I publicly supported the faith-based initiative and was in several meetings with the president. At our Pentecost conference last June, senators from both parties – Sam Brownback, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Rick Santorum – addressed the participants. Just this week, I met with key Republican staff members on Capitol Hill to discuss a bi-partisan anti-poverty caucus. So this opportunity comes as part of a long pattern. If the Republicans offered a similar venue, I would accept and deliver the same message.
It is an opportunity to move outside our usual circles and reach many new people. I had complete control of what I would say, and could speak in a non-partisan way about the values and solutions our country so desperately needs by challenging both parties. The text speaks of the need for a government with integrity that can work for the common good, the importance of bi-partisan political leadership in overcoming poverty, the moral need to extricate ourselves from Iraq, the protection of our environment, the changes needed to produce a culture that promotes healthy families, and a common ground effort to dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America. All of these are part of a new politics; the kind of politics that are inspired by our deepest values and that require new leadership by both Democrats and Republicans, and (as I conclude my remarks), from “each and every one of us.”
Check your local listings for broadcast times, and check this blog tomorrow for text and audio of the address. I pray that the message breaks through and truly speaks to America.