Beliefnet
September 12th, 2001 was a holy day--perhaps the closest the world has ever been to the moral ideal of one human family under God. The spirit of unity that reached across borders, states, and cultures propelled us to the very cusp of a shared humanity.

Millions of Americans returned to the pews after September 11 in search of answers. My congregation struggled prayerfully with the moral challenge our nation then faced, and they helped me draft 10 Prophetic Justice Principles as a guide. First among these is the need to "seek the common good"--to cultivate the sense of being in this together. Our inability to rally a serious coalition behind the Iraq war demonstrated a moral failure to maintain a sense of shared purpose. Our rush to a tangential war and our willingness to sacrifice common standards of human dignity, even to the point of torture at Abu Ghraib, left the world feeling that this was America's fight. They saw it as a war of "national interest" rather than of shared principles. A with-us-or-with-the-terrorists attitude is more effective when the world believes you share their interests--but our leaders' choice to waste the "global moment" of September 12 cost us that moral credibility.

The same go-it-alone attitude that has undermined our moral leadership on foreign policy exacerbates America's spiritual sickness at home. That is the sickness of selfishness and greed. Despite Americans' readiness after September 11 to sacrifice for our country, our president cut taxes on the rich and on corporations. To do so, he dumped the largest tax hike in history on our children and theirs, squandering a $5.6 trillion surplus and creating a $5.2 trillion deficit. The number of people without health insurance and children in poverty has risen every year under this president.

The post-September 11 period was an historic opportunity to face the great challenges of eradicating global poverty that kills 30,000 children every day, addressing climate change, insuring every American, and checking corporate influence on governance. But that required real moral leadership.

So should people of faith vote for Sen. John Kerry just because of President Bush's failure to provide moral leadership? Or is there something more positive for the faith community to embrace?

Kerry's candidacy goes some distance toward calling America back to its moral principles. If our nation's spiritual disease is selfishness, one vital antidote is a leader whose life embodies the proud Catholic justice tradition of putting the common interest before personal gain. Remember the moral courage it took for John Kerry to speak truth to power about Vietnam, incurring the wrath of President Nixon's FBI. As a young prosecutor, he championed justice for victims of sexual violence before representing the people of Massachussets in the Senate for two decades. Kerry's consistent sacrifice for the common good stands out against an increasingly self-centered culture.

Kerry's platform resonates deeply with our religious values. Here are how some of his positions measure up against the Prophetic Justice Principles:

  • Seek the Common Good: Kerry's approach to Social Security, Medicare, education, and diplomacy all embrace a society in which we watch our neighbor's back--we are in this together. He cares about the 5 billion of God's children who live beyond America's borders and the moral call of a common humanity.
  • Protect the Vulnerable and Care for the Poor: Perhaps no Biblical charge is clearer than caring for `the least among us.' Kerry has developed the most innovative health care plan of our lifetime, a college tuition plan with real teeth, a solid commitment to Medicare, and an expansion of America's fight against global HIV/AIDS. He has spent over two decades demanding a balanced budget, so that we do not pass our mistakes onto future generations just because they cannot vote today.
  • Ensure Stewardship of Creation: The morality of our times will be judged according to what we leave to our children. Kerry has the best environmental voting record in the Senate.
  • Be Truthful in Facts and Motives: Kerry led investigations into MIAs in Vietnam and the Iran-Contra scandal. Over his career, he refused to take a single dollar of Political Action Committee money, and has taken less money from lobbyists in his entire career than President Bush has received from a single Chief Executive Officer--Enron's Ken Lay.
  • With such high stakes and stark policy differences, is it not time to recognize a more fitting moral litmus test than a candidate's position on gay marriage? Is it not time to ask which candidate promotes the common good rather than playing on fear and greed? Is it not time to elect the person who will be a good president rather than the one who makes a good candidate? Is it not time for America to elect a man whose morality extends across his personal piety and his policies? For those of us who believe America's true challenge is renewing its moral, spiritual and democratic values, now is that time--a time of moral urgency and of moral choice.

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