Progressive Revival

How is it that many, from left to right, who believe and argue that “values” and religion play a primary role in driving voting choices don’t equate “economic” issues and concerns as values-driven?


How is it that those who are hostile toward religious and values voters point to polls showcasing voters focus mostly on “economic” issues when they vote thus negating “values” as driving ballot box choices?


Isn’t it a value to want security and opportunity for your family? Isn’t it a value to pray for and work for strong and safe communities where we can raise healthy children? Do good jobs and a growing economy provide for security and opportunity for our families? Does a strong economy provide for the resources that create and sustain sound communities?


When a person cast a vote based first on economic issues, and is part of America’s faith majority, is that person a values voter?




Those on the religious right have attempted, with much success, to define a “values voter” as someone focused on just a few issues including lifestyle choices and reproductive rights. The media often buys into this definition and subsequently misinterprets and misrepresents people of faith and their driving influences. Even those who are religious progressives often get caught up in the religious right’s definition and unwittingly set up the false framing by joining the debate on the right’s terms, or they create their own definition of a “values voter” with their own set of issues including such challenges as climate change and poverty because this is where they find their passion and activism.


The problem with the religious right’s contribution to the political debate using their narrow world of issues is that they have formed a cemented posture on these issues over the past few decades that permanently polarize the electorate instead of seeking to drive any real solutions. Americans want solutions. They want to move beyond the hot buttons. Americans aren’t as interested in partisan politics as they are solving problems and moving forward.


For the religious progressives the problem isn’t in the importance of their core issues especially in the context of clergy and religious institutions calling us to act out and embrace social justice and seek a better world. We must. The shortcoming, for some, is in attempting to box the whole electorate into prioritizing the issues in their lives as religious progressives prioritize them.


Lost in all of this is the fact the people of faith, like all Americans, put in hard work weeks, rush between soccer games, dentists appointments and Wednesday night prayer meeting. They help grandparents get to their doctor’s appointments, pledge to sale a certain number of poinsettias for the PTA’s playground improvement project and keep putting off fixing that slipping transmission in the Ford because they can’t afford it right now. The dad takes the kids to school because mom leaves for work too early and the mom picks the kids up from school, takes them to their music lessons, prepares their supper and puts them to bed because dad has to work late most evenings. They have a vacation fund they put a little in each month because they hope to take the whole family to Branson, MO next summer. One day they just might have the money to finish the basement, but trying to figure out how to pay for college, weddings, braces and something really special for the 25the wedding anniversary all have to come first.


So, let’s remember where the values of Americans, people of faith in America, are placed before we allow the religious right to claim only two or three issues as values. And, let’s not push a set of social justice issues into a family (that already embraces those issues, by the way) telling them we know what issues should come first without fully understanding, respecting and caring for what’s going on everyday in their lives.


People who go to church, pray, seek guidance from their clergy and desire to know the calling and direction of God apply their values to everything in their lives. They should, shouldn’t they?




Politically speaking, everything is a value for a values voter. It should be, shouldn’t it?




Then, in politics, we should approach values voters ready to discuss and share our views concerning all the issues, shouldn’t we?




When we reach out with this awareness then we can share an economic message steeped in the faith and values people hold dear and, you know what, they will be open to and likely embrace our economic message and things will go well at the ballot box and ALL our issues win.


Burns Strider is former Senior Advisor and Director of Faith Outreach for U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, former advisor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and currently a director of, and founding partner at the Eleison Group.


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