Religious values can include commitment to the common good, concern for the poor and vulnerable, the middle class families, the preservation of our God-given environment, unity over division, and for truth in campaign advertising.
We have a curious situation in American where the religious right has tried to turn all who disagree with them into two-dimensional cartoons. I read a very moving article in one of our newspapers a few days ago in which someone in the president's hometown said all the Democrats cared about was abortion, gay marriage, and being weak on defense.
I have never met anybody that was pro abortion. That is not what pro-choice means. It just means we don't want to criminalize the choice. I'm not ashamed to believe that gay people shouldn't be discriminated against and I don't believe Jesus ever had much to say about that. When Charlie Rangel fought in Korea and John Kerry fought in Vietnam they did not ask what their political party was before they let them put a uniform on.
I was raised a Southern Baptist. I used to wonder why the Republicans hated me so much. I'm kind of nice and accommodating. I even go duck hunting once a year. I think it's because I'm supposed to be some sort of apostate - a white, southern, protestant. Why am I not a Republican, especially now that they've given me all those tax cuts?
The other party's about to convene here, putting on its once-every-four-years compassionate face. They have claimed the exclusive allegiance of America's "real Christians."
I looked at the recent meeting of the Southern Baptist convention where the president went. One of their leaders was wearing a button and giving it to everyone else and it said "I'm a Values Voter" - implying that those of us who disagreed with them didn't have any values. For them, values are anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, concentration of wealth and power. But as I said, Jesus didn't have much to say about what they say the values of Christians are today.
And yet these people really do believe they are in possession of absolute truths. You won't hear about it during this convention. They'll put up their other face. But the truth is that when it all comes down to it, a lot of the religious absolutists believe that all other issues are irrelevant, that all who disagree with them are somehow almost non human, certainly not deserving of basic consideration. Therefore it's nothing but right to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who share their values and to constantly assert that whatever position they decide to take is right regardless of the inconvenient evidence.
Now, I disagree with them. I disagree first of all because I remember how I felt [when I heard] the promise of the scriptures in Isaiah, where God says to Isaiah "Fear not for I will redeem thee. Call me by thy name. Thou art mine." I didn't read that I had to join one party or another to get that promise.
The most important political verses in the scripture are the next to last and the verse before that of First Corinthians. "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." And we read it at weddings all the time. But it's wrong. That's not romantic love, that's agape, love for each other.
[Another important passage is 1 Corinthians: 13:12] where St. Paul contrasts light today with light in heaven with God. He says, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." We have no choice but to have a charitable attitude toward each other.
It is wrong to demonize and cartoonize one another and ignore evidence and to make false charges and to bear false witness. Sometimes I think our friends on the other side have become the people of the Nine Commandments. It is wrong to bear false witness because we all see through [the] glass darkly.
I'll never forget the conversation in 1993 with the then president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a man I like very much and whose sermons I still watch on TV when I get a chance. He's a great pastor but he belongs to the `values voter' crowd. He looked at me and said, "I just want an answer, not a political answer. A straight yes and no answer. Do you believe the Bible is literally true or not." I said, "Pastor, I think it is completely true. But I don't think you or I or anyone else on earth is smart enough to understand it."
I believe President Bush is a committed Christian. I believe that his faith in Jesus saved him. I believe it gave him a purpose and direction to his life. But that doesn't mean that he doesn't see through a glass darkly and knowing parts just like the rest of us. That doesn't mean that their positions are not subject to evidence and argument and doesn't mean that you can have a bunch of people act on your behalf and pretend like you don't know `em to say that the seven people who were on John Kerry's swift boat don't know what they're talking about when they say John Kerry deserved the silver star, the bronze star, and three purple hearts.
So our values would tell me to be concerned about an economy with no new jobs, income going down, poverty rising. My values would tell me to look at the evidence when the 8 years we were there we moved 100 times as many people out of poverty as in the ptevious 12 years - a 100 times! We had 50 percent more jobs but 100 times [as many] moved out of poverty. That's because choices were made by people who have certain values.
It bothers me that we have an environment policy where we talk about healthy forests and cut trees down that shouldn't be cut, we talk about making the air cleaner and its getting dirtier, we talk about making the water cleaner and millions of fish are dying in New Jersey that weren't dying four years ago. That bothers me. It bothers when we have to go to war against people who could control our destiny when we have our destiny [as it relates] to energy in our own hands. If we only would embrace a clean energy future we could liberate ourselves.
It bothers me when senior citizen are told they're getting a drug benefit and it turns out half of them can't benefit from it and the drug companies get a 40 billion subsidy they don't need. That bothers me.
I supported the president and Senator Kenendy in the Leave No Child Behind Act because I believe that poor children in inner city schools should have to meet certain standards. And I think it is a form of racism and arrogance and elitism to say that kids can't learn because they came herefrom another country or because the color skin is black or brown or yellow. I think that's ridiculous. But we were promised that if they held them to higher standards that their school would get their money. We left over 2 million of those kids behind - but I got my tax cut. That bothers me.
It bothers me that 300,000 poor children are out of school because we couldn't afford to keep funding after school [programs] but we could sure afford to give me not one, but two big tax cuts. That bothers me. That offends my values that I learned in my church.
You know near as I can tell from reading the scriptures, Jesus only got mad two or three times. One time was when he was talking to the money changers in the temple. And then he got kind of testy when he said "Even as you have done unto the least of these you have done to me." And someone said, "But master when did we ever see you hungry and not feed you, lonely and not house you, imprisoned and not visit you?" And he said, "Even as you had not done to the least of these, you have not done it to me." In the book of James, the prophet says, "I will see your faith through your works."
It bothers me. When you hire somebody you hire imperfect people who see through a glass darkly but they do make choices and choices have consequences. And then we have these elections where we throw all this other stuff on the wall that is designed to cloud not clarify the choices that will be made by the people who are elected.
On the security issues, I'm so sick and tired Democrats are weak. Hillary serves on the armed services committee. We did what we could to modernize the military and change our whole weapons structure so when we fought the conflict in Iraq we had far fewer civilian casualties in the beginning because we had more smart weapons. That was done through Democratic leadership, not because the Republicans were weak on defense but because nobody would knowingly not protect our young men and women in uniform. No one would knowingly not give America the tools it needs.
But there is a difference here. We don't believe in a world where our enemy is fundamentalism and hatred and absolutism and where we cannot possibly kill or occupy everybody who might be against us that we can just have a military solution. We think we have got to make a world with more partners and fewer enemies.
And it bothers me [the way they] talk about homeland defense. The Republican are about to be here and they're going to stop the subways running in the tunnel underneath Madison Square Garden. And they should because someone could go down with a bomb and collapse the Garden. But there has been for months and months and months a plan to reinforce those tunnels. It cost $600 million. It was not done so we've got to stop the subways. Why? Because my tax cut was more important.
Last year there was a plan to double the number of containers we check at our ports and airports for weapons of mass destruction. People driven by hatred could plant small chemical or biological or nuclear devices in them. And it only cost $1 billion a year. There was a plan that we offered to reduce my tax cuts and the $200,000 million tax cuts from $88,000 to $83,000 to pay for the $1 billion to double the container checks. And it failed. The White House opposed it and the leadership of the congress opposed it because my 5,000 bucks was more important than doubling the container inspections. That was a value judgment too! And we should know that.
Finally, let me say that tactics matter. In 2000, John McCain was smeared here in New York for being against breast cancer research because he voted against a defense appropriations bill. Now he'd been a POW for 5 and half years. No one would say John McCain would knowingly not fund men and women in uniform. He had a sister with breast cancer. He voted for all the breast cancer programs. What did he do? He wanted to cast a protest vote against the defense bill because it was full of pork. And if you're senate as opposed to being president -- and I signed that bill that he voted against because we had to have a defense bill -- but if you know a bill's going to pass anyway and you want to make a point, that's how you do it. We were told by this party that's about to show us sweetness and light in Madison Square Garden that John McCain couldn't be trusted to defend the country because he voted against the defense bill and didn't even stand up to try to stop breast cancer when he had a sister suffering.
That was right after, in South Carolina, they called all the white conservative voters to tell them John McCain had adopted a black baby when in fact he'd adopted a baby from Bangladesh , another reason I like him.
Then in 2002, Max Cleland, who left two legs and an arm in Vietnam, voted against the Homeland Security bill the way it was set up because it stripped 170,000 workers of their job protection who had nothing to do with your security. So Max Cleland said "I didn't leave half my body in Vietnam to come home and take away job protection from 170,000 workers that don't have to do with homeland security." They ran an ad down there in Georgia comparing him to Saddam Hussein. And they beat him because people were scared and did not know the truth. Now, the same thing's happening with the swift boat ad.
So, we have values too, those of us who respectfully disagree. And we believe God redeemed us too. I ask you not to talk about them the way they so often talk about us. Don't say they're weak and don't say they're bad. It's wrong. It's wrong when they do it to us and we don't want to do the same to them. But say we think they're wrong. We just disagree and our values lead us to a different place. We want Americans to know the truth and we want Americans to understand the consequences of their choice.
We want to lift up the trust we have in the fundamental decency and common sense and integrity in people whether they're Christians like us or Jews or Muslims or Bahais or Confucians or whatever they are. There's a reason this country's here after over 200 years. It's that most of the time we do the right thing if we've got enough information and enough time to think about it. We have never been perfect but we keep getting more perfect which is what the founders told us to do, and which the Bible says is all we can do in this life. We can't be perfect, we can just be more perfect.
I like Senator Kerry. I like him because he voted with me to balance the budget and get us out of debt. He voted with me to move people from welfare to work. He voted with me to put 100,000 policemen on the street. He was the person who cared the most about poor kids in trouble to keep them out of jail because he'd been a prosecutor and he was sick sending kids to jail he thought could have been saved. And I like him because he doesn't pretend to have all the answers...
There's a brilliant book out, I don't know if you've seen it, called The Wisdom of Crowds. It's a big bestseller now and basically the argument of the book is that the many are always smarter than the few, even if the few are geniuses, as long as the many can give their own views and they're independent and they don't shut out the evidence.
Nobody's got all the answers to all these challenges facing America today. All we can do is take our values into the public arena and remember the basic things that our religious heritage teaches us. It is wrong to exalt the rich over the poor. Why are we all running to the head table? It is wrong to exploit the environment when you can save it and actually improve the economy. It is wrong to continue to let people continue to aggregate enormous sums of money by raising health care premiums and leave one in six Americans without health insurance. And it's wrong to believe that we can solve all the problems with the world with a security military-only when we plainly can't whup everyone who might ever disagree with us so we've got to make some friends along the way, too.
That's what I believe in. I say again, don't let someone tell you you're weak because you don't agree with everything somebody else does.
And don't let somebody [say] you're not a good Christian because your views on certain issues don't fit the party line on the values voters crowd.
And remind them that all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory and all of us see through the glass darkly.
Last thing I want to say is this. Next time a politician...does something you think is about a half step off or you say "Why didn't they do this that or another thing?", you remember that in the end especially at election time free people have the reins in their own hand. Remember what God said to Isaiah. "Whom shall I send? Who will go for me?". And he said, "Here am I lord, send me."