Faith priorities in an election

Every time I have my blinders on and my stereotypes firmly in place, someone comes along who shakes them loose.

This week that someone was Jim Wallis.

Jim Wallis is the founder and editor of the journal Sojourners and the author of several books about religion and politics, including God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. He is neither the stereotypical liberal nor a religious conservative but a progressive evangelical Christian. He opposes abortion and gay marriage but also the war in Iraq and the death penalty. Like other progressive evangelicals, Wallis is not a religious fundamentalist nor a separatist but someone who advocates a biblical call for social justice.

In his recent blog in Sojourners he writes about how as a progressive evangelical he was disturbed during the 2004 national election by the list of several “non-negotiables” put forth by the religious right as guides for voters. That list, according to Wallis, was simply a capitulation to the Republican Party, echoing the platform and influenced by political connections.

Vote all your values

Wallis then suggests that for this election, voters should “vote all our values, not just a few that can be easily manipulated for the benefit of one party or another... I am in no position to tell anyone what is a ‘non-negotiable,' and neither is any bishop or megachurch pastor, but let me tell you the ‘faith priorities' and values I will be voting on this year.”

At the top of Wallis' list is his concern about the poor.

“With more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about how we treat the poor and oppressed, I will examine the record, plans, policies, and promises made by the candidates on what they will do to overcome the scandal of extreme global poverty and the shame of such unnecessary domestic poverty in the richest nation in the world.”

Wallis includes his concern about war as an issue affecting his vote, saying that “there is...a biblical presumption against war and the hope of beating our swords into instruments of peace. So I will choose the candidates who will be least likely to lead us into more disastrous wars and find better ways to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world and make us all safer.”

Environmental concerns figure in Wallis' list, as does support for what he calls “family values.”

“Which candidates will best exemplify and articulate strong family values, using the White House and other offices as bully pulpits to speak of sexual restraint and integrity, marital fidelity, strong parenting, and putting family values over economic values? And I will choose the candidates who promise to really deal with the enormous economic and cultural pressures that have made parenting such a ‘counterculture activity' in America today, rather than those who merely scapegoat gay people for the serious problems of heterosexual family breakdown,” Wallis writes.

Because Wallis includes his belief that “every human being is made in the image of God,” he says that he will look for candidates who are opposed to torture and who support reforming immigration law.

Hunger is a life issue too

Finally, Wallis lists “choosing life” as a faith priority, and says that he will vote for candidates who recognize that hunger, disease, genocide, health care, war, and the death penalty are life issues, as well as abortion.

“And on abortion, I will choose candidates who have the best chance to pursue the practical and proven policies which could dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and therefore save precious unborn lives, rather than those who simply repeat the polarized legal debates and ‘pro-choice' and ‘pro-life' mantras from either side.”

Wallis isn't alone in his concerns – other progressive evangelicals such as Joel Hunter, Tony Campolo, and Ron Sider have also charted a path for themselves that couples their conservative personal faith with their progressive political activism. However, most evangelical Christians are still political conservatives, and a recent poll by Barna, a Christian research firm, shows their support for John McCain outweighing their support for Barack Obama 63 percent to 23 percent – although Christians who identify themselves as “born again” support both candidates equally.

Progressive voices

A new poll conducted by Public Religion Research notes a generation gap between younger and older religious voters that may affect future elections significantly. Younger voters, including evangelicals, are more pluralistic, more supportive of government, and more in favor of diplomacy than their elders. The majority support gay marriage and civil unions and believe that common ground is possible in the abortion debate.

No matter who wins the election, these progressive voices will vie with the religious right for the President's ear, and if the trend proves true, their voices will only get louder.