The Common Good

Values of a Public Faith (Part 3)

Editor's Note: This is part three of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HERE and part two HERE.. From part one:

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

14. Equality of Nations

Value: No nation represents an exception to the requirements of justice that should govern relations between nations. America should exert its unique international power by doing what is just and should pursue its own interests in concert with other nations of the world. 

Rationale: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Debate: The debate should not be whether America is somehow exceptional (and therefore permitted to do what other nations are not—for instance, carrying out raids on foreign soil in search of terrorists). The debate should, rather, be about what it means for the one remaining superpower to act responsibly in the community of nations.

Question to Ask: At the international level, would the candidate renounce a double moral standard: one for the U.S. and its allies and another for the rest of the world? Even when the candidate considers an American perspective morally superior, will he seek to persuade other nations of the moral rightness of these values rather than imposing them on other nations?

15. War

Value: War is almost never justifiable, and every successful justification has to show how a particular war is an instance of loving one’s neighbors and loving one’s enemies. 

Rationale: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matt. 5:43–46).

Debate: There is a legitimate debate about whether acts of war can ever be a form of love of neighbor and of enemy and, if they can, about what causes justify war (rule of a tyrant?) and what constitutes just conduct of war (drones?). 

Questions to Ask: Has the candidate supported or advocated ending unjust wars in the past? Has the candidate condemned significant forms of unjust conduct of war?

16. Torture

Value: We should never torture. It dehumanizes both the detainee and the interrogator by violating the dignity of the one and degrading the integrity of the other,  and it erodes the moral character of the nation approving it. (For a definition of torture, go HERE.)

Rationale: “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44). “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

Debate: There is no debate on this one—at least not a debate that, from my reading of Christian moral obligations, is legitimate. Even if torture were effective (which, according to most knowledgeable sources, it is not), it would be morally unacceptable.

Question to Ask: Has the candidate unequivocally condemned the use of torture? 

17. Honoring Everyone

Value: We should honor every human being and respect all faiths (without necessarily affirming them as true). As citizens, we have the right to mock another religion, but as followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation not to.

Rationale: “Honor everyone” (1 Pet. 2:17).

Debate: The debate about one’s relation to other religions should not be whether we have the right to mock what others hold to be holy; we do have that right. At the same time, the debate should not be about whether we have a moral obligation not to make use of that right; we ought not mock what other people hold to be holy. Instead, the debate should be about what the authentic teachings and practices of individual religions are, to what extent the claims of their teachings are true (or false), and in what ways each religion fosters (or hinders) human flourishing.

Question to Ask: Will the candidate promote respect for all religions, including Islam, while at the same time affirming the need for honest debate about how true and salutary they are?

18. Public Role of Religion

Value: Every citizen, religious or not, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, has the right to bring his or her own perspectives on human flourishing and on the common good to bear on public life and to do so on equal terms with everyone else.

Rationale: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7). “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Debate: The debate should not be whether religious voices should be excluded. It should be about what kind of political arrangements will ensure the equal access of all to participation in the political process on equal terms and what might be the limits to legitimate pluralism.

Questions to Ask: Does the candidate support the participation of every person in public life, encouraging them to do so on the basis of their own specific motivations and reasons? Does the candidate seek to protect the voices of ordinary people from being drowned out by powerful interest groups (like lobbies and Super PACs)?

19. Truthfulness

Value: Those seeking public office should forswear spin and contempt, being truthful with the public and civil to one another. You can “advertise” but not fabricate; you can criticize but not disrespect.

Rationale: We should all “[speak] the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and seek to “honor everyone” (1 Pet. 2:17).

Debate: While the line between advertising and spinning is not always clear, the main debate should be about effective means to diminish the spin and contempt that have become part of our democratic system of elections. 

Questions to Ask: Do the facts about the candidate’s own performance as well as those of their opponent match with the candidates’ words? Is the candidate attempting to correct rather than benefit from the spin that others, without his direct endorsement, do on his behalf?

20. Character

Value: Competence (technical expertise, including emotional intelligence), though essential, matters less than character because knowledge, though crucial, matters less than love.

Rationale: “If I . . . understand all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2).

Debate: The debate should be about what dimensions of character matter most and what blend of virtues and competencies is most needed at this time. 

Questions to Ask: Whom does the candidate strive to be like? Whom does he most resemble in character? Will the fear of losing power corrupt him?

As the Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School, Dr. Miroslav Volf, a native of war-ravaged Croatia, works to promote a theology of forgiveness, non-violence and unity. A member of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Church in Croatia where his father was pastor, Dr. Volf spent more than a decade involved in international ecumenical dialogues, including the Archbishop of Canterbury's Building Bridges Seminar on Muslim Christian Relations and the Vatican Council for Promotion of Christian Unity.

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