The Common Good

4 Things We Should Be Talking About Before Nov. 6

As the winds and the rain of Hurricane Sandy settle down, one bit of the aftermath is going to be another round of conversation about how climate change is affecting our world.

It’s not a conversation you have heard much of in the presidential campaign this year. Climate change is one of a quartet of issues that will have a huge impact on the future of this nation that have gotten short shrift by both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney.

Poverty. Guns. . Drones. Climate change.

Bring up any of those issues and watch the candidates make a quick nod of concern and then scamper away from any specifics. Yet those issues will be with us long after Nov. 6, so it is incumbent on those of us in the faith community to be laying the groundwork now for how we will address them in the coming year.

That work has already begun, of course. The challenge is not to let the post-election exhaustion sweep away those concerns like they were potted palms on a pier in the midst of the hurricane.

Here’s a quick look at ways to keep those issues before the nation and the people it elects to office.

Poverty – There is already a strong network of faith-based groups seeking to put a Circle of Protection around those living in poverty so that the efforts to repair the federal budget do not devastate their lives.  Both President Obama and Gov. Romney offered brief video statements about protecting the poor. But simply maintaining the already fraying safety net is not enough.

Education. Job training. Job opportunities. Childcare. Transportation. Those are tangible needs on the path of out of poverty. So is a sense of hope for those battling an economy that has been devastating to their lives.

Guns – The problem of gun violence is particular plague in urban areas, especially those defined by poverty, but gun violence has been a plague as well in the last few months at a suburban movie theater, at a suburban Sikh temple, a suburban beauty salon. 

Both presidential candidates express their sorrow eloquently, but neither has taken the hard position of curtailing at least the worst abuses of basically unfettered access to extraordinarily lethal weapons. This reluctance comes even though public support for such curtailment is widespread, but the intense lobbying pressure from the National Rifle Association quickly scares off politicians.

Organizations like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence offer a fine place for advocacy, but faith-based efforts have been less visible. Sure, the Catholic Church and the National Council of Churches have fine statements about reducing gun-violence, but his this is an area that should move up the priority list for faith groups in the year ahead.

Drones – Here’s an issue with unfortunate bipartisan support for a policy that puts the U.S. in a terrible moral, legal, and strategic position. The ramping up of targeted killings by the Obama administration in countries with which the U.S. is not at war and with unintended civilian casualties is deeply disturbing, yet the two presidential candidates have not engaged in any meaningful debate about this. 

A few organizations – Amnesty International, Sojourners among them – are turning up the heat on this. The Washington Post did a detailed series earlier this month exploring what is happening. But this is an area that needs the kind of sustained moral argument that faith communities can bring to the public square.

Climate Change – And then there’s that hurricane. Ed Brown, a leader of the faith-based group Care for Creation in Madison, Wis., wrote to Mike Allen at POLITICO’s Playbook as the storm was growing in force, "This is quite clearly the climate pointing out that 'Yes, you all should have talked about me during those debates. Maybe then I wouldn't have had to draw attention to myself.’ “

Even without anthropomorphizing nature, Sandy has been a vivid reminder of how climate change is leading to more unusual – and destructive  - weather patterns more frequently. Yet as The New York Times explained last week, a debate about climate change has been absent in this campaign.

This is an area where the faith communities have increased their activism in ways that cross many of the normal boundaries that separate those communities. Care of Creation. The Catholics have a Climate Covenant. My own denomination at the liberal end of Protestantism, the United Church of Christ, has launched a Mission 4/1 Earth.

The election will be over in a week. It’s not an end point. It’s the point where those of us in faith communities must be ever more visible on these ignored issues that are so important to our world.

Phil Haslanger is a pastor a Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg, Wis., just outside of Madison. phaslanger@gmail.com

Voting symbols, VectorPic, Shutterstock.com

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