The Common Good
September-October 1998

Missing moral Issues

by Duane Shank | September-October 1998

Power politics vs. the poor

A flood of recent news stories have reported efforts to create a new coalition—an "independent political force"—of religious conservatives. Coordinated by longtime conservative strategist Paul Weyrich, the leading players are James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council. Their major attacks are aimed at the Republican congressional leadership, who Dobson says "have shamefully refused to address the moral issues on which they campaigned."

The public attacks have gone so far as to threaten a revolt from the Republican Party, with Bauer considering a run for the presidency and Dobson proclaiming, "I will do everything in my power to tell evangelical and pro-life Christians" of the "moral and philosophical collapse of Republican leadership" unless his agenda is passed.

The agenda they are demanding of Congress is defined by Dobson as the key "pro-moral" issues. It includes passage of "school prayer" and "school choice" legislation, opposition to abortion and rights for gays and lesbians, defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts, and censoring pornography on the Internet. Following several confrontational meetings with Dobson, Republican leaders have promised a series of votes on these issues before the fall elections.

Conspicuously absent from this agenda is any legislation affecting those living in poverty or addressing issues of racial justice. In the past year, religious conservatives have vowed that they understood the importance of a Christian commitment to overcoming poverty and racism. Despite these proclamations, those concerns are nowhere to be seen.

The new heads of the Christian Coalition, Randy Tate and Donald Hodel, are central to the developing new coalition. One year after its highly publicized formation of the "Samaritan Project," a set of proposals aimed at poverty and outreach to African Americans, the Coalition has unceremoniously dumped the entire project.

There are "pro-moral" issues confronting our country today, issues that Christians bear a responsibility to face. And while some of the issues raised by this new coalition are important family issues, the agenda ignores some of the most crucial moral issues facing our society.

THE GROWING REALITY of welfare "reform" is that millions of poor Americans being eliminated from welfare are not finding work, but are instead entering into an uncertain world of hunger and homelessness. Ministries ranging from the International Union of Gospel Missions to Second Harvest, and studies by organizations from Tufts University to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, are reporting unprecedented numbers of people seeking emergency assistance.

Another group of Republicans, the "Renewal Alliance" led by Sen. Dan Coats, has proposed a series of legislative initiatives on poverty—including a charity tax credit and efforts to restore the economic base of inner cities. Sen. Coats explained: "[W]hen government retreats, problems remain, and confronting those problems is a moral responsibility for our nation." None of these proposals, or any other anti-poverty efforts, are in the list of demands being presented to Congress by Dobson and company.

The religious community around the country is rising to the moral responsibility of feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. But government also has a responsibility. Nearly two years after eliminating assistance programs, it is incumbent on Congress to review what has happened and to make corrections where necessary. Issues of child care, transportation, job availability and readiness, a living family wage, and creating or strengthening community support networks are being raised by churches and faith-based ministries around the country. Many Christians are also working on racial reconciliation and racial justice efforts in their communities.

These issues, rather than power plays within a political party, are where Christian activists should be focusing their moral energies. Our fundamental commitment should continue to be for those in our society who are left out and left behind, those who continue to suffer even while the economy grows.

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