The Common Good
November 2008

What's at Stake

by Jim Wallis | November 2008

10 issues to consider in casting a ballot.

With perhaps the most consequential election of any of our lifetimes only a few weeks away, it’s time to take a step back and reflect on what is at stake. We’ve heard a lot about personalities, seen far too many negative ads, and been spun so many times our heads are swimming. But none of that should determine our vote.

As Christians, we know that we will not be able to vote for the kingdom of God. It is not on the ballot. Yet there are very important choices to make that will significantly impact the common good and the health of this nation—and of the world. So let us all exercise our crucial right to vote and to apply our Christian conscience to those decisions. And in the finite and imperfect political decisions of this and any election, let us each promise to respect the political conscience of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Here are 10 issues to consider in casting a ballot.

1. The economy is in grave danger. This fall, the financial systems of the nation and the world nearly collapsed. Three out of the nation’s top five investment banks were not able to weather the financial storms triggered by the subprime lending crisis, and the squalls shook the stock market as well. And now a massive government bailout of private debt is reshaping the system. Ordinary Americans are worried about their jobs, their homes, college and retirement funds, and, much worse, a downward economic spiral that affects all of us.

2. “Poverty is now our next door neighbor.” That’s what a hospital administrator said to me during my annual physical. More and more people are feeling the effects of foreclosures, declining housing equity and opportunity, job losses, stagnant wages, and the lack of affordable health care. Those at the bottom, of course, are in the worse shape of all.

3. Globally, the progress we were making on international poverty has been seriously set back because of food and fuel prices. Untold numbers of people are facing deepening poverty and even starvation.

4. There continue to be 1.3 million abortions in the U.S. each year. Partisan shouting on both sides during election seasons has prevented us from finding solutions that result in real abortion reduction.

5. A broken immigration system is resulting in more and more raids on workplaces, breaking up thousands of families. How can we create reforms that are compassionate and just, along with securing our borders?

6. Global warming is shrinking the polar ice cap at an unprecedented rate, endangering plant and animal species, and making weather patterns more erratic and dangerous. Meanwhile the oil, coal, and nuclear industries work to block alternative, non-polluting energy sources. How can we stop and reverse climate change and move to a sustainable energy future?

7. The war in Afghan­istan has gone on for seven years, yet by most ac­counts the situation on the ground is getting worse. The war in Iraq has gone on for more than five. Some claim progress and others say the underlying issues remain unresolved. Both those who want “victory” and those who say we should “end” the war must show their plans for success. And some are, dangerously, suggesting that the U.S. should pursue war in places such as Iran and Syria. How many more wars can we fight at one time? The military is severely strained, especially service men and women and their families. And those veterans who come home needing so many things are not getting them.

8. We are no closer to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, still a critical factor in Middle East conflicts.

9. The conduct of the U.S. war on terrorism has taken a great toll on America’s standing in the world. The use of torture, the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and in secret prisons around the world—all have taken their moral toll. Concerted action will be needed to repair the nation’s moral stature.

10. The great danger of nuclear proliferation continues unabated. Even the pleas of wise national security people, from both sides of the aisle, have not been heeded.

Given these and many other crises, it becomes more and more clear that voting on personalities this election would be irresponsible. We must focus on the issues, the records of the candidates, and their plans for solving the massive problems that we face.

Five Rules of Christian Civility

Since the charges and counter-charges of ads will likely continue right up to Election Day, we need some rules of civility for this election. Let me suggest “Five Rules of Christian Civility.”

1. We Christians should be in the pocket of no political party, and we should evaluate both candidates and both parties by our biblically based moral compass.

2. We see the biblical foundations that undergird our concerns around many issues, and therefore we vote all our values.

3. We advocate for a consistent ethic of life from womb to tomb, one that challenges the selective moralities of both the Left and the Right.

4. We will respect the integrity of our Christian brothers and sisters in their sincere efforts to apply Christian commitments to the important decisions of this election, knowing that people of faith and conscience will be voting both ways in this election year.

5. We will not attack, as Democratic or Republican partisans, our fellow Christ­ians, but rather will expect and respect the practice of putting our faith first in this election year, even as we reach different conclusions.

Let us remember that change must go deeper than politics—it will never begin in Washington nor simply be a top-down process. No matter which candidate finally wins this presidential election, he will not be able to change the big things in this country and in the world that must be changed—unless and until there are social movements pushing for those changes from outside of politics.

It has always been like that. Change will grow from social movements, from grassroots efforts that push up, not trickle down, and from critical shifts in culture and values that ultimately affect politics. Awakening the faith community, and others, to the biblical vision of social justice and the moral imperative to address the issues facing us will more likely lead to deeper change than mere lobbying on Capitol Hill.

Let us each cast our ballot—and then let us continue the work of building a movement.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

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