The Common Good

What Do Values Voters Value Most?

Sojomail - September 20, 2006


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What do values voters value most?

I want to welcome you to the first edition of "God's Politics" - the blog - a new project done in an exciting partnership between Sojourners and Beliefnet. The God's Politics Blog will provide fresh conversation about faith, politics, and society - every day - from "Jim Wallis and friends." We've assembled an extraordinary group of writers and voices to help with the God's Politics Blog, including Brian McLaren, Amy Sullivan, Noel Castellanos, Robert Franklin, Diana Butler Bass, Obery Hendricks, Sister Helen Prejean, Ron Sider, Tony Campolo, and others still being added.

And then there's you! We invite all of you to the fast-moving discussion that is spreading across the country and the globe about how faith can change the world. And this will be an open, civil, and inviting discussion that welcomes a real dialogue - one not contained by the failed categories of right and left that have so polarized and paralyzed our public debate. That's because I find people across the political and religious spectrum who are looking for the "moral center" of our public life, for the moral choices and challenges below the surface of our political debates, for a true "values politics" that challenges the selective moralities of both the right and the left. So welcome to the new town meeting on spirituality and politics, and I hope you will join right in!

This week I welcome Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition and one of the most articulate leaders of America's Religious Right, to be my first dialogue partner on the God's Politics Blog. We will post our comments and responses to each other, back and forth, all week long.

Since the 2004 election, the term "values voters" has become a mainstay of the political discussion - and we're hearing it again this fall. But the discussion has been generally used by its proponents (and the media) to describe one specific kind of voter - a conservative, white, evangelical, Republican. But that is now changing quite dramatically. Because, of course, many voters (maybe even most) are "values voters" - who they vote for and why are determined by their values.

I believe a debate on moral values should be central in American politics. The question is, of course, which values? Whose values? And how should we define moral values? The problem is when one side of the political spectrum tries to define values as meaning only two things - opposition to same-sex marriage and criminalizing abortion. And while those two have become "wedge issues" that have effectively been used for quite partisan purposes, many of the pressing problems our society confronts have an essential moral character. Issues regarding the sacredness of life and family values are indeed very important, and need a much deeper moral discussion, but there is also a broader moral agenda that reflects all the values Americans care about.

So it is actually arrogant to assume that only two issues involve moral values. And it is hubris to say that only those people with a conservative political position on those two issues are voting based on values. What should be valued most is a broader and deeper view of a politics grounded in all our values. What really appeals to the most basic moral concerns of Americans? A deeper discussion of both political principles and issues has the capability of really uniting a large number of people.

+ Read and respond to comments on this article on the God's Politics Blog

Read more of the dialogue on the God's Politics Blog:

Ralph Reed to Jim Wallis: Rejecting the Liberal "Straw Man"

Jim Wallis to Ralph Reed: Not Liberal nor Conservative


Group asks: What did Jesus say?
Chicago Tribune

I went to a press conference yesterday and a church service broke out. The press conference at the National Press Club was held by the new Red Letter Christians network, Christian communicators who say they want to change how Christians influence the national public policy debate. The Religious Right, with its focus on a narrow set of issues like abortion and gay rights, has dominated the public arena for too long, says the RLC.

Liberal Evangelicals Begin Campaign
Associated Press

Liberal evangelicals, weary of a Republican-centric image, launched a campaign Monday to promote Christian values beyond the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. Red Letter Christians, a project of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, announced plans to establish a grass-roots network of 7,000 moderate and progressive clergy members.

Religious left to reclaim its faith
Washington Times

A new group representing values voters on the religious left castigated the religious right yesterday, announcing plans to counter conservatives with a series of candidate fairs, voters guides and Web logs.

Kerry talks of loss, renewal of his Catholic faith
The Washington Post

Yesterday, a new group called Red Letter Christians, named for the colored type that highlights the words of Jesus in popular editions of the Bible, called for Christians to "vote their values" by considering the war in Iraq, torture, environmental degradation and helping the poor to be vital religious issues.

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