Abuses of Faith in this Election Season

By Jim Wallis 10-22-2010

You have to wonder -- when political ads focus on a college prank pulled by your opponent -- what else could that money have gone to? When candidates make the case to voters based on the title of an article written by their opponent after a semester abroad in college aren't there more pressing issues they could be talking about?

This is why last week Sojourners asked its supporters to send emails to Republicans, Democrats, and Tea Party organizations to give us a break from all the negative ads.

For a long time I fought the secular Left that wanted to banish any discussion of faith and values from politics. I also battled the Religious Right that didn't distinguish between their faith and their political party. Faith should never be used as a PR stunt for influencing a specific voter demographic nor should it be used as a political bludgeon to be wielded as a campaign weapon.

There might be bigger abuses of faith this election season or greater culprits, but these two abuses caught my eye this past week.

First, I saw Jack Conway's ad against Rand Paul in Kentucky's Senatorial contest. In this ad Conway attacks Paul and questions his faith by repeating a story from Paul's college days. The allegation is that Paul was part of a group at Baylor University that made satire of religion, called the Bible a "hoax" and tied another student up and forced her to bow down to "aqua Buddha."

Second was Christine O'Donnell's new line of attack against her Senate opponent, Chris Coons. She said, "I would argue there are more people who support my Catholic faith than his Marxist beliefs." Perhaps that will help her campaign to persuade the people of Delaware that she is not a witch (as she had to assert in her last ad).

In this campaign season what we have mostly seen is the abuse of faith to scare or offend voters in order to win elections, as opposed to using the resource of faith to help guide our moral compass on important policy issues. I have long argued that faith and public life belong together and that their healthy connection can deepen our civil and moral discourse. But this fall's campaign use of religion for partisan purposes is not quite what I had in mind.

The deep religious teachings of the "common good" could have guided our discussions about the role of government in an economic crisis. The Scriptural priority of the poor could have led us to focus on the significance of the new and alarming poverty rate increases. Just war criteria could have been used to evaluate our nine-year war in Afghanistan and even made it an issue in this campaign. Religious instructions to love our neighbors and welcome "the stranger" would have been a nice contrast to the political use of false rumors about undocumented immigrants. And the command to be good "stewards" of God's creation, found in all our faith traditions, might have caused us to reflect on whether the BP oil spill might cause us to reflect on our energy future. But I have missed all that this fall. And in the midst of the most poisonous election campaign in recent memory, we certainly have lost many values important to faith, like humility, honesty, compassion, patience, civility and, oh yes, truth.

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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