Seeking Common Ground

In their pre-election statement "Faithful Citizenship," the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote, "Politics in this election year and beyond should be about an old idea with a new power - the common good. The central question...should be ‘How can we - all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable - be better off in the years ahead? How can we protect and promote human life and dignity? How can we pursue greater justice and peace?’"

A dialogue among Christians on those questions may be more important now than talking to policymakers.

Perhaps people in the red and blue states are closer on some issues than we are led by the media to believe. In the days following Nov. 2, the "moral values voter" became the defining story line of the election (as Jim Wallis discusses in this month’s Hearts & Minds,) National exit polls showed that when asked to choose "the most important issue" that influenced their vote, 22 percent chose "moral values." Media pundits declared that the "moral values" meant gay marriage and abortion, and that the Religious Right had won the election.

No doubt those issues played an important role. Yet, if the specific issues in the exit poll are grouped together, "war/peace values" led with 34 percent and "economic values" received 33 percent. A post-election poll conducted by Zogby International confirmed that when a list of specific issues was asked, the results were quite different. When asked which "moral issue most influenced your vote," 42 percent chose war in Iraq, while 13 percent said abortion and 9 percent same-sex marriage. When asked to name the "most urgent moral problem in American culture," 33 percent selected "greed and materialism," 31 percent chose "poverty and economic justice," 16 percent picked abortion, and 12 percent named same-sex marriage. The "greatest threat to marriage" was identified as "infidelity" by 31 percent, "rising financial burdens" by 25 percent, and "same-sex marriage" by 22 percent.

When 42 percent of us see the war in Iraq as a moral issue, how do we address the policy of an administration apparently still committed to going it alone without international support, bombing civilian urban neighborhoods in an effort to quell the insurgency, and still not seriously addressing the torture and abuse of prisoners? Christian peacemakers concerned with the common good must continue to insist on protecting human life and pursuing peace.

When a third of us see "greed and materialism" as the most urgent moral issue, how will we respond to renewed efforts to pass tax cuts for the wealthy, to privatize Social Security, and to end the decades-long progressive tax system? A common good tax policy should pursue greater justice, not greater wealth.

Similarly, when 31 percent identify "poverty and economic justice" as among the most critical moral issues, can we agree to work for a living family income, as Call to Renewal’s "Isaiah Platform" puts it, so "people who work should not be poor"?

WHILE THERE WILL continue to be fundamental disagreements about abortion, we can agree that it is a moral issue and seek common ground in a program that would reduce the number of abortions - including pre- and post-natal healthcare, nutrition, adoption reform, reducing teen pregnancy, sex education emphasizing abstinence, and responsible fatherhood.

Strong, healthy families are important in bringing up children, and the greatest threats to raising children include the twin big businesses of entertainment and advertising. We can find common ground as Christians in addressing the cheapening of our culture and in efforts to strengthen marriage and family life.

In all these issue areas, we can agree that community - the common good - is one of the ultimate moral values. We should speak and act on these issues as Christians, grounding our political work in our biblical faith. I work to overcome poverty and oppose the war in Iraq because I am a follower of Jesus, not only because it is better public policy. For progressive Christians, talking to other Christians across the lines of "red" and "blue" is a way of seeking "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 6:3).

Duane Shank is policy adviser at Sojourners.

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