Almost every day I do interviews with reporters who start the conversation by saying, "I am doing a story about religion and the election." As we suspected many months ago, religion has turned out to be one of the critical factors in this election.
That was demonstrated again by a National Public Radio story in mid-September about a "swing voter" in West Virginia. Now in her 70s, this woman had voted in every election since she was 21 years old. But this time, she felt more conflicted than ever. She told the NPR reporter that she thinks the war in Iraq was a mistake and is turning into a real mess. "We shouldn’t have gone to Iraq," she said. "I feel Bush took us into that." But, she said, she likes the way he talks about his Christianity and brings his faith into "what he’s doing." On the other hand, we have lost so many jobs in West Virginia, she said, and that leans her away from the president again. But she’s with him on gay marriage and abortion. Her conflict exemplifies both the policy and cultural issues that define this campaign.
When reporters start talking about the "religious issues" of this election being abortion and gay marriage, I correct their narrow perception that reduces all Christian ethics and values to one or two hot-button social issues. Then I begin talking about how poverty, the environment, the war in Iraq, and our response to terrorism are also key religious and values questions that will influence the votes of people of faith. That wider perspective always make sense to them, and their stories then take a broader view of the issues at stake.