By George Reed, Retired Executive Director
Here we go again.
The intersection between faith and politics has been a complicated one all the way back to the passage of the First Amendment, which prohibited laws “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It seems to have gotten only more complicated in recent years.
After the presidential election in 2004, media pundits credited the win by George W. Bush to “moral values voters”. By this, they meant conservative Christians who agreed with President Bush on two or three issues. (You can probably name those issues, but you don’t get extra credit for doing so.) A while after that election, the NC Council’s staff met for our annual staff retreat, and we found ourselves saying, “So, what are our values . . . chopped liver?” We had been under the impression, as we read our Bibles and listened to Jesus’ words, that biblical values included seeking justice for the poor, providing health care for all, welcoming the stranger, protecting the worker, caring for God’s creation, and respecting all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, belief, gender, income, abilities, sexual orientation or any other distinction. In an effort to help people of faith recognize a broader understanding of “moral values,” we created Acts of Faith, our lectionary based (i.e., Bible based) worship resource that focuses on the Bible’s call to justice and peace. It has been widely used and updated regularly over the years.
Recently, the narrower view of the Bible and of Jesus and of family values has reared its head here in North Carolina. An October rally in Raleigh of conservative Christians supportive of Mike Huckabee’s campaign for president labeled itself “I Stand With God, Pro-Family Rally.” Huckabee is a former Southern Baptist pastor in Arkansas, where he was also the state’s governor. (His positions and a recent stand by a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship pastor in Arkansas, who is also a state judge, are a reminder of how diverse we Baptists can be – even in the same state. I could also throw into that mix another former Arkansas governor and Baptist, Bill Clinton.) Once again, family values, moral values, and God are being defined in narrow ways that don’t seem to be consistent with the breadth of the Bible. The Rev. Drs. William Barber and Tim Tyson have addressed this in a recent piece in the News & Observer. (Yes, I do know that Tim Tyson is one member of the Tyson family NOT to have an official “Rev.” attached to his name. But his understanding of the biblical call to justice is such that he ought to.) They make a strong statement for the biblical call to justice for people in our society who are weak, vulnerable, poor. I hope you will take the time to read it here.
It was interesting that at almost the same time their statement was being published, Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch was noting a recent study that shows the importance to poor families of even a slight increase in the money available to them. Most significantly, this benefit is demonstrably reflected in the children in those families. Any folks who deny assistance to families in poverty and who claim to support family values should have to explain their position in light of this significant research. Read Rob’s report here.
I suspect that many of those who hold a much narrower view of family/moral values sincerely hold those beliefs. But I do wish they would read all of their Bibles and recognize how much of the Mosaic law, the Old Testament prophets, the words of Jesus and the teachings of the early church were about people living on the margins, vulnerable people, and the call to God’s people to work for justice for all of them. Those of us trying to heed that call believe we also stand with God as we support public policies that are based on biblical values and that can strengthen all in God’s family.