In the mail yesterday I recieved a little advertisement for a popular evangelical leader. The cover of this mailer proclaimed that 22% of all voters said that "moral values" was their primary issue. The letter part: "When Americans were asked about the issues that most affected their vote, 22 percent of the electorate said 'moral values' was at the top of their list, surpassing terrorism, the war in Iraq, health care, and other key domestic issues."
That is undoubtably true. 22% of voters, according to the Associated Press, did indeed cite "moral values" as their primary motivation. So, how are these people defining moral values? Do they mean anything relating to sex? ie gay marriage, sodomy, abortion, access to birth control? Is that our limited perspective on moral values?
Clearly people who voted based on access to health care, on terrorism, on poverty, on welfare, on the war, and "other domestic issues" were also voting on moral issues. They just didn't put them in those terms. Why is that? Have we all begun to define "morality" only in terms of things like abortion and homosexuality? Or were these people who voted on their moral convictions about the well-being of all simply reluctant to call their issues "moral issues" because we, as a country, have ceded this term to the far right? I know if an exit poller had asked me, I would have first wanted to say "moral issues" but would re-think so that I would not be confused with someone voting against rights for all and for restrictions on personal liberty.
We need to recognize several things. First of all, morals are not the sole purvue of religion, and certainly not of Christianity. Atheists, Bhuddists, Muslims, pan-theists can all be moral. But, and more importantly to me, I believe, is that fact that the particular brand of morality being pushed as "moral values" by some Christians is at times more ideological than anything else.
I believe God is neither Republican nor Democratic; Christianity should maintain a moral independence from partisan politics so that it is equally able to critique the right and the left.
It is easy for us to lose sight of the fact (a point that John Kerry certainly lost) that part of our moral charge in the world, as Christians, and a part of maintaining our basic humanity, as human beings, is caring for and loving our neighbors. These, I believe, are absolutley moral issues. These are things on which I voted on November 2. I voted for health care as a right, not a privilege. I voted on a guarantee for all children to go to good schools. I voted on the saving of American lives who are dying for an ideological cause while we ignore the fight against terrorism. I voted on a fair and living wage for all workers. I voted that no family with a full-time worker should live in poverty. I voted to be a good steward of the environment God created. These are all moral issues that I voted on. But, according to our popular definition (as defined by the Religious Right), I did not vote on moral issues at all.
Does that make those who disagree with me "immoral"? Certainly not. A person can have a "free-market" system of morality and vote against minumum wages, health care, welfare, etc. That does not make them un-Christian or immoral. That means that they have different moral values than I do. I know many people, people who I look up to for their Christian living and example, whose morals differ from mine as much as night from day. And I know we voted for different candidates. We are all moral and we are all Christian. I know several people who are not Christian who are moral, with similar and with different moral systems than me.
I guess that is the point of this post. Morality doesn't belong to religion in general or Christianity in particular. And "morality" isn't this one set of values and beliefs that everyone must hold in order to be moral. I may view it as fundamentally immoral that we let children go without health insurance. I have several friends who would disagree. Yet they are moral people.
So, when next you refer to "moral values," ask "whose values?" "how did they get defined?" "why do I hold them?" "what is it based on?"
For Christians, we ought to hold ourselves (and politicians) to the challenge given by Micah, to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God."