When we invited Senator Obama to speak at our annual Pentecost conference in 2006, he used the opportunity to frame his views on the role of faith in politics. It was an extraordinary speech where he said: “[B]because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they’re something they’re not. They don’t need to do that. None of us need to do that.”
I agree with that statement. I have frequently said that no candidate’s theology or doctrine should be a factor in voting, but rather the focus should be on their moral compass – what shapes their political values, leadership, and policies. What a candidate’s moral compass is should be more important than his/her theology or the doctrines of his/her religious tradition. What kind of leader will a candidate be, what are his/her guiding personal and social values, and what is his/her strength of character?
The races so far have given some indication of the values of the remaining candidates. Hillary Clinton frequently speaks of her history as a committed lay person in her Methodist Church; and Barack Obama sometimes sounds like a public theologian with his theme of hope. Both have explicitly connected their faith to a broad range of issues from poverty to health care, criminal justice, HIV/AIDS, human rights, and to war and peace.
In several Republican debates, both Mike Huckabee and John McCain defended the humanity of undocumented people in the midst of an extended attack on “illegal aliens” by other candidates. In the face of some of the most heated rhetoric, John McCain asked his colleagues to remember that the people they were all talking about were “also the children of God.” And in defending his inclusion of the children of the undocumented in his state’s scholarship programs, Mike Huckabee stood his ground and said the U.S. was not the kind of country that punished children for the mistakes of their parents.
Morality and moral values will be a key criteria for religious and “values voters” this election season; but that the definition and range of those moral values will be much wider and deeper than ever before. This time, more than any election in many years, the votes of many in the faith community are still undecided and will be influenced by whoever can win their support with a genuine moral discourse on politics and an agenda of both social and political transformation.