“He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’” – Luke 14:12-14
During George W. Bush’s presidency, religion took center stage in American life, because of President Bush’s faith and its importance to his political philosophy. A number of policies proposed by the Administration that were extensions of the “moral” cause that the religious right was trying to put front and center in American politics, such as a ban on partial birth abortions, and a proposed Constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between “one man and one woman.” Such issues allegedly constituted America’s “moral” mission but, as we saw during the Bush years, did little except drive a wedge between American voters.
I was taught very different values growing up, which come primarily from my experience being raised Episcopal. Therefore, for my purposes, I will speak from my perspective being raised Christian. At the core of Christ’s value system was a commitment to the less fortunate. He spoke to people’s sense of charity, and he sought to expose the divisive and destructive nature of oppression by those corrupted by greed and power. Jesus believed in giving a voice to the voiceless, because of the crippling and immoral poverty and suffering he witnessed during his ministry. He believed that wealth was an empty and material marker of personal worth, and that it often led people to become greedy and oppress the meek for personal gain.
He called for systemic change in the social and political systems that dominated his society. At their core, his teachings were a moral and spiritual vehicle to protect the most vulnerable. Jesus dedicated his life to spreading love between mankind and a greater commitment to the Holy ideals of charity and good will toward all people.
Throughout American history, political leaders have exploited their religious beliefs to bolster their appeal to voters. They dress up a lack of substance by standing by divisive issues that satisfy a small minority of religious extremists (reliable voters, come Election Day). What has become of America’s moral core when such inequality, such indifference to poverty and human suffering, has become the accepted norm in our society (or, as conservatives would phrase it, our “meritocracy”)? Our leaders must look at history critically, and see that our public policy does not reflect the moral priorities that our spirituality and “better angels” tell us are a good and just society’s responsibility.
Our moral values should serve as an affirmation of our nation’s moral priorities. We have a responsibility to sacrifice on behalf of our fellow people, to extend love and charity toward those who are poor or struggling. Public policy that disproportionately favors certain (more wealthy) slivers of the population shifts the burden of economic hardship onto the shoulders of our economy’s lifeblood: the lower- and middle-class. This benefits a small percentage of the population, while many more suffer in the wake of these misguided policies. Conventional wisdom often fails to match up with the greater cause to which many Americans believe we should be committed. This is a failure of our political leaders, who have become too cynical to see past what is politically potent, to remember our core convictions as a nation.
America should listen to the wisdom in our morality, and see that the actions of our government quite clearly do not reflect the moral priorities of our personal ethics and beliefs. To bolster the wealth and influence of the wealthiest Americans, at the expense of most American family’s quality of life and peace of mind, is to knock us off our righteous path as a nation.
The values we learn from our spiritual and moral development give us a powerful set of core convictions that have the potential to strengthen our nation and build upon the tremendous progress America has already made. Returning to a greater sense of community will allow the United States to integrate empathy and moral courage into our politics once again, and call our government and political leaders to something greater than themselves.
Using morality in politics does not have to be a cheap political tool, because lessons from our spiritual values help put America on a path to prominence. Values of sacrifice and good will are timeless; because they are engrained in countless religious and moral teachings that have helped Americans throughout history locate their moral core. The American people are fundamentally good and decent people, and America’s public policy and politics should reflect the wisdom of their personal morality.