The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Earlier this year, some leaders in the US Catholic church chose to set off a controversy.
Several Roman Catholic bishops took strong public stands about the moral fitness of Catholic political candidates. These bishops said that a candidate who does not stand clearly against abortion should be excluded from receiving Communion. The controversy started with questions about presidential candidate John Kerry, and spread to involve other Catholics running for national offices. The bishop in Colorado Springs went farther than any of his colleagues, and said that any Catholic who voted for a candidate who was not strongly anti-abortion should be excluded from the Eucharist.
To some extent, I can respect the -- I hope non-partisan -- motivations of the outspoken bishops. While my Protestant theology does not find meaning or value in excluding people from the sacraments, I do understand the bishop's desire to connect a candidate's faith convictions and his/her public decisions. From my position as a faith-based advocate for eco-justice, I can share some of their passion about taking a stand, and about naming the moral significance of public policy choices.
But my ethical perspectives also resonated -- even more strongly -- with the pervasive commentary about the bishop's stance. Wise people from many different perspectives said that there is a horrible problem in naming any one issue as the defining factor for faithfulness. However deep and sincere the Catholic position on abortion, there are lots of other issues that are also of great moral importance. The news analysts listed other high-visibility topics that could and should be used to evaluate a candidate's moral standing: war and nuclear weapons, the death penalty, poverty and taxes, and many others.
It diminishes the importance of all of those other moral debates if any one issue -- whether abortion, or my own focal issue of the environment -- is claimed as the single defining issue for morality.
We live in a complex world that cannot be narrowed down to a single vote. Single-issue politics is bad ethics. We need to address and embrace a wide range of issues, and discern the best possible choices in a situation where no candidate and no party platform will come close to our notions of perfection.
Faithfulness calls us to a multi-issue perspective on candidates and public policy.
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This week, the National Council of Churches of Christ released a valuable resource for doing faithful multi-issue politics. The NCC's Justice and Advocacy Commission formulated 10 Christian Principles in an Election Year -- a list of general principles to stimulate conversation and provide guidance. Those principles have been affirmed by the Executive Committee of the NCC.
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, who chairs the commission, said, "The principles are not intended to be partisan, but rather to lift up common principles that have been affirmed ecumenically and that can provide guidance in this election season."
The list of principles is not exhaustive; it leaves out some high-profile topics like abortion and gay marriage where the churches are not united. Kinnamon said that the 10 points echo "key principles of the whole ecumenical movement" such as the interrelatedness of all people, God's priority concern for the poor, the infinite worth of each person as created in the image of God, and the God-given responsibility to be stewards of God's creation.
The principles outline positions of faith and ethics that have deep historical and theological roots. It is likely that there will be disagreement among people of faith and good will about how to prioritize the list, and about how to implement the perspectives in a particular case. Yet most Christians should be able to agree that the 10 principles do express central assertions of our faith.
I am delighted by the guidance and witness that the National Council of Churches has provided in this election year resource. The 10 principles are wise, faithful and relevant statements that speak broadly to many of the most significant moral issues in the public sphere. Taken together, they speak clearly and appropriately about the pervasive biblical call toward God's shalom.
The Christian Principles in an Election Year do a fine job of guiding us toward faithfulness in our election decisions. They invite us into conversation and discernment, instead of exclusion and division. I am happy to see that they include environmental considerations (#6 on the list), and I'm just as happy to see the environment held in relationship with other essential eco-justice themes.
A short group study guide has been prepared by the NCC to accompany the 10 Principles. It is a helpful document that will allow a congregation to deepen their appreciation for the principles, and to discern ways of applying them in specific situations. The guide looks at some biblical texts that support the principles, invites conversation about prioritizing the list, and suggests ways to research how candidates measure up to the principles.
The NCC's Christian Principles in an Election Year is a valuable and pertinent witness to our churches. It asserts the importance of faith and ethics in an election season, and it does so in a way that recognizes the complexity of our political choices.
Please visit the NCC website for a copy of the resources. I urge you to read the principles, print them in your church's publications, and gather study groups to explore them in depth.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org