The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Neighbors and Election Choices
We're now ten days out from the United States election on November 6.
Some of you have already voted. Many of you have already made your choices, at least on major candidates and ballot issues. And yet, for another week and a half, we'll be deluged with political ads, phone calls (from both robots and real people), and excited media coverage about the most contested races.
Voters consider lots of factors as they make their decisions. Party affiliation is often powerful. This year, more than usual, there's a very strong effect about whether people love or hate the President that carries over into down-ticket races. Some big issues stand out as the most important in driving voter decisions -- with "the economy and jobs" stereotypically listed in the top slot. In a poll released this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that, among Democrats, climate change was listed as the number two issue -- perhaps the first time this urgent concern has made it to such prominence in national polling. And, as the makers of attack ads know very well, personality and trust are huge factors in turning folk against particular candidates.
There are lots of factors to consider, but is there any overarching perspective that might guide our political choices, not only for this election, but for the political issues and choices that we'll be facing in the years to come? From my eco-justice perspective, I lift up an expansive "love of neighbor" as a fruitful three-word guideline.
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"The whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " (Galatians 5:14) When questioned, Jesus usually gave a slightly longer answer listing both love God and love your neighbor. Within the Christian tradition, love of neighbor stands out as the central ethical norm.
Love your neighbor becomes a broad ethical guideline for politics when we expand the notion of neighbor in three ways: to include all members of the human community, to look toward future generations, and to embrace all species within the web of life. Those three circles of expansion are necessary in understanding "neighbor" in the modern, globalized, rapidly-changing world.
How can we use the expansive notion of neighbor to evaluate political issues? Let me offer a few examples to stimulate your thinking.
INCLUDE ALL MEMBERS OF THE HUMAN COMMUNITY
Those same considerations on a larger scale hold true for national politics. Is there a clear sense of working for the national good, or are some members of that community considered expendable? Are all members of the national community given voice in major decisions, or are some excluded by voter suppression or other means? Certainly, there's a need to look after US interests, but are those seen in the context of the global community? Are national goals achieved by inflicting burdens -- economic, environmental, or of human suffering -- on others nations of people?
In today's profoundly inter-connected world, we are all neighbors, tied together by trade, resources, information, pollution and culture. Do our politicians and policies even begin to acknowledge those connections, and their moral impacts?
LOOK TOWARD FUTURE GENERATIONS
Do politicians and policies bear in mind how we are shaping the future? Do economic guidelines -- such as the "social cost of carbon" and the "discount rate" -- honestly reflect our impacts on the future? (To be techie, an article that I quoted in 2017 points out that at a 7 percent discount rate, "the social cost of carbon becomes small or negative." If we plug that kind of number into the spreadsheets, we find out that carbon emissions are good for the future -- which obviously is not true.)
I read this week (but can't find the reference) that a Justice Department argument against the Our Children's Trust lawsuit contends that there's no such thing as a constitutional right to a livable future. Do politicians and policies acknowledge that how we live now shapes the way that others will live in the future -- and that we have a moral obligation to treat those future generations fairly?
EMBRACE ALL SPECIES WITHIN THE WEB OF LIFE
If other-than-human species are seen only as resources to be used, then it is easy to justify inhumane treatment of farm animals, or to be unconcerned about the extinction of species. If there's not a recognition, for example, that vibrant coral reefs are the breeding ground for much of ocean life, then policies about energy and climate, and marine preserves, and fishing regulations won't honestly care for the world around us -- or address our long-term self-interest.
Ethics with an expansive perspective of "neighbor" will carry at least a pragmatic concern for the health and vitality of the entire biosphere. A human-only approach does not fit with a moral outlook which cares for all of God's creation.
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I see few politicians who measure up to these challenging expectations of our neighbors through the whole human family, into future generations, and including the whole web of life. But some lean much more strongly toward an inclusive, Earth-aware ethic than others. I can see far too many examples -- starting with the current White House -- that seem weak or even antagonistic on all of them.
"Love your neighbor" -- with a very big idea of neighbor -- provides a three-word test for this election season, and for all political policies. How well can we do in moving toward that central principle of biblical ethics?
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