“…I only care about the moral issues…”
Have you ever heard this line before?
I heard it repeatedly on my radio talk show during the 2008 election cycle. Back then the Obama and McCain presidential candidacies were daily topics of conversation. And no matter what the issue was on any given day, there were those talk show callers who would make comments about Barack Obama’s enthusiasm for abortion and homosexual “civil unions,” or question John McCain’s “pro life” credentials.
In response, I would guide the conversation back to non-abortion and non-marriage related issues. “But what do you think of Barack Obama’s pledge to ‘spread the wealth around?’” I might ask. Or, “is John McCain right in his assertion that the financial crisis is all about ‘greed on Wall Street?’”
And to these questions - questions about economic policy issues - the answer I would hear was frequently the same: “I only care about the moral issues.”
Now, a year into the Obama presidency, I’m hoping that my fellow faith-based Americans are ready to acknowledge that economics is, itself, a “moral issue.” And I hope we’re all ready to start caring about it.
Some will be offended at my insinuation that maybe they don’t care about economics. Others will be perplexed by my use of the term “faith-based American.” Let me explain.
I’m talking here about that large, diverse bunch of us who, generally speaking, believe that the God of the Bible exists; believe in the moral precepts that emanate from the God of the Bible; believe that human beings are “made in the image of God;” and believe that our understanding of God can, and should, inform the ways in which we view the world.
As I’m defining it here, this group consists of, among others, a majority of America’s Evangelical Protestant Christians, a majority of American Mormons, some large of American Catholics, and at least some portion of American orthodox Jews.
Keen observers of politics may look at this definition and quickly conclude that I’m describing the “Christian right.” But I’m purposely avoiding the term “Christian right,” for at least a couple of reasons.
First, I’m not interested here in debating who is “really a Christian,” and who is not (that’s a theological debate, and I’m not arguing theology here). And furthermore, I’m not assuming that this “faith-based” category necessarily still leans to the political right. Indeed, many Evangelical Protestants, and many Catholics, people who may have had a prior track record of voting with the Republican Party, shifted gears during the 2008 election and voted for President Obama and the Democrats.
With this “faith-based American” category in mind, you may still be offended. “What does he mean that we don’t concern ourselves with economics?” some might ask in dismay.
So let me further clarify. Faith-based Americans frequently concern themselves with certain types of economic issues. I’ve observed plenty of evidence of this, just within the past couple of months.
In November I heard a Priest at a Catholic parish near my home, lamenting that the generosity shown to the poor at Christmas time doesn’t endure throughout the year. During a trip to Southern California in early December I heard the Reverend Chuck Booher of Corona, California’s gigantic “Crossroads Church” (think “mega church” with sporting arena seating) admonishing his audience to pay cash for Christmas gifts, and to remember that monetary debt leads to “spiritual” bondage. And while attending church with my in-laws in Santa Barbara after Christmas, I heard a guy named Britt Merrick, Pastor of a new church movement called, simply, “Reality” (yes, there is a church called “Reality” – do a web search if you don’t believe me), explaining that funding for the church’s new staffing and expansion had been developed before the expansion plans were executed. “To launch our new church without funding it first,” Pastor Merrick noted, “would be irresponsible.”
So, yes, faith-based Americans concern themselves with personal and private economic matters - “micro-economic” issues if you will - and they connect their faith to these issues. But this not the same as connecting one’s faith with economic public policy, or “macro-economic issues.”
But why would anyone care about something so “dry” and boring as macro-economics? How about a government that has spent itself so far in to debt that it threatens to send the value of our American dollar plummeting, and interest rates into double-digit territory? How about a government that is secretively crafting legislation to allegedly “reform” American healthcare, but will likely impose new taxes on the health insurance policy that you already have a difficult time affording? How about a government that pays banks to “assist” borrowers who are late on loan payments, while the banks ignore the needs of people who pay bills on time and have good credit?
These are only a few of the dilemmas that we face as Americans right now, and they are “moral dilemmas.” And connecting the ancient wisdom of the Bible to the dilemmas of our global, information-based economy can be a challenge – but that’s why my co-author Scott Rae and I wrote a book on the subject.
So – are you a “faith-based American?” And are you ready to start caring about yet another “moral issue?”