Interpreting the 2002 Elections, Seeing Beyond the False Choices

'The religious right quickly claimed credit after the 2002 U.S. midterm elections,' writes Parham. 'The religious left said little publicly.'
Whenever the moral mantle is assigned to a political party, morality loses and false expectations arise. And equally troubling, authentically religious organizations escape their real duty.

"The pro-life stand was a decisive factor in the Republican takeover of the Senate," claimed Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Woman for American.

"Surely this must put an end to the notion by establishment Republicans that people who uphold moral values cannot win," Rios said.

Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition, said the election results "serve as a great capstone to our efforts in turning out the Christians to vote."

"The balance of power in the Congress has shifted in favor of conservative pro-family values," she said.

"Those concerned Christians who worked in the trenches made the difference," said James D. Kennedy, president of the Center for Reclaiming America. "Thanks to them, we now stand a good chance of confirming pro-life judges, getting a full ban on partial-birth abortion to President Bush's desk." 

Americans United for Separation of Church and State acknowledged that right-wing candidates "won a significant number of congressional and gubernatorial races."

AU said that those electoral victories "are likely to translate into increased political power for the fundamentalist Christian movement."

Barry Lynn, AU's executive director, said, "With so many Religious Right-backed candidates winning this year, the movement will have a new set of powerful allies who will be pressured to the Religious Right's bidding."

Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners, took a different angle from the highly partisan religious right and the less partisan AU.

"When you don't have a message or a messenger, and the other side does, you lose elections. That's what happened to the Democrats in the mid-term elections," Wallis wrote.

"The administration's message was that military might is the only real response to terrorism, and permanent tax cuts for the rich should be the heart of our domestic agenda," he said. "Most Democrats … supported President Bush's war policy in Iraq and his tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans."

Rejecting the false choices of the ideological right and left, Wallis asked, "With the Republicans offering war overseas and corporate dominance at home, and the Democrats failing to offering any real alternatives, who will raise a prophetic voice for social and economic justice, or for peace?"

Wallis answered, "Never has there been a clearer role for the churches and religious community. We are not tied to the purely tactical debates that will now dominate the Democratic Party. We don't have to make the false choices between personal and social responsibility that both liberals and conservatives are still making. We can be for both family values and social justice, which Democrats and Republicans seem unable to do."

Of course Wallis is right. Reading the election results only through ideological lenses causes blurred vision—vision that distorts perception and disfigures direction. Whenever the moral mantle is assigned to a political party, morality loses and false expectations arise. And equally troubling, authentically religious organizations escape their real duty.  

Recovery of moral leadership within our churches begins with the ability to see beyond the false ideological choices that both parties articulate and continues with the courage to speak for both economic justice and peace.

Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.

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