According to data released this week from the Census Bureau, one in seven Americans are living in poverty. This means that in 2009 a staggering 43.6 million people live in the degradation of food, health care and housing insecurity. Each one of these Americans represents a colossal moral failure of our nation. I wish there was an energized political gathering that would address the lack of decency of such wide spread suffering. I wish there was some well funded religious group that was talking about how we incorporate values into our public life.
With a startling lack of self awareness, the Values Voter Summit began their conference two days after the census report on poverty levels was released. However, poverty is not what concerns these 'Values Voters.' According to their website their values instruct them to: "Protect Marriage • Champion Life • Strengthen the Military • Limit Government • Control Spending • Defend Our Freedoms."
Now these objectives do represent values - but whose?
To begin with, there is a schizophrenic quality to the values of these voters. They want to control spending, but strengthen the military; and they want to limit government and defend our freedom, but want the government controlling personal morality and affection. These desires work at cross purposes with one another and certainly put the 'Value Voter' at odds with the 'Tea Partier.'
But the most glaring problem of the Values Voter Summit is not the sin of commission but rather the sin of omission.
The Values Voter Summit wants to bring God, and more specifically Christianity and the values of the New Testament into politics. But anyone who has read the words of Jesus knows what his values are - and they don't include strengthening the military. Jesus came to give life abundant to all people, to liberate the captive, bring freedom to the oppressed and called the poor blessed. There is not one thing that Jesus talks more about than the need for justice for the poor. In fact, the word poor occurs in the bible over 2,000 times. Any attempt to bring religious or Christian values into politics must make justice for the poor a priority - or they are not truly representing the Gospel.
Now I know that this sets me up as an adherent of liberation theologian or the social gospel - well those titles do not offend me. But I prefer the title of Christian. A Christian who understands the values Jesus preached and is trying to bring them into the society in which I live. The news that one out of seven of my sisters and brothers are in poverty requires a Christian response. Those who want to infuse our country with values cannot continue to bless an economic playing field that radically increases the gap between the rich and the poor leaving us without a middle class.
What are the values at the Values Voter Summit and whose interests do they ultimately serve? It is telling that the big story at this summit is how the fiscal conservatives and the social conservatives are making nice - which is shorthand for if you oppose gay marriage then I will support tax breaks for millionaires.
The Lectionary is an agreed upon set of texts that Christians around the world use Sunday after Sunday in hopes of a sense of unity in the church. It is ironic that the Lectionary texts for the Sunday of the Values Voter Summit include: Amos 8:4 'Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land'; and Luke 16:13: 'No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.'
In the glaring light of the new census data on the poor, and the Biblical mandate that is so clear, perhaps this will be the year that the Values Voters listen carefully for the word of God as it pertains to the poor.