Voting Our Values Not Our Rights

I must admit that I write this blog with a great deal of fear and trepidation. As a pastor I try to avoid unnecessary dissension. My call is to be a shepherd to all of the people God places into my care. As the election nears, however, I feel the need to address the divisive subject of deciding how we should vote.

I have heard a lot lately about voting our values. At its core, this is good advice. We ought to vote for people whose values line up with the values that shape us as followers of Jesus. In one sense, this is a no-brainer; in another sense, it’s a very difficult thing to do.

Most, if not all of the Christians I know, vote their values. No one would argue the importance of doing so. The rub is in deciding the specific values that will influence our vote.

The people and groups that send me emails and letters and call my home trying to convince me to embrace their values seem to focus on values that are both narrow and surprising—narrow in what they declare valuable and surprising in what they ignore, thereby viewing as insignificant. I am probably as guilty of this as anyone, but I’m trying to work at it. Two examples of what I mean.

In the October 27 edition of The New Times, Thomas Friedman’s op-ed piece focused on voting “pro-life.” His concern is that “pro-life” equals anti-abortion. His solution is that “pro-life” should mean that we care as much for people after birth as before. He mentions such issues as common-sense gun control, caring for the environment that is leading to many health problems for children, and providing education opportunities for all children particularly children of color who tend to have less educational advantages than white children. Ironically, he feels completely comfortable equating “pro-life” with defending abortion. In the end, his argument that pro-life only applies to post-birth is as skewed as the argument he detests that pro-life is limited to pre-birth.

It seems to me that if we are pro-life, then we are people who do all that we can to promote the sanctity of life…for all people and at all time, but particularly the most vulnerable among us, which includes a fetus in the womb, people of color who are being robbed of a decent education, a child that has access to automatic weapons and despairs of ever having a better life unless he or she uses it. I’m concerned that we vote all of our values—not just a few of them.

The second example comes from an email that I received a few weeks ago. The political organization, whose masthead declares: Influencing Legislation and Legislators for the Lord Jesus Christ, is unhappy that the city of New York has initiated a plan of voter registration for people who are homeless.

The organization states that they are for all people voting, but “we draw the line at…the city attempting to specifically target the homeless.” This organization has a problem with registering people who live in temporary housing or emergency shelters because as they note, “Excuse us for asking, but how can you register someone who doesn’t have an address? What district does a homeless person live in? How do you verify the address to establish the legitimacy of the ballot cast?”

Not only am I surprised that an organization that talks about connecting people to Jesus would denounce an attempt to give people on the margins an opportunity to feel more included in our legislative process, but I’m also surprised because when you read the Gospels it seems to me that people who do not have the security of a stable roof over their heads have an awful lot in common with Jesus, who said to those thinking of following him: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:50).

In addition, it seems a bit ironic that in this same email denouncing voter registration for New York City’s homeless is an invitation to a series of fundraising banquets. At best, this is a mixed message about what voting our values really means.