Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Multi-Issue Politics
distributed 7/16/04 - ©2004

Earlier this year, some leaders in the US Catholic church chose to set off a controversy.

Several Roman Catholic bishops took strong public stands about the moral fitness of Catholic political candidates. These bishops said that a candidate who does not stand clearly against abortion should be excluded from receiving Communion. The controversy started with questions about presidential candidate John Kerry, and spread to involve other Catholics running for national offices. The bishop in Colorado Springs went farther than any of his colleagues, and said that any Catholic who voted for a candidate who was not strongly anti-abortion should be excluded from the Eucharist.

To some extent, I can respect the -- I hope non-partisan -- motivations of the outspoken bishops. While my Protestant theology does not find meaning or value in excluding people from the sacraments, I do understand the bishop's desire to connect a candidate's faith convictions and his/her public decisions. From my position as a faith-based advocate for eco-justice, I can share some of their passion about taking a stand, and about naming the moral significance of public policy choices.

But my ethical perspectives also resonated -- even more strongly -- with the pervasive commentary about the bishop's stance. Wise people from many different perspectives said that there is a horrible problem in naming any one issue as the defining factor for faithfulness. However deep and sincere the Catholic position on abortion, there are lots of other issues that are also of great moral importance. The news analysts listed other high-visibility topics that could and should be used to evaluate a candidate's moral standing: war and nuclear weapons, the death penalty, poverty and taxes, and many others.

It diminishes the importance of all of those other moral debates if any one issue -- whether abortion, or my own focal issue of the environment -- is claimed as the single defining issue for morality.

We live in a complex world that cannot be narrowed down to a single vote. Single-issue politics is bad ethics. We need to address and embrace a wide range of issues, and discern the best possible choices in a situation where no candidate and no party platform will come close to our notions of perfection.

Faithfulness calls us to a multi-issue perspective on candidates and public policy.

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This week, the National Council of Churches of Christ released a valuable resource for doing faithful multi-issue politics. The NCC's Justice and Advocacy Commission formulated 10 Christian Principles in an Election Year -- a list of general principles to stimulate conversation and provide guidance. Those principles have been affirmed by the Executive Committee of the NCC.

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, who chairs the commission, said, "The principles are not intended to be partisan, but rather to lift up common principles that have been affirmed ecumenically and that can provide guidance in this election season."

The list of principles is not exhaustive; it leaves out some high-profile topics like abortion and gay marriage where the churches are not united. Kinnamon said that the 10 points echo "key principles of the whole ecumenical movement" such as the interrelatedness of all people, God's priority concern for the poor, the infinite worth of each person as created in the image of God, and the God-given responsibility to be stewards of God's creation.

The principles outline positions of faith and ethics that have deep historical and theological roots. It is likely that there will be disagreement among people of faith and good will about how to prioritize the list, and about how to implement the perspectives in a particular case. Yet most Christians should be able to agree that the 10 principles do express central assertions of our faith.

I am delighted by the guidance and witness that the National Council of Churches has provided in this election year resource. The 10 principles are wise, faithful and relevant statements that speak broadly to many of the most significant moral issues in the public sphere. Taken together, they speak clearly and appropriately about the pervasive biblical call toward God's shalom.

The Christian Principles in an Election Year do a fine job of guiding us toward faithfulness in our election decisions. They invite us into conversation and discernment, instead of exclusion and division. I am happy to see that they include environmental considerations (#6 on the list), and I'm just as happy to see the environment held in relationship with other essential eco-justice themes.

A short group study guide has been prepared by the NCC to accompany the 10 Principles. It is a helpful document that will allow a congregation to deepen their appreciation for the principles, and to discern ways of applying them in specific situations. The guide looks at some biblical texts that support the principles, invites conversation about prioritizing the list, and suggests ways to research how candidates measure up to the principles.

The NCC's Christian Principles in an Election Year is a valuable and pertinent witness to our churches. It asserts the importance of faith and ethics in an election season, and it does so in a way that recognizes the complexity of our political choices.

Please visit the NCC website for a copy of the resources. I urge you to read the principles, print them in your church's publications, and gather study groups to explore them in depth.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

Christian Principles in an Election Year
Developed by the National Council of Churches USA's Justice and Advocacy Commission,
and approved by the NCC's Executive Committee

Our Christian faith compels us to address the world through the lens of our relationship to God and to one another. Public discourse is enhanced as we engage civic leaders on the values and ethics affirmed by our faith. At the same time, religious liberty and the integrity of our democracy will be protected as candidates refrain from using faith-based organizations and institutions for partisan gain. We offer these ten principles to those seeking to accept the responsibility that comes with holding public office.

  1. War is contrary to the will of God. While the use of violent force may, at times, be a necessity of last resort, Christ pronounces his blessing on the peacemakers. We look for political leaders who will make peace with justice a top priority and who will actively seek nonviolent solutions to conflict.

  2. God calls us to live in communities shaped by peace and cooperation. We reject policies that abandon large segments of our inner city and rural populations to hopelessness. We look for political leaders who will re-build our communities and bring an end to the cycles of violence and killing.

  3. God created us for each other, and thus our security depends on the well-being of our global neighbors. We look for political leaders for whom a foreign policy based on cooperation and global justice is an urgent concern.

  4. God calls us to be advocates for those who are most vulnerable in our society. We look for political leaders who yearn for economic justice and who will seek to reduce the growing disparity between rich and poor.

  5. Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth. We look for political leaders who actively promote racial justice and equal opportunity for everyone.

  6. The earth belongs to God and is intrinsically good. We look for political leaders who recognize the earth's goodness, champion environmental justice, and uphold our responsibility to be stewards of Godís creation.

  7. Christians have a biblical mandate to welcome strangers. We look for political leaders who will pursue fair immigration policies and speak out against xenophobia.

  8. Those who follow Christ are called to heal the sick. We look for political leaders who will support adequate, affordable and accessible health care for all.

  9. Because of the transforming power of Godís grace, all humans are called to be in right relationship with each other. We look for political leaders who seek a restorative, not retributive, approach to the criminal justice system and the individuals within it.

  10. Providing enriched learning environments for all of Godís children is a moral imperative. We look for political leaders who will advocate for equal educational opportunity and abundant funding for childrenís services.

Finally, our religious tradition admonishes us not to bear false witness against our neighbor and to love our enemies. We ask that the campaigns of political candidates and the coverage of the media in this election season be conducted according to principles of fairness, honesty and integrity.

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