Some of us who consider ourselves to be liberals or progressives have been just too quiet in the conversation about moral values. Some have argued that those who live in the so-called “blue states,” those which voted for John Kerry, haven’t even been aware of the conversation or have been, at best, uneasy in it. Thus, they say, not only did John Kerry seem hesitant to talk about his own faith and how it informs his life and his decision-making process, but so, too, did Howard Dean and even John Edwards, a Southerner.
I happen to agree with them — we need to talk about moral values and we must talk about how our faith informs who we are and what we say and do. I believe that those of us who are Christians must take back Jesus and those of us who are people of faith must take back our ability to frame our positions on critical social issues in the context of our faith.
The Jesus I am talking about is the one who turned over the tables of the moneychangers right inside the temple. The Jesus I am talking about said at the beginning of his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” The Jesus I am talking about said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” The Jesus I am talking about said, “You have heard it said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The Jesus I am talking about said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The Jesus I am talking about never said one word about homosexuality. The Jesus I am talking about ate with the sinners, the outcasts and the tax collectors. He drew to himself those who were marginalized by those in the faith — the women, the children, the lepers, the unclean.
This Jesus that I know and follow challenged the Roman Empire in its oppression of the poor, in its war against the Jews, and he challenged the Pharisees and scribes in the temples for their fastidious following of the law at the expense of healing and justice for the people. This is the Jesus we must reclaim and proclaim in this conversation about faith and values.
It is this Jesus, and the God who requires us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, who informs my positions on tax cuts for the wealthy in a nation where one in every five children lives in poverty. It is this God who makes me ask what is wrong with us when tens of thousands of people die every day from starvation and the United Nations estimates that $13 billion allocated above current spending levels would mean that everyone in the world (including Americans) would have basic food and health care. At the same time, Americans and Europeans spend $17 billion on food for their pets every year. It is this God, who created the earth and all that is in it, who informs my position on our unwillingness to sign the Kyoto protocol or to even admit that there is global warming while we in the U.S., who are 5 percent of the world’s population, use 25 percent of the world’s fuel and provide at least four or five times our share of the earth’s pollution.
I do want to talk about moral values. I want to talk about the moral values of a pre-emptive strike war which we now know was based on half-truths at best and lies at worst. I want to talk about the more than 1,000 Americans who have been killed in that war, and the 10,000 who have come back home injured, and the tens of thousands who will return with significant mental conditions. I want to talk about the tens of thousands of Iraqi women and children — civilians all — who have been killed since the beginning of this war.
I do want to talk about integrity and truth and honesty and fairness. I do want to talk about democracy and freedom and justice for all.
Moral values is about so much more than the right of a woman to choose and the rights of gay and lesbian Americans. It’s about how we live life together in the 21st century, understanding that as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Bernice Powell Jackson is executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, www.ucc.org/justice/.