Presidential elections are about the hopes of a people. They also chart a direction toward a people’s future. They involve the creative interplay of images, intentions, and actions. Without a vision, a people will perish both spiritually and corporately. While scripture does not detail public policy initiatives, I see the biblical witness as characterized by the following interdependent and relational values:
- The importance of community in individual well-being.
- The value of life from conception to death.
- The institutional and individual requirement of justice.
- Ethics concern iinstitutions and governments as well as individuals.
- Priority to the well-being of the poor and vulnerable.
- Vision of Shalom as wholeness as the goal of personal and corporate existence.
- Expansion of rights to include the marginalized and excluded.
- Responsibility of affluent to the vulnerable and balance of profit with social responsibility.
- Justice as involving narrowing the gap between the wealthiest and poorest member of society as reflected in the Jubilee and Sabbatical years.
None of these values is absolute, but each is important insofar as it promotes Shalom in its particular historical context. They balance one another to promote the general and personal good of institutions and persons.
While I do not absolutize my own values and recognize a variety of possible biblical perspectives, my support for President Obama is grounded in the interplay of vision and action. He has imagined big things and accomplished a few of them in the most contentious, obstructionist, and dire political and economic situation since the depression. He has faced an intransigent Republican Party, whose leadership saw its primary goal as thwarting his policies and defeating him in the 2012 election – a morally bankrupt position, inspired by the backward policies of the Tea Party Movement, for whom the highest goal is lower taxes, a recipe for disaster for the national soul. He has also dealt responsibly with the most protracted recession and financial crisis since the Great Depression.
While we cannot declare any candidate’s or nation’s vision as fully congruent with biblical principles, I believe President Obama’s vision reflects the prophetic and gospel mandate for justice, human rights, and care for the vulnerable. This has to be done directly by institutions and governments, as the prophetic writings indicate; it cannot be left solely to individual generosity but must be, as the prophets suggest, mandate for institutions as well as individuals.
So, let’s look at the biblically-oriented accomplishments of the Obama presidency:
- The Affordable Health Care Act – the first step toward a truly just health care system. We have a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction in the quest for a health care system open to all people not just the favored.
- Human Rights Initiatives – enlarging the circle of ethics to include the GLBT community reflects the universalism of the prophetic vision as well as Jesus’ hospitality to the socially marginalized.
- Regulation of Businesses, especially those that have the power to destroy persons’ lifetime savings. The kindness of strangers is preferable, but given the realities of greed, profit for profit’s sake must be placed in the larger perspective of fair relationships. Regulations did not create the financial crisis, but greed and lack of appropriate regulations.
- Concern for the Vulnerable. While a strong economy benefits everyone, the benefits to the vulnerable must be direct and obvious, and not dependent on personal generosity.
- Greater Financial Responsibility for the Wealthy and Those Who Most Benefit from Government Infrastructure. The biblical vision of fairness gives a preferential option to the vulnerable in corporate actions and policies. This is obvious to anyone who reads the prophets, whose message is directed to governments and wealthy individuals. The wealthy, who gain the most from the system, need to pay their fair share to support policies that benefit everyone in the social order. (Personally, I would raise tax rates for families and individuals with incomes over $500,000.)
- A Responsible and Restrained Foreign Policy. President Obama is aware of the fact that the USA has to act in the context of the commonwealth of nations. We can no longer act unilaterally or seek to dominate other countries for our own benefits. The world of the future will elevate interdependence rather than isolationism or imperialism.
- Support of initiatives furthering equality for women. The Obama administration has promoted women’s incomes, decision-making, and well-being.
- Support of initiatives calling for no new taxes for the wealthy. Prophetic spirituality challenges wealth for wealth’s sake or the profit motive, when separated from community and planetary well-being. The affluent community’s responsibility to the poor is not a matter of generosity in the biblical tradition; it is the requirement of the wealthy both personally and institutionally. Like it or not, this is biblical ethics and theology. Tax policy can either reduce or promote the wealth gap between the haves and have nots.
- Intimate relationship with the Tea Party Movement. While Romney is a pragmatist and may not be controlled by the right wing, the Tea Party’s excessive individualism and materialist focus is disastrous for the American future. Lacking any vision other than lowering taxes and eliminating government programs, the Tea Party does not have the vision or ability to govern a twenty-first century country.
- Tepid Support of Women’s Issues, especially vulnerable women. Romney’s opposition to Planned Parenthood, most of whose work deals with women’s health, reflects his inability to understand the needs of vulnerable people.
- Reduction of the Social Safety Net. Romney’s policies put at risk those who most need governmental support. The vulnerable are the center of the prophetic tradition and the gospel mandate. Caring for the least of these is an institutional as well as individual mandate.
- The Future of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court at its best supports the rights of USA citizens to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Although Romney has no discernible position on contraception, abortion, or GLBT issues, given his inconsistency over the years, it is likely that he will appoint persons who favor corporations over people and who deny rights to women and minorities, contrary to biblical principles. The conservative court’s judicial activism has worked against participatory democracy and the rights of the vulnerable.
- Concern for the Planet. While Obama has been disappointing in the area of environmental care, his support of the Environmental Protection Agency is essential to Earth care. My hope is that he does more, especially in relationship to global climate change, promotion of economic opportunity and education, and peace in the Middle East, in the second term. Romney sacrifices the environment for short term economic gain, especially by the wealthy.
I will not go as far as Franklin Graham and, possibly, his father in promoting an obviously partisan “biblical” agenda for the nation, I believe that the biblical witness supports the policies articulated by President Obama. A man of the people, whose childhood and upbringing involved struggle and marginalization, President Obama grew in stature through his work as a community organizer and congregant at Trinity United Church of Christ. While the messages he heard from the pulpit of Jeremiah Wright have been controversial, they reflect a biblical world view that promotes the quest for justice and Shalom.
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