The faithful will vote for American values

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Op-ed by Bob Edgar
San Francisco Chronicle, Nov 3 2006
Many are talking about fundamental values, not a litmus test that passes for values. Stem cells and same-sex marriage are taking a back seat to honesty, integrity, truth and justice, the closer we get to election day. "Who can you trust" is being asked more than whether a candidate believes the same way I do.

Americans want to believe their representative in government is a person of integrity who will hold up the best America can offer to the world as well as to its citizens. Americans want a government that responds to disasters such as Hurricane Katrina with actions that help victims and not photo-ops. They want a government based on "justice for all" and not one willing to lock up human beings without criminal charges. Americans want to be represented in Washington, not just used or taken for granted by those who crave power for power's sake.

Republicans and Democrats both face the trust question -- it is not limited to one party. Congress itself is fighting to restore its image with voters because of what scholar Norman Ornstein describes as a "culture of corruption" on Capitol Hill.

The Abramoff scandal touched members of both parties. An FBI investigation of one congressman uncovered thousands of dollars in his freezer. Another abuse of power involves improper sexual advances by a member of Congress to a 16-year-old page.

When I decided to run for Congress in 1974, the country was in the midst of a political culture of deception. Voters wanted representatives in their government they felt they could trust. Voters in the heavily Republican district in Delaware County, Pa., voted for a young Democrat, an ordained Methodist minister with no political experience. Several events came together creating almost a "perfect storm" for political change that year. The resignation of President Richard Nixon and his subsequent pardon by President Gerald Ford, inflation and fuel shortages all influenced voters. Democrats picked up 49 seats in that election to claim more than a two-thirds majority.

As Americans in 2006 look at their elected representatives, they are asking similar questions as voters did 32 years ago. Are we being told the truth about a foreign war where our young men and women are dying? Can I live on what I make or do I have to look for a second job to make ends meet? Can I afford to put gasoline in my car?

When a candidate faces those questions voters want honest and forthright answers. We know that people of faith vote. Many of these Americans who vote I've come to call middle church, middle synagogue and middle mosque. They are people of faith who hold these values of honesty, integrity and justice very close to their hearts. In my Christian tradition, the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (25:34-40) about taking care of "the least of these" embody America's moral values. I'm reminded, also, when the Gospel of John (8:32) tells me "the truth will make you free." That's the freedom I think most Americans want to see in their communities, in their country and in the world.

This majority of faithful Americans, I predict, will vote in large numbers Tuesday. They are tired of one side or the other claiming to have God on their side and forcing a narrow, mean-spirited, divisive agenda on the rest of the country.

I believe these faithful Americans are standing up for the basic moral value of justice for God's creation. They want alternative-energy sources, not only for national security, but because global warming threatens God's planet that we've been given to care for.

Americans want to know why the minimum wage has its lowest buying power since 1950. They want to know what kinds of jobs await their children and will their children be able to make a living. Specifically, many Americans I talk with want to know why Congress has raised its own pay several times without raising the minimum wage.

Making war is not making peace. No matter what Americans have been told over and over again, they have come to know the truth. They know war is not the best way to peace.

Americans will vote overwhelmingly for American values on Nov. 7. They've done it before. I doubt they'll disappoint.

The Rev. Bob Edgar is general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA and author of "Middle Church, Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right" (Simon & Schuster, September 2006).

This article appeared on page B - 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle