(The Charleston Gazette,  Jan. 8, 2004)


How would Jesus vote?


VARIOUS studies show a striking pattern: Americans who attend church ardently - especially fundamentalists - vote Republican nearly 2-to-1, while "unchurched" people vote Democratic by the same ratio.

 Some GOP strategists - Karl Rove, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, etc. - work constantly to mobilize this so-called "religious right" for Republican victories. They've had significant success.

 But a glaring contradiction exists: Everything that Jesus stood for seems opposed by Republicans now in control of Washington.

 Jesus said, "blessed are the peacemakers" - yet the Bush administration was hell-bent for war in Iraq, using fictitious alarms to justify it. A year before starting the war, President Bush swaggered privately in the White House: "F-- Saddam. We're taking him out."

 Jesus said, "blessed are the poor" and lived among the lowly - yet the Bush administration showered trillion-dollar tax giveaways on the wealthy, causing record deficits. The White House ignores 45 million "working poor" Americans who lack health insurance.

 Jesus opposed the death penalty, saying, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" - yet President Bush set an all-time execution record when he was governor of Texas, and boasted of it.

 Why on earth do so many churchgoers vote for the opposite of Jesus? This puzzle was hinted at recently in a New York Times commentary by Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners religious magazine.

 "How a candidate deals with poverty is a religious issue, and the Bush administration's failure to support poor working families should be named as a religious failure," he wrote. "Neglect of the environment is a religious issue. Fighting pre-emptive wars based on false claims is a religious issue (a fact not changed by the capture of Saddam Hussein)."

 Wallis noted that conservative worshippers support Bush because of issues such as "guns, God and gays... the Ten Commandments in public courthouses, marriage amendments, prayer in schools and, of course, abortion." But he added: "Allowing the right to decide what is a religious issue would be both a moral and political tragedy.... True faith results in a compassionate concern for those on the margins."

 Former Charleston politician Charlie Peters, who moved to the nation's capital and created The Washington Monthly, sometimes lamented that the "religious right" is powerful while the "religious left" is toothless. His concern is being addressed today by a coalition of liberal ministers called the Clergy Leadership Network for National Leadership Change, which formed to foster policies helping little people.

 "God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, and one's faith in God is not based on what party they belong to," the group declares. Its administrator, the Rev. Albert Pennybacker, added: "The main religious heritage of America is moderate and progressive - and that voice has not been heard in recent years."

 Although they're evidently outnumbered 2-to-1 within churches, we hope members of this clergy movement can offset the sad pattern of churchgoers voting for the opposite of Christ's values.


(Distributed by Knight-Ridder-Tribune syndicate and printed in:  Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Anniston Star, Arizona Star-News (Tucson), Lincoln Journal-Star (Nebraska), Montgomery Advertiser,The Leader (Corning, NY), Myrtle Beach Sun News, Durham (NC) Herald-Sun, Holland (MI) Sentinel, Columbus (GA) Ledger-Inquirer, Idaho State Journal (Pocatello), Stars & Stripes.)