I’ve been grappling with what is just and right in today’s politically charged, polarizing environment. On what basis do I judge laws, policies, or political leaders? In other words, what value do I hold highest? Safety and prosperity for me, my family, my country? Tolerance and diversity? Protection of my way of life and my beliefs? Maximizing personal choice and liberty? Protecting the environment? Equality of outcomes or equality of opportunity? America first or one world? Well-meaning people can and do hold all of the above as supremely important. Reflecting on values can help us understand our own positions better and engage in more constructive dialog with others. Perhaps you’ll even come to change your positions when you uncover the values beneath them!
Based on my interpretation of my own faith tradition (the way of Jesus), the most important question I can ask of a law or policy is “What is the effect on the most vulnerable, the marginalized, the poor? Are they more likely to thrive, or more likely to suffer?” This is how I’m called to determine what is just and right. This “preferential option for the poor” has its modern roots in Latin American liberation theology, with deeper theological roots, but I would contend that simply looking at the life of Jesus reveals his special concern for the poor. Evangelicals typically react by spiritualizing poverty with theological debate on the nature of the gospel. However, my argument here is not theological. Instead, I view a preferential option for the poor as a value-driven approach to think about and engage in debate on national policies such as health care, welfare, and immigration, as well as local issues from school bonds to economic development.
For example, the ongoing debate on health care in the U.S raises a host of issues, but beneath the health care debate are values that drive people in one direction or another. Regardless of your political affiliation, what concerns do you have with the various legislative proposals to fix our health care system, and what values do you hold that are driving those concerns? You’ll almost never see this level of reflection in Facebook debate, and it is often missing from published articles. For example, if my highest value is freedom of choice, I will support a drastically different health care fix than if my supreme value is improving the lot of the poor and vulnerable.
Another example: publicly funded college tuition for the poor. Is your first thought “who pays for this?” or “is it fair and who loses out by giving the poor easier access?” Or do you view it as a good way to give the poor access to something they otherwise wouldn’t have? Again, your core values will dictate your response and how you analyze the implications.
What core value do you use to judge what is just and right? You may even be surprised to find that what value you THOUGHT was important to you, really isn’t, based on your actual positions…