2008 Archives

When moral principles clash with economic needs


The following is from The Dallas Morning News for Oct. 6, 2008.

One of the regular features of The Dallas Morning News  is "Texas Faith," opinions by a panel of those familiar with theology. William Lawrence, dean of SMU's Perkins School of Theology, is a member of the panel.

A new survey by the Pew Center and Beliefnet.com reports that the economy vastly outweighs social and moral issues among voters this fall. The poll raises questions about the relationship between moral ideals and economic realities in our political deliberations. The Dallas Morning News asked its panel: Under what conditions, if any, is it acceptable for someone to vote for a presidential candidate whose social policies the voter finds morally objectionable, but whose economic policies that person favors?

October 6, 2008

WILLIAM LAWRENCE, dean, SMU Perkins School of Theology:

William LawrenceFor at least the past hundred years of Methodism, the denomination has included in its official Book of Discipline a statement of the church's "Social Principles." As one would expect, the specified principles have changed and grown over the years. For instance, it was not until the second half of the 20th century that anyone thought it necessary to include statements on abortion or homosexuality in the "Principles."

However, statements on economic issues--from slavery, to the rights of workers to collective bargaining, to sanitary working conditions, to the abolition of child labor--have been part of the church's social creed for a much longer time. Therefore, people linked to the Methodist tradition would not find it possible to separate "economic policies" from "social policies."

It is entirely plausible to imagine that one voter might cast a ballot for a candidate based on a judgment that collective bargaining rights for workers are a higher priority than parental controls over which books a public library can lend. It is entirely plausible to imagine that another voter might cast a ballot for a candidate who insists on limiting the civil rights of homosexual persons, seeing it as a higher priority than regulating child labor.

But it is entirely implausible for a Methodist to imagine calling one issue a "moral" matter and another one an "economic" matter. For Methodist Christians, at least, social issues and economic issues are faith issues.

There may be some political commentators who think that banning pornography is a moral concern while raising the minimum wage is an economic question. But the truth is that both opposing pornography and advocating economic equity are moral concerns for serious values voters. The fact that political commentators do not understand this is troublesome evidence that people who professionally talk about politics do not really understand those of us who take our values seriously.

Read the panel's full exchange.

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