Moral values broad
Values topped list of issues driving voters' decisions
On Tuesday, while voters turned out in droves to vote about the issues of Iraq, terrorism and the economy, exit polling showed that 22 percent of voters said moral values was the primary issue driving their presidential decision.
No other issue ranked higher.
But instead of revealing concrete answers about voter’s concerns, polling may have raised more questions about the nature of Americans’ polarized views and their varying concepts of morality, area clergy said.
“I kind of think it’s the way people view freedom,” said Doug Zirkle, pastor of Mission of Grace Baptist Church in Hayden.
He explained that people on the right tend to see freedom as more of a “selfless” responsibility for one’s actions, meaning that just because someone can do something that it isn’t illegal, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done.
He used the example of Janet Jackson “accidentally” exposing her breast on live television during the Super Bowl halftime show this year. Some, presumably those with a more liberal perspective, automatically dubbed those who were offended deeply by the action as narrow-minded.
Although you can’t boil moral values down to hot-button issues such as gay marriage and abortion, Zirkle suggested conservatives are tired of being labeled as ignorant or bigoted because of their views on such issues. That reaction, he said, may have driven the moral vote.
“I think people went out to vote saying, ‘I’m not a bigot, I have a vote, and I want to express it,'” he said.
The many celebrities and musicians who campaigned for John Kerry may have contributed to this by giving people the sense they were being subtly manipulated, Zirkle said. “They make us feel like they’re guiding us misled fools in the right direction,” he said. “That’s offensive.”
Hot button issues
The fact that amendments defining marriage between a man and a woman passed in 11 states shows the gay marriage issue really “tweaked” voters’ concerns in the election, said Father George Schroeder, pastor at Holy Name Catholic Church in Steamboat.
Similarly, embryonic stem cell research, abortion and euthanasia questions have made the topic of morality even more of a factor this election than in the past, he said.
“These are all related to when does life begin and when does life end and how does civil law support the concept of right to life, which we believe is in our constitution,” Schroeder said.
The Rev. Warren Geldmeier, pastor at Steamboat Springs Evangelical Church, said moral values go much deeper than gay marriage and abortion.
“Morality has to be an objective truth in order for it to be binding on a society,” he said. “When you abandon that objectivity, you no longer have a basis to determine what is moral and what isn’t.”
Issues such as the legalization of abortion relay a sense of subjectivity to morality and help fuel activism in those who think traditional moral values are declining, Geldmeier said. Gay marriage may be such an issue.
“Roe v. Wade caught the conservative base in our country by surprise, and I think that is happening again,” he said.
Influence from the left
Still, the Republicans’ seeming dominance in attracting such voters may have less to do with conservative activism than the influence of a “radical arm” of the Democratic Party that has alienated Democrats with more traditional moral views, Geldmeier said.
“If the Democrats learn anything from this election … they have to identify with the values of mainstream America,” he said.
But Larry Oman, pastor at the United Methodist Church, isn’t convinced that 22 percent represents the majority of Americans’ concerns when it comes to moral values.
“We have to realize that this was really a very close election,” Oman said. “(Twenty-two percent) is not a majority of voters. It might have proved decisive, but it doesn’t mean that’s where most people stand.”
Focusing on gay marriage and abortion topics, which, as far as he can discern, were behind the morality vote, fail to realize the broader spectrum of moral value, Oman said.
“My perspective is that that is a very narrow view of morality,” he said. “The matter of how we care for the poor of our society, the concern for the increasing division between rich and poor, how we provide or don’t provide health care, and how we are stewards of the environment also are moral issues.”
Old idea, new spin
Diane Mitsch Bush, professor of social sciences at Colorado Mountain College, questions the true significance of the “moral values” vote, noting that the way the exit poll results have been publicized, if people didn’t know 22 percent of votes were based on moral values, they might think it was 80 percent.
“My problem is A: I’m not sure that it’s any different than it has been in the past and B: I’m still not sure that 22 percent makes a majority,” she said, noting that the moral value tag is just a different spin on what also have been referred to as wedge, social and lifestyle issues.
Although moral values always have been important in American politics, Mitsch Bush said that what’s different now is that various groups are putting more emphasis on certain values and going so far as to endorse political candidates.
“It’s only recently we’ve gotten this idea of ‘my religion is better than yours’ in the political sphere,” she said.
Although views of moral values are complicated and often different, pastors and others worry that generalizing the issue may serve to further polarize groups while skewing Americans’ religious perspectives and political leanings and hindering helpful dialogue.
“If you look at people of strong religious values, they are all over the map politically,” Mitsch Bush said.
Although activism from the religious right has been a noticeable trend in our society, Oman said that it has been further emphasized by the lack of a countermovement advocating more moderate religious values.
“The religious right has really been working now for years and seen the opportunity to gain political influence,” he said. “We have not had a comparable organizing of what I would call people of a more progressive religious perspective, and I think that is needed.”
Geldmeier said labels have further deterred opposing sides from discussing issues such as gay marriage.
“The issue of gay marriage shouldn’t be construed as a contest between two sets of people with labels,” he said, explaining that discussions often are closed down because people don’t want to be labeled.
“Everybody has a basis for their beliefs. To say that religious people by default are wrong because their beliefs are based in God is arbitrary and prejudiced,” he said.
Overall, opening the communication lines and respectfully coming to terms with Americans’ different views of moral values will only come after election dust settles and the emotions become less intense, Zirkle said.
“We have to come back to the fact that people have strong feelings,” he said. “We have to come back open-minded.”
— To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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