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An election guide.

From Where I Stand Excerpt from Sept. 2

Have you ever in your life seen politics posing as religion as much as it is in this campaign?

I have a feeling that God is not keeping a denominational scorecard on either party's platforms and legislative proposals, but I think there is a criterion we can use to make our personal political decisions with moral confidence. My bet is that God is still listening, as Yahweh told Moses at the burning bush: "I have heard the cry of the poor ... and I mean to deliver them."

I have a notion that this election may be a reprise of that same message--this time, for us.

The truth is we have so many poor, we've stop counting them: the unemployed who drop off the welfare rolls, the underemployed who get no benefits, the children without health insurance, the fetuses being disposed of for the sake of convenience, the Iraqi civilians being killed for the sake of macho, the elderly who are facing even more poverty in years to come as Social Security fizzles. We in the wealthiest country in the world continue investing more money in death than we do in life.

I think we had better listen, as well, to the cries of the poor of other countries who, because of our economic or foreign policy plans, get poorer every day, fear us more every day and hate us more every day.

And why are we as a people so blase about the myriad issues that challenge us, so apparently unconscious of it all, so committed to a single-issue focus in the midst of it? Is it perhaps that religion itself has gone astray, has narrowed the criteria so clearly given at the burning bush, has itself lost perspective in a world that has never needed perspective more?

It isn't that religion doesn't have a place in the public debate. On the contrary, it's that politics has no place in religion.

It is not the place of political parties to seek to enlist the religious community as part of its campaign staff. That smells far too much like collusion to me. It smacks far too much of the kind of theocratic thinking that preceded both the French and the Russian revolutions. It sounds to me too much like the rise of a new Christian Taliban. In fact, it sounds too much like this year's election.

It is not the function of religious figures to condemn specific politicians. That, as far as I know, is still God's role. It is the function of religion to teach religious values and criteria that you and I can apply to the political positions of our politicians. Religion must form us "to hear the cries of the poor" and then to vote accordingly.

We must be called to conscience not to political campaign strategies.

The church officials who are violating this important kind of separation of church and state are not simply crossing the line politically. They are hurting religion, hurting the country, obscuring the overall moral issues of the campaign.

If you want to cast a moral vote, print out one of the many comparative lists of the issues espoused by each candidate. Ask yourself the question, "Will this proposal, this position, affect the poor of this country or the world positively, negatively or neither? Ascribe to each of the items a plus, a minus or a zero. Now count up the pluses. The program that will bring the most aid to the poor is the moral position. That is the way you mad I are really expected to vote this year.

How do I know? Easy. You see, what God says to Moses at the burning bush after "And I mean to deliver them" is this: "So I am sending you to pharaoh to say, 'Let my people go.'"

That's the most direct election guidance I've seen. From where I stand, sending that message to pharaoh is the only real reason to vote.

[Joan Chittister, a Benedictine sister from Erie, Pa., writes a weekly Web column on NCRonline.org.]
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Title Annotation:Regular features on the NCR Web site
Author:Chittister, Joan
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 17, 2004
Words:684
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