Faith can provide Dems with the focus to do well
WITH Tim Kaine's victory in the governor's race in Virginia in November 2005, the Democratic Party has tangible evidence of where its past mistakes lie and where its future success can root. Kaine, whose campaign emphasized his Catholic faith and missionary work, proved that a Democrat can be religious, too. Perhaps the party's message could be that people of faith from many traditions and even secularists can unite under the banner of social justice proclaimed by prophets of old.
Where are the prophets these days? In the wilderness that is America of 2006, who will proclaim with Micah that we are required to "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?" Where is our Amos, calling for "justice (to) roll down like thunder?"
Politically, we see Republicans standing strongly for liberty, supported by Pharisees of the religious right who tolerate no disagreement, and Democrats wandering without a central faith except to oppose Republicans, looking for a vision for which to stand. St. Peter warned that liberty can be a cloak for vice, and St. Paul that "where there is no vision, the people perish." No one moves to countervail liberty with the cause of social justice.
A modern-day prophet, cloaked in the wisdom of faith, calling for social justice would reconnect Americans with their best instincts and historical virtues of fairness and the dignity of every human being. The idea of American liberty is alluring in its idealism to others worldwide. Yet Americans understand that liberty without justice courts vice. Does not our Pledge of Allegiance link liberty and justice?
The unifying theme of social justice would thunder for the poor, the downtrodden, the less fortunate among us to become focal points once more of the "general welfare" to which our union is committed. President Lincoln, a Republican Party founder who might find himself uncomfortable in that party today, said "the legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need done but cannot do at all or cannot so well do for themselves in their separate and individual capacities."
Eliminating poverty, housing all our citizens and training workers for the 21st century qualify as great causes the "community" of the nation cannot "do so well in their separate and individual capacities."
Promoting social justice is the history of Democratic Party achievements of old: the progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, the enlightened use of government to serve the needy in the New Deal, the promotion of civil rights in the 1960s and human rights in the 1970s.
Calling citizens to the causes of social justice would legitimize the Democrats' newfound appreciation for an appropriate role for religion in politics. Many of the party's accomplishments above were political manifestations of religious impulses. The fact that great religious leaders in history -- the Hebrew prophets, Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus -- preached the need for social justice strengthens the rationale for someone to rediscover the cause, because their visions of man's obligation to fellow men have stood the test of time, the measure of everlasting truth.
For those of us in many faiths who feel our religions have been hijacked by the fundamentalists, a political party in step with the cause of social justice might help us find a new voice in the conversation about how our nation should be governed. Our nation needs the clarions of liberty and the champions of social justice to be the twin towers of our politics of the 21st century. If we are to be one nation under God, ought we not pay heed to the requirements of our creator and thereby take up the challenge of creating a nation "with liberty and justice for all?"
Daniel E. White is the author of "So Help Me God: U.S. Presidents in Perspective." He is the headmaster of Island Pacific Academy in Kapolei.