“Yep,” I’m a values voter,” she said. An air of satisfaction dripped from her voice. “I decide who I will vote on based on a few issues – prolife, gay marriage, prayer in schools…”
I had to get out of the car to make a pastoral visit so I couldn’t hear the rest of the interview, but the way that she defined what it meant to be a values voter intrigued me, and I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon.
I’m not sure who came up with the description “values voter” first, the political commentators or the consultants who slice and dice the electorate into smaller and smaller pieces. But in any case, the description “values voter” has come to describe those persons who are guided by a conservative religious agenda, usually defined by their pastor or some other charismatic religious figure (what Brian McLaren sometimes calls “the radio orthodoxy.”
It occurs to me that these are in fact not values voters, for they frankly aren’t voting out of a full value system, but rather along a narrow group of issues. To be more specific, these are litmus test voters, persons who check off “their” issues on a list and try to the best of their ability to elect candidates cast in their own personal image.
The use of the description “values voters” bothers me because I think all of us, including the litmus test group, are values voters. After all, we ALL choose candidates based on the values systems we hold – secular or religious, conservative or liberal, individualistic or communal. The way that we make decisions about policies and directions are determined by the values that we hold, and no one group has a monopoly on maintaining a value system.
When I consider how I determined who to vote for, I drew on my value system in making my decision. As one who is a self-described “communitarian” I shy away from the radical individualism that some candidates seem to promote, believing instead in the interdependence of all. That belief is based in my interpretation of the scriptures and the life and example of Jesus Christ, as well as a number of different forces that guide me to maintain faith in the power of communities to do the right thing. I may or may not agree with the woman above on the issues she mentions, but my approach to those issues is based in the valuing of communal discernment and what King called the “inescapable network of mutuality.”
Thus, I am a values voter. I probably would fail the litmus test (although some would be surprised at how I respond in some issues) but there is no doubt that it is the values I hold that determine how I vote.
And I would dare say that it is probably true for you as well.