As Republican presidential candidates and political pundits blanket our state before Tuesday's caucuses, some prominent Christian pastors are busy endorsing candidates and organizing religious voters. A few Iowa religious leaders even play the role of kingmaker, anointing candidates as the best choice for Christians. This marriage between the religious right and the Republican Party is nothing new. But in this season it's time to put struggling families and the most vulnerable back at the center of a political debate that has lost its moral compass.
While many Americans are cynical about elections, we are Christians who still believe politics can serve the common good. Our practical experience serving those in need is confirmed by new census data that shows nearly half of all Americans, a record number, are poor or barely scraping by on wages that categorize them as low-income. This is a true moral scandal that will require a substantive response from elected officials. Sadly, some presidential candidates are more focused on pushing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, demonizing immigrants and launching baseless attacks against President Obama's supposed "war on religion."
We invite Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and all of the GOP candidates barnstorming through our state to slow down their campaign buses and listen to people who still believe America should give everyone a fair chance.
While presidential candidates sprinkle their speeches with vague references to values, they devote far more energy to a political gospel filled with soaring praise for the "free market" and thunderous denunciations of "big government." This rarely speaks to the life experiences of most Iowans.
Wall Street greed and corporate abuses reveal the need to temper the market's destructive excesses by building a more humane, moral economy that treats workers with dignity.
Our political dialogue and economic policies ignore those who Jesus described as "the least, the last and the lost." Compassionate conservatism has been replaced with a "you're on your own" libertarianism that mocks Judeo-Christian values of solidarity and the common good that have always inspired our nation to be more than a collection of individuals.
Charity provided by churches and other non-governmental organizations is essential, but as Christians we know charity alone cannot provide opportunity and security for all people. Charity must also work together with the pursuit of justice.
Perhaps in this season of hope and compassion, religious leaders and those who seek the presidency can help rekindle faith in the deeply American proposition that we are all in this together.
Kent Ferris is Director of Social Action and Director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Davenport. Rev. David Sickelka is Senior Pastor at Urbandale United Church of Christ, Urbandale, Iowa.