Dear Senators McCain and Obama:
For our entire lives, America has been polarized by an angry culture war over such divisive issues as abortion and gay rights. It has been a fight marked by sincere passion and principles on the one hand, but also by stridency, vituperation, and lack of respect for the opposing sides’ motives and beliefs on the other.
We write to you from two traditionally warring camps, one evangelical and one progressive, joined in one voice and one vision, to offer an olive branch to end the culture wars. This olive branch is not a surrender, but a new approach that allows each of you to maintain your core principles, just as we have maintained ours, and heal a nation that is tired of the fight. This approach is based on common ground and common values.
In the 35-year fight since Roe v. Wade, it seems there are few common values to be found between our opposing sides. But it turns out that nearly all of us agree on the common value that we should reduce the need for abortions in America.
Supporting that common value is the common ground of dramatically reducing the number of unintended pregnancies in this country that lead to abortions. It means together supporting sex education programs that include accurate information about contraception and the importance of abstinence so that fewer unintended pregnancies occur. It means together supporting programs that teach parents how to communicate better with their children about values and programs that give low-income women greater access to contraception. It means that together we can agree that abortion should never be the only option and that young and poor pregnant women should receive support when they feel they need it to carry their pregnancy to term. The truth is that the most effective way to reduce the prevalence of abortions in America is to actually work together rather than to fight.
Gay and lesbian issues, like abortion, have also been tearing the nation apart. Here again, the differences are real and rooted in theological and philosophical differences. But on these issues too we can find a shared common value and shared path forward. That shared value is human dignity. We can all agree that all human beings are created in God’s image and have and deserve an innate human dignity – even those with whom one differs or disagrees. We can all agree that honoring this human dignity is a high moral and religious calling. And we can agree that any laws we create to expand rights must not abridge the religious liberty of religious communities. Common ground means, for example, that, apart from religious institutions, the workplace should judge you at work for the job you do and nothing more. That would be a careful step along America’s journey to fulfill its national ideals, and also to honor our highest moral and religious beliefs.
Senators McCain and Obama, each of you are running as a different kind of candidate, seeking to bring the nation together rather than to split us apart. Each of you has great potential to model a new type of leadership. Each of you has the power to heal the country and carve a new path forward through our shared common values.
We humbly submit our joint prayer that you, Senators McCain and Obama, help bring a just end to the culture wars.
With great respect,
David Gushee, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University.
Rachel Laser, Culture Program Director, Third Way.