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The spirit of our values: Helping the vulnerable, the powerless, the poor

Americans need to focus upon their core values, such as freedom and humanity.
Americans need to focus upon their core values, such as freedom and humanity.

While our nation is deeply divided about certain issues, including gay marriage, immigration, and universal healthcare, the good news is Americans are united when it comes to many core values.

Those are the some of the findings from a series of nationally representative surveys of approximately 500 Americans, conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) at three times over the past year.

Oddly enough, a pastor at a Charleston church service recently gave a sermon on responsibility to community and country. However, he said, before we can show responsibility we must put aside our difference on the smaller things and focus on our shared common goal. The sermon reminded me of these surveys.

The surveys, funded by ISR and by the Carnegie Foundation, were conducted as part of the monthly U-M/Thomson Reuters Surveys of Consumers in June and December 2009, and in March 2010. A fourth survey will be conducted in September.

"More than 90 percent of those surveyed agreed that all people deserve equal opportunities in life," says sociologist Wayne Baker, the project's principal investigator. "Just about everyone also agreed that respect for people from different racial and ethnic groups, and for people of different faiths, is also important to them."

In fact, these values are so widely held that they can be said to be American universals, according to Baker, who is a faculty associate at ISR and a professor at the U-M Ross School of Business.

Baker discusses the survey findings in his daily blog on American values and ethics.

Almost 60 percent of Americans polled in March said they support U.S. policies simply because they are the policies of this country. Just under half agreed that U.S. policies are morally correct.

Nine of 10 Americans said that, if they oppose U.S. policies, it's because they want to improve the country. More than three of four Americans said that if they criticize the United States, they do so out of love of country.

While most Americans said they valued freedom, Baker wanted to learn more about just what freedom meant to them, so he asked, "To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of these statements?"

"Freedom is being left alone to do what I want" and "Freedom is being able to express unpopular ideas without fearing for my safety."

Only about a third of Americans agreed that freedom is being left along to do what they want. But over 90 percent of Americans agreed that freedom meant being able to express unpopular ideas without fearing for their safety.

"There was no difference between liberals and conservatives. The vast majority on both sides agreed," Baker said.

Dr. Baker recommends sharing American voices on values that unite and divide us. Peter Wallace, host of the Day1 radio series that, since 1945, has shared mainline Protestant messages. A full story on Day1 is featured in ReadTheSpirit.

Below is a sample of Peter Wallace's own writing about biblical issues from a recent column published at the Day1 website.

Peter opened the column describing how he loves Georgia peaches this time of year, yet he regrets how quickly fruit can spoil. Sometimes people can sour and wither, too, he writes. Drawing from Amos and Psalms, Peter points out that there's a long biblical record of warnings about turning inward and forgetting about the world's most vulnerable people: the powerless, the poor.

In conclusion, he writes:

"This is the heart of God's will for all of us, from our leaders on down: We are to be at work to bring justice to those who are powerless, and to meet the needs of the poor.

"Today in America people are busy arguing about whether freedom of religion in America really means anything, and whether moderate Muslims can create a community center in Manhattan near Ground Zero. People are busy debating whether President Obama really is a Muslim, let alone a U.S. citizen. People are busy getting angry at our do-nothing leaders on both sides of the aisle as we prepare for the fall elections.

"We are so busy looking out for ourselves and our own interests that we too are failing to get busy about God's priorities for the poor.

How far have we fallen from God's calling?"


Spirit/Our Values 
Our Values blog
The full topline report is available here.

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