Voters whose religious faith shapes and informs their politics have two values competing for their attention in this bruising presidential race.
Will their convictions about seeking justice for the poor and struggling guide them as the campaign comes to an end? Or will their beliefs in being stewards of the resources with which God has provided matter more?
Justice and stewardship are principles running through most major religions. They certainly are central to the Judeo-Christian tradition that underlies so much of our democracy.
In this election, I think the stewardship principle is the most important one. Before I explain why, let me lay out the issues.
President Barack Obama argues that the rich are getting ahead while the poor and middle class are not. There is plenty of evidence that we have a disturbing gap between the wealthy and everyone else. Not only do societies run into big trouble with such divisions, a question of justice is in play.
Is our society fair when income differences are disturbingly large? The Census Bureau reported last week that income inequality grew in 20 states from 2010 to 2011. And since 1967, Governing Magazine says, income inequality has grown 18 percent across the nation.
Obama has some pretty strong words about the rich. And he would tax the wealthy to pay for his ideas about using government to even things out.
Challenging those at the top of the income pyramid is a classic approach to thinking about social justice. Even in the Bible, there is strong talk about the rich, even harsh indictments. For example, James writes: "Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?" But stewardship of the world in which we live runs strongly through various Scriptures, too. In Luke, for instance, we read parables about the importance of faithful stewardship and not squandering the possessions to which we've been entrusted.
Unfortunately, there's plenty of evidence to suggest Americans aren't being good stewards -- especially not for those generations coming behind us.
The most damning evidence is the $16 trillion federal debt. It's growing so fast that the national debt clock adds about $2.5 million each minute. And get this: The amount that each American owes is now $90,000.
Those trend lines aren't going in the right direction by any means. That's why many business and political leaders are speaking out.
Former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles are heading the Campaign to Fix the Debt. The effort is trying to get the presidential candidates and Capitol Hill to start talking about their plans to deal with this coming storm.
So if you take faith seriously, what are you to do? Go down the social justice route, which tends to focus on using government to create a more equal society? Or join the stewardship movement, which in this case means reining in government so it doesn't undermine the future? This is a judgment call, as all matters of faith and politics should be. But to me, the stewardship movement seems more compelling. And, I would add, it also is about justice.
Unless the nation -- and that includes us taxpayers and the voting public -- does something soon about this beast, it will dwarf most other factors at play in our society.
We certainly will risk our economy if we don't control this through a combination of spending reductions and tax changes. An uncontrolled debt will mean higher interest rates and a rising cost of living. It will slow the growth of wages. And it will place a heavy tax on future generations who must pay it off.
That last element is where I think stewardship and justice meet. How can it be just for us to transfer so much debt onto our offspring and their offspring? Many other injustices undoubtedly exist in our world, including the gap between rich and poor. But the injustice we're doing to other generations is the one that haunts me.
McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS