As midterm nears, clergy preach lessons in politics and civics
Across America, faith leaders inserted some final messages about the midterm elections during their worship services this weekend. Some have taken a passionate stand on controversial issues such as immigration and abortion; others have advocated for an easing of the political polarization that is fracturing their communities and their nation.
“God doesn’t have a team,” Rabbi David Wolpe told the politically diverse congregation at his Los Angeles synagogue, Sinai Temple.
“The idea that one party or one faction is the repository of all virtues is stupid and dangerous,” Wolpe added. “God is greater than parties. If we capture some of this spirit, we may be able to begin to heal the deep divisions that beset our nation and our world.”
Less than 80 kilometers away, in the mega-church of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, Pastor Jack Hibbs was eager to take sides in what he calls a “culture war”. He urged his evangelical congregation to oppose an election measure that would enshrine abortion rights in the California Constitution.
“As a pastor and follower of Jesus, I am called to stand up for those who are destined to be crushed, those who have no voice for themselves,” he said. “Let a child be born. We need to tell the government to stop deciding which life is valuable and which is not.”
The measure – Proposal 1 – is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling eliminating the longstanding constitutional right to abortion nationwide. While the ruling did not affect access to abortion in California, Democratic politicians nonetheless sought the additional protection of a constitutional amendment.
Opposition to abortion has also been an election season priority for Mike Breininger, pastor of an evangelical church at Richland Center in southwestern Wisconsin. Breininger is not shy about discussing political issues with his theologically conservative congregation at New House Richland, urging support for candidates who agree that government’s responsibility is to protect religious life and freedom.
“I don’t believe all political candidates are the same — some are more biblically righteous than others,” said Breininger, who often votes Republican.
The clergy did not confine their election messages within the walls of the church. On Saturday, Reverend Alyn Waller, senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia, hosted a Black Bikers Vote rally. Motorcyclists gathered outside the church before driving through town to urge residents to vote.
“We think categorically, if you’re a good citizen, a person of good faith, a good Christian, you vote,” Waller said. “The very nature of black preaching should sound like the Bible is in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”
At a center-left Catholic parish in Hoboken, New Jersey, Reverend Alex Santora urged his parishioners to engage on issues including immigration, abortion and gun control.
“As Catholics, we must always focus on the common good and on what is best for the majority of people,” he said in his homily at the Church of Our Lady of Grace and Saint- Joseph.
“Living in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, I reject all attempts to demonize migrants and immigrants, who have built our country,” Santora added. “We should be magnanimous, non-restrictive and non-Christian.”
A few miles from Hoboken, at the Community Church of New York, the Reverend Peggy Clarke, a Unitarian minister, denounced statements by some Republicans, including Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano.
As a minister with a degree in peace studies, Clarke often asked people to reject impulses toward division. But “there are many times in life and in history where one side is wrong and the evil must end,” she said.
“Using propaganda to convince the public that an election was stolen is wrong,” she added. “It is wrong to prevent teachers from educating students on uncomfortable truths about race in this country.”
“In Tuesday’s election, democracy itself is on the ballot,” she said.
Another New York pastor, the Reverend Jacqui Lewis of the Middle Collegiate Church, also stressed the urgency of the election, saying “matters of life and death lie before us”.
“Jesus was political. The church has always been political,” she said. “The question is what was Jesus’ policy, and what is ours?”
Lewis attacked Christian nationalism, saying its adherents were a threat to LGBTQ people, people of color and women’s right to safe abortion.
“They believe a fake Jesus is coming back to earth to save them, with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, his long blond hair held back by a camouflage headband, his blue eyes lit up with hatred of the marginalized, including his own Jewish people,” Lewis said.
Reverend Ingrid Rasmussen, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, also addressed Christian nationalism and partisan divisions in her sermon on Sunday.
“We need the communion of saints to fill the spaces of our unbelief and our doubts…to weave together a fragmented people and help us see God’s new way,” she preached.
The Reverend Dumas A. Harshaw Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, told his mostly black congregation there was a critical need to vote.
“It is our rightful privilege to engage in the process of creating a better society for all of us,” he said.
A similar message was shared with mostly African-American worshipers at Masjidullah, an Islamic community center in Philadelphia.
“As Muslims, we must be agents of positive change in the world,” Resident Imam Idris Abdul-Zahir told The Associated Press. “Voting for and working with officials who have that interest in mind is tantamount to faith.”
Voting is a priority, but so is unity at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, said senior pastor Jeff Leake, who encouraged his congregation to go to the polls: “We have the freedom to part of the process and to vote. Can I get an “amen” from someone?
He advised worshipers to weigh the character of the candidates – as well as their abilities – when deciding how to vote.
“No matter what happens on Tuesday, we believe God is in control,” Leake said.
Dan Trippie, a Southern Baptist pastor at Restoration Church in Buffalo, New York, urged his young and ethnically diverse congregation to support candidates who may seek common ground on some important issues.
“No candidate or politician will ever achieve perfection in this world,” he said. “We cannot let our idealized visions of society stop us from seeking viable solutions that care for the flourishing of all.”
Members of The Associated Press’ Global Religious Team – Jessie Wardarski, Deepa Bharath, Mariam Fam, Luis Andres Henao and Giovanna Dell’Orto – contributed to this report.
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