For many, Election Day choices a matter of faith
When Ellen Lewis casts her ballot at the polls, she votes with her heart, her head and her conscience.
She votes with God in mind, with faith governing her decisions.
“I look at the candidates and the issues to see if they reflect the biblical principles that are important: justice, compassion, integrity, humility, reconciliation,” said Lewis, a Quaker and member of Spokane Friends Church. “Jesus said, ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, you do to me.’ … We have an obligation to vote. We have to consider how our public policy affects everyone in the community.”
Without endorsing candidates or aligning themselves with a particular party, a growing number of people of faith are discussing politics in their churches, temples and synagogues. They’re encouraging one another to take part in the political process by voting and learning as much as possible about the issues this election year.
And, following the teachings of their faith, many are emphasizing the need for social justice.
Instead of sticking to party lines, their votes will be dictated by their concern for the poor, the mentally ill and others who live on the fringes of society. Their decisions will be influenced by the war in Iraq, long lines at area food banks, the availability of health care and the protection of the environment.
“As Christians, we believe we are stewards of God’s creation,” explained Lewis. “We have a responsibility to ask if a particular candidate will work to preserve our earth or if he or she will sell it to the highest bidder.”
Many religious organizations have issued statements and guides on how their members can get involved in the political process. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for instance, has distributed a 36-page pamphlet, “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.” The National Association of Evangelicals recently released “For the Health of the Nation: A Call to Civic Engagement.”
Locally, a number of Eastern Washington voters will participate in “The Faithful Citizen’s Guide to the 2004 Washington State Initiatives and Referenda.” Presented by the Interfaith Council and Catholic Charities, the one-hour workshops will provide people with a historical overview of the initiatives, an explanation of what’s on the ballot and how to analyze the issues from a faith perspective. Their analysis will be based on principles from the Lutheran Public Policy Office, the Washington Association of Churches and the Washington State Catholic Conference.
“Our basic goal is to work for the common good,” said Beth Poteet, education coordinator for the nonprofit Interfaith Council. “Every faith tradition believes in making the community better and helping the vulnerable.”
Despite the official policy of separation of church and state in this country, many say that religion and politics have always been intertwined in American history. That seems especially true during this political season, as the two presidential candidates unabashedly discuss their religious beliefs. President Bush often talks about God and how he gave up drinking after he was born again. Sen. John Kerry, who is Roman Catholic, has frequently been photographed receiving communion. Although he has come under fire for his support of abortion rights, a recent report issued by Senate Democrats showed that he is the senator who most frequently votes in line with the church’s legislative priorities.
And according to a 2000 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 70 percent of voters nationally want their president to be a person of faith.
Religion isn’t something you can set aside, many say. People’s relationship with God doesn’t end when they leave church on Sundays, said the Rev. John Repsold, pastor of Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane. Faith should permeate every aspect of a person’s life, he said.
“Private belief should match public policy,” said Repsold, whose church is part of the evangelical movement. “If what you’re practicing in private is not good enough for the whole public, then that’s moral schizophrenia.”
Repsold doesn’t express his political preferences, he said, but he will tell his congregation to turn to Scripture as they make decisions at the polls.
As rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom, Jack Izakson also won’t endorse candidates. But as the rabbi, he also feels called “to sensitize all who will listen that politics has a profound effect on the human condition,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The mission statement for every Jew is tikun olam, which means to do whatever is possible to help fix the world, he wrote.
“That is not a 9-to-5 job. That’s a 24-7 obligation,” wrote Izakson. “Therefore, not only should the Jew have a connection between one’s Jewish way of life and one’s public life, a Jew’s public life must be one’s Jewish way of life.”
That requires Jews to be aware of the issues, to vote knowledgeably and to get involved in the political process, including informing and influencing elected officials, wrote Izakson.
While some conservative Christians have focused on gay marriage, abortion and other “hot-button” issues during this election season, members of several mainline Christian denominations are being encouraged to look beyond any single issue.
God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, Scott Cooper recently told members of several Catholic parishes in Spokane. Cooper, the diocesan director of Parish Social Ministries for the Spokane Diocese, said the American bishops have promoted a third alternative for Catholics – one that’s generally hopeful, not ideologically bound and looks beyond the current election cycle. “Our teaching is much larger than any platform,” he said.
To vote from a faith perspective, Catholics should not focus on just one issue, but on all the issues and with context. “Vote for the person who will do the most amount of good and the least amount of harm on all the issues,” Cooper said. “Vote for the person who will allow you to do the most good.”
The key, said Poteet, is to engage lawmakers and each other in respectful dialogue to improve society and work for justice. “Our actions have consequences,” she said. “When we vote, we should not just think about me and my pocketbook, but how will this decision affect everyone in my community?”
As a Catholic, Cooper said he is also compelled to consider how his vote will affect everyone within our pluralistic, multicultural society.
“From my faith perspective, I’m always being called to a larger table, to make room for people that I may not want to make room for,” he explained. “Jesus shared bread with the guy who betrayed him and those who abandoned him. You don’t always sit at the table with people who are like you.”