The road signs are blooming in our neck of the woods. Early voting has begun for the primaries which will decide who we vote for in the fall general elections. It’s been an interesting process. For the first time, both of our young adult progeny are informed voters. They are seriously evaluating candidates’ literature. Their interest has spurred my own!
Over the last week, we started collecting campaign flyers as they arrived in the mail instead of just recycling them. So far, we have an impressive stack for almost 40 candidates for county, state and federal offices! Some of the candidates are “repeat offenders” with multiple full-color, glossy paper stock ads. (And some of those candidates are for “green” issues. It’s a little ironic.)
As a pastor, I can’t tell people who to vote for from the pulpit. I can talk about issues. I can point to areas where Scripture has been twisted by individuals claiming that “God says” a certain policy or practice is OK. I can speak to situations where people are being hurt by changes in laws.
It gets a little dicey because well-meaning people can disagree when it comes to politics. I’ve lived through enough church splits that it makes me a little anxious. But I can’t shrink away from talking about issues of morality and integrity. I could cop out with a pious “God looks at the heart” excuse, but I know in my heart of hearts that God is not pleased.
In early fall of 2016, my senior pastor and I were at a clergy meeting for our denomination. The two of us were very concerned about the upcoming presidential election. There were far too many “red flags” in our minds about the campaigns. There were definite issues with how the press was covering campaign events. We raised the question of how to help our congregations think about their votes, how to bring the values of inclusivity, compassion and progressive Christian values to their attention. Several pastors told us, “Oh, I could NEVER mention politics from the pulpit. My people wouldn’t stand for it.”
I remember staring at them in shock and saying, “Um… you mean, you don’t talk about issues that affect people of faith? You don’t talk about caring for the poor? Or educating our children? Or gun violence in schools? Or healthcare for the needy and elderly?”
There was hemming and hawing. The overriding opinion was that clergy “can’t” get involved in these discussions, that it affects a church’s tax status as nonprofits here in the United States.
But they were incorrect.
We can be involved in teaching about issues which impact other people groups than our own, particularly in an insulated, majority-white church. We can speak to concerns which are a part of our values. We can speak up for about policies which hurt the most vulnerable among us. We can host “meet-the-candidate” events as long as we do not endorse any one candidate or party, and make all sure all registered candidates are provided an equal opportunity. We can protest unjust laws and practices of our government. (And yes. I went and read up on the laws regarding the status of non-profits, like churches, and their 501 (c)(3) status. I also sought guidance from my denomination.)
Perhaps that was what changed my willingness to preach it. To point out unloving and un-Christian policies. To look carefully at exactly what those running for an office think and say and do. And to especially get involved at the local level, educating myself about the candidates running for County Council, for the local clerks, sheriff, and judges, and for the state representatives and governor, and for Congress.
Perhaps that is what has changed my willingness to speak up. I actually know who represents me at every level of government. Two years ago, I’m embarrassed to say, I could not. I’ve written emails and letters, made phone calls and spoken to my elected officials. I know I’m late to the party and a dollar short, but my attitudes and actions have changed.
Perhaps that also is what has changed my willingness to show up. On the steps of the Justice Department. At the White House. At the state capital. On the National Mall. At marches and protests. At “meet-the-candidates” events.
And perhaps it is why, as I sit at the bedside of my hospice patients, I am moved to prayer and action as never before. Because, you see, the human toll from government decisions fueled by self-interest groups and lobbyists impacts the most vulnerable in ways our politicians will never see.
I am their pastor.
I am their interfaith clergy.
I am their voice.
And I am no longer silent.
Rev. Deborah Vaughn is a hospice chaplain endorsed by the Alliance of Baptists, and Assistant Minister at Twinbrook Baptist Church in Rockville, MD. She blogs at An Unfinished Symphony and was a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. She is an avid Buckeye fan down to her scarlet-painted toes!
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