Participation in our electoral process is a great privilege and responsibility for all citizens, including people of faith. Increasingly, however, politicians are intruding upon our houses of worship to appeal for our votes. When they do so, they demonstrate that people of faith are little more than a bullet point in their partisan campaign strategy.
Enough is enough. I have joined more than 100 other religious leaders from across our state in sending a clear message to politicians: Keep partisan politics out of our houses of worship and respect the faith of all Texans.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
We call the campaign to protect our churches, synagogues and other houses of worship Respect Our Faith. We mean the faith of all Texans, regardless of denomination, religion or location, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrats or Republicans.
We do not intend houses of worship to be “politics-free” zones. Clergy cannot be silent in political debates. Indeed, we have a responsibility to speak out about moral issues and should encourage the faithful to join in the great public debates of our day. We also aren’t asking politicians to deny the role their own faith plays in guiding their work.
But we must not blur the line between faith and partisan politics. Our houses of worship cannot be used as campaign props, nor our congregations deemed a “political base.” We cannot allow those who disagree to be stigmatized. Religion should not be used to divide communities to win votes.
The Respect Our Faith campaign seeks to end this cynical game. Clergy have the responsibility to provide at least one space in which our people can avoid the exploitation of partisan political consumerism.
We should provide a perspective as free as possible from partisan ideology. We must not allow our churches to be tools of any political party. But we must see to it that our congregants are active citizens informed by a faith that has spiritual, cultural and, yes, political integrity and viability.
I am proud that in 22 years as a pastor, I never gave a politician a platform to share on Sunday morning. Our church worked with other congregations across the political and cultural spectrum and invited those who sought our vote to come and address our people.
Importantly, we invited those who represented all sides of any issue. We held these gatherings in churches, in school auditoriums and in arenas and had the respect of political officials wise enough to participate. But we did not give up our church directories to partisan campaigns nor allow the distribution of partisan campaign literature. We also did not participate in any partisan campaigns.
The Respect Our Faith campaign seeks to elevate these principles in more of our houses of worship. Ultimately, of course, it is up to us as clergy to protect the integrity of our congregations. We do that when we recognize that there is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican theology. There is, however, a justice that we are called to seek that is nonpartisan and a God who is free of our political entanglements.
In short, clergy are called to develop an agenda that serves the interests of all the people who worship in our sanctuaries and live in our communities no matter their party affiliation. We are called to stand beyond the partisan fray, lest we become unwitting mouthpieces for agendas that persecute and divide rather than inspire and unite. We must promote a relationship between the faith community and the political community of mutual respect and accountability, so that we can all be agents of redemption and instruments of grace.
The Rev. Gerald Britt is the former pastor of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />NewMountMoriahMissionaryBaptistChurch in Dallas and currently serves as executive director of Central Dallas Ministries. The campaign’s Web site is www.RespectOurFaith.org.