If you get to talking politics with the Rev. Charles Rush of Christ Church UCC in Summit, N.J., he might tell you that, at least politically speaking, we're in an era of the anti-hero. For example, nobody expects politicians to be role models; everyone expects politicians to have skeletons in their closets.
But in the case of this year's race for U.S. Senate in New Jersey, Rush says that we'd all be doing very well if our kids grew up to be like either of the two candidates: Jon Corzine (D) and Bob Franks (R).
Rush isn't being at all presumptuous by saying that. He is, after all, their pastor.
Two Senate candidates being members of the same church is unusual, to say the least, but Rush says his congregation is handling it well. If nothing else, it has energized the already socially- conscious parish.
Having a member of Congress in the church is nothing new. Bob Franks has already served four consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and has a political career that dates back to the Nixon administration. "But," laughs Rush, "when Bob comes to church, he's not Congressman Franks. Nobody at coffee hour is buttonholing him to get the potholes in front of their house filled. For the most part, he's just Bob. People treat him as the father of a wonderful daughter more than their congressman."
Corzine is just at the beginning of his political career. After a successful stint as the head of a bank, he told Rush that it was time to devote his life to public service. The race for U.S. Senate marks his first political endeavor. Although he has been under attack for his inexperience, Corzine has held up well in the polls and the race has remained close throughout.
The coexistence of political and religious worlds inside the walls of Christ Church has created powerful images in the mind's eye of Rush and his parishioners. Last April, Corzine and Franks were two of many who gathered around the altar to take communion. "That," Rush says, "is certainly what our church aspires to be about. We're all kinds of rivals during the week, yet on Sunday we are somehow able to stand shoulder to shoulder in need of God's grace and redemption."
Although Rush isn't saying who will earn his vote on Nov. 7, the hardest part for him will come on Nov. 8. "I'll have to go send condolences to one of them," he sighs, "and neither one is a loser."
Carol L. Pavlik is a free-lance writer based in Elmhurst, Ill., and the editor of the "Across the UCC" page in United Church News.