As mid-term elections approach, churches, members engaged in raising key issues
Written by Sandy Sorenson
October - November 2006
November 1, 2006

Even a quick glance at the major issues affecting the world could easily cause a case of political and spiritual indigestion.

Where does one begin to address the challenges of global peace and security, sustainable energy, affordable and accessible health care, poverty, environmental stewardship and human rights?

Many UCC members and congregations have decided to face these challenges head-on - beginning with the electoral process - in order to find ways to make their voices heard.

"Our Faith, Our Vote" (OFOV), a project of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, is helping people of faith by giving their values a voice in public policy debates and the decision-making process. By registering new voters, engaging in education, promoting dialogue, getting to the polls and organizing for advocacy with newly-elected officeholders.

"For so long, we have seen a one-sided values debate in the political process," says the Rev. Ron Stief, director of the Justice and Witness Ministries' Washington, D.C., office. "But it is more than a one-sided debate now. More than ever, people are receptive to hearing progressive religious voices speaking about global peace, civil rights, ending poverty and making health care accessible and affordable for all."

In the Nov. 7 midterm election cycle, UCC members and congregations have found important ways to engage their values with the political process, Stief says. They are building on the interest and energy generated during the 2004 election campaign and laying important groundwork for the 2008 presidential campaign.

The UCC's OFOV joined collaboratively with the Rev. Romal Tune and Clergy Strategic Alliances to conduct a series of trainings with African-American congregations in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Detroit. In all, more than 60 churches participated, comprising a diverse denominational spectrum including African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Church of God in Christ, and UCC congregations. The trainings helped participants understand what kinds of activities that churches can and cannot engage in, when participating in the political process.

UCC participants included the Rev. Wendell Anthony of Fellowship Chapel UCC in Detroit, the Rev. James Luckey of Woodcrest UCC in Philadelphia, the Rev. Paul Sadler of Mount Zion UCC in Cleveland, and the Rev. Susan Smith of Columbus, Ohio, among others.

In connection with "Let Justice Roll," a national coalition headed by former UCC President Paul Sherry (see related story on page 8), OFOV is working with UCC members in pivotal states where voters are being asked to provide more-livable economic conditions for hourly-wage workers.

In November, voters in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio will be asked to raise the minimum wage to between $6.15 to $6.85 an hour, well over the current federal law of $5.15. In most states, it appears voters stand ready to approve the measures, thanks in part to religious organizing.

In July, the Rev. Vern Wright and his wife, Kat, from Plymouth UCC in Helena, Mont., launched a new regional organizing effort to support the state's minimum wage initiative: Montana Progressive Clergy Alliance. And Robyn Morrison, one of the UCC's OFOV summer interns and a student at UCC-related Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., helped lay foundations for the effort.

In Missoula, the Rev. Amy Carter and members of Missoula University Congregational UCC, Missoula, Mont., helped to organize an October city-wide rally in support of raising the minimum wage.

The same is true in Ohio where UCC members and congregations have partnered with interfaith and secular groups to support a minimum wage increase. In Michigan, UCC congregations are helping to defeat Proposal 2, the state's anti-affirmative action ballot measure, deceptively-named the "Michigan Civil Rights Initiative."

In St. Louis, Mo., people of diverse faith traditions are coming together to discuss how participation in the political process can forge lasting partnerships across interfaith lines. With the strong involvement of the Rev. Michael Kinammon, a professor at Eden, the "All God's People" interfaith curriculum was launched at a July interfaith event, hosted by the UCC seminary.

The Rev. John Dorhauer, the UCC's Missouri/Mid-South Associate Conference Minister, and Danielle Bartz, a student at UCC-related Eden Theological Seminary, have helped promote and facilitate use of the curriculum.

The "All God's People" coalition also organized a forum for Missouri's candidates running for a U.S. Senate seat.

"Our aim is not to support a party or a candidate, but to get all parties and candidates to pay attention to the issues that impact our people," the group's mission reads. "Our partisanship is on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable and the needy - those often forgotten Americans."

Stief sees a steady increase of progressive faith perspectives in the political process, and he's encouraged. "In passing through a bookstore recently, I noticed no less than five books on the topic of progressive faith and the electoral process," Stief says. "Our UCC congregations are the legs for those ideas."

And the stakes are high, Stief believes.

"We are at a major policy impasse in our political process, with regard to the war in Iraq, global peace and security, the federal budget, health care and many other issues that impact all of our lives," he says. "The November 2006 elections must restore bipartisanship to the public policy process in Washington. We need decision makers who will work for ways around the impasse. We need a higher level of dialogue."

Sandy Sorenson is the UCC's associate for communications and media advocacy in Washington, D.C.

'Do' versus 'Don't'

Be engaged, don't be intimidated.
Talk up issues, not candidates.
Lift values, not political parties.
Hold forums, nix endorsements.
Support voter education and participation, not individual politicians.

For a complete list of what's acceptable, according to IRS guidelines, visit ourfaithourvote.org.

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CONTACT INFO

Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-3801
guessb@ucc.org