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Follow-up: How Are Religious Leaders Speaking Out About This Election?

How Can a Non-Partisan Community Advocate for Peace?


Like every other leader of a tax-exempt, religious congregation in this country, I am professionally non-partisan. This means that I have agreed not to use my job as an opportunity to advocate either for a particular candidate or party or against any particular candidate or party. This has never gotten in the way of doing what I think is right--until now.

Being non-partisan does not mean that I am required to be apolitical. That’s a good thing because I am very interested in politics and try to stay engaged in both local and national issues and campaigns. I live in a household where political issues are one of our main topics of conversation and I grew up in a family where the same was true.

I do also identify with a particular political party (my Jewish husband and I sometimes joke that the reason we have been able to find so much common ground is that the primary doctrine of both of our families of origin was the Democratic Party platform). But I have never believed that a particular candidate perfectly represents my values and beliefs, so it hasn’t been hard for me to talk about issues without advocating for or against candidates. Until now.

Our congregation does not shy away from talking about political issues. A few years ago, we worked to create a statement expressing our intentions for these conversations. We began by saying: “As a community, we do not pretend that Christian discipleship is an apolitical activity. Instead, we actively seek to develop political views and actions that are informed by our faith.” I’m pretty proud of that statement.

Our community is theologically pretty liberal and we’re located in a city that is predominantly Democratic so there are a lot of Obama bumper stickers in our parking lot on Sunday. But there are all sorts of other folks in the community—people who strongly identify as Republican, people who float around and people who proclaim their selves “Independent”. So in our statement about political conversation in our community, we wrote: “We recognize that we will come to a variety of conclusions about how our faith directs us to speak and act politically.  Not all of us endorse the same policies or candidates or share a political identity and we will do our best to avoid statements that assume political consensus.”

Our commitment to honor political differences and to refrain from endorsing any candidate or party is hugely important to me for a number of reasons. Differences of opinion make any community more interesting. More importantly, there are too few places in our country where people with political differences can talk with each other in thoughtful and respectful ways. And finally, I think a Christian community should stay far away from proclaiming that any particular human being is going to be our savior—we already have someone to fill that role in our lives.

But here’s the problem.

For the last five weeks, our congregation has been focusing on the roots causes of conflict and ways to wage peace. This focus came out of conversations at the end of last year related to mass shootings in our country and the growing threat of terrorism worldwide. We were exhausted by the stories of violence that had dominated the news all year. We decided that we needed to shift our attention to peace—praying for it, celebrating it and finding ways to promote it in our lives, our families, our community and the world.

This focus began in our Outreach Committee (the group that figures out where to direct the thousands of dollars KC give to non-profit organizations each year) and has now spread throughout the congregation. A number of people have pledged to pray for peace daily throughout the Lenten season. We’ve been gathering to pray together three times a week with peace as our central intention. We’ve been talking about peace in worship and in our small groups. It feels like our hearts are united around our shared yearning for peace.

But at the same time that we’ve been lifting up peace in our prayers and conversations, there is a candidate for president of the United States who has increasingly been advocating violence, including violence between his supporters and those who disagree with him. Our focus on peace had nothing to do with this candidate initially—but now, every time we talk about opposing violence, it seems like we’re talking about Donald Trump in particular.

We finally discussed this issue explicitly on Monday night at the last class in our Lenten study of the book, “The Anatomy of Peace”. There were people all various political persuasions in the discussion and every single person agreed that Donald Trump was inciting violence in our country.

“This community has always taken action about the things that we care about,” Wendy said to the rest of the group. “We don’t just talk about things. We can’t just talk about peace—we have to take action.” Everyone in the room agreed.

But what can we do? We fantasized on Monday night about a group of Democrats and Republicans, people from various religious traditions, coming together to pray for peace on Capital Hill. We imagined massive peaceful protests led by people from both parties that proclaim that we can talk together about political differences without insulting, bullying, disparaging or beating each other.

But the fact of the matter is, there is no such movement in this country. Those who protest against Trump often are also advocating for one of his political rivals. And Republicans who are disgusted by Trump have been pretty reticent to call him out and organize against him. In an election year, there is no “neutral ground” from which to speak out against a candidate. Everything is politicized.

So I’m really struggling. I know I am called to speak out against violence—violent behavior and the us-against-them ideology that supports violence. I can—and will—do this as a private citizen. But we’re also yearning to take some action as a congregation. What can we do?


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Frank Turban

Heather I like what you all are doing. One of my problems is that there is a large faction of the U.S. That is sick and tired of our government being in gridlock. The anger in my opinion stems from that and Donald Trump is a person who feels that and acts upon it. I agree that he is no politician and talk very strongly and passionately about what he believes. Other factions have always started protests to disrupt his rallies and that when there are no disruption there is no violence. I believe his constituents are angry and want change and the establishment wants the same old thing. Look at the Supreme Court nominee. I also believe there is no change without pain. This is a concept that I live by. So in my opinion little anger and violence is good for the country. That is what we were founded on. Just my opinion.

Don Link

When I was a new parent, I learned how important it was to criticize my child's behavior, not my child. Not always easy to do, but I believe the difference was striking for both me and my daughter

"Partisan" is defined as "a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause, or person, especially one exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance." I oppose the behaviors of a number of the candidates, along with the behaviors they advocate with their words and policies. This is not partisan; it is a reasoned adherence to my values. I believe we're called by our faith to take a stand for our values.

I'd love to see, and participate in, a "March on Washinton"--one that emphasizes commonly held values. No need to oppose anyone, just their behaviors. Focus on what we're for, e.g, kindness, peace, tolerance, generosity, honesty, hospitality, inclusion, compassion, and more.

We could call it, "The March for What Matters."

Thank you, Heather, for raising this issue.

Mary Lou Hobbs

I am troubled by these times and appreciate your suggestions we talk about being activists. I acutely feel we have a responsibility to take a stand and not allow a man who disrespects so much of what we believe is important about our country.I believe I need to tell my children and grandchildren I stood up to the bully. This will be living what we preach and modeling behavior we feel is right. I am not sure what will help but I don't want to stand by and just talk about how frightening Trump is and ruminate about the reasons anyone could respect him. I will march and carry signs and peacefully protest and feel good about not just being an observer.

judy hoke

First I am so proud to have a Pastor that has empathy,concern and the ability to get us involved in conversation.
I am a BIG believer in separation of church and state. There is and has been a great deal of violence outside of the Trump scenario. To get involved in organizing against this particular brand of violence would be politically motivated.
I would suggest those concerned can write a letter about their feelings to Mr. Trump and the RNC and DNC and make sure they support their candidate and get out the VOTE. Also every person can choose to protest in a manner that does not come under a KC banner.
As far as peace in the world, maybe we need to do it one person at a time by each of us finding an inner peace and letting go of anger and fears. (Yes that's difficult) I think I've learned that the only person I can change is me.
Thanks Heather Its always therapeutic for someone to seek our opinions.
PS Go Hillary (is that political?)

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