Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Divine election

Churches See an Election Role and Spread the Word on Bush (New York Times - August 9, 2004 - by DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK)

ST. LOUIS, Aug. 8 - Susanne Jacobsmeyer, a member of the West County Assembly of God in a St. Louis suburb, voted for George W. Bush four years ago, but mostly out of loyalty as a Republican and not with much passion.

This year, Ms. Jacobsmeyer is a "team leader" in the Bush campaign's effort to turn out conservative Christian voters. "This year I am voting for him as a man of faith," she said over breakfast after an early morning service. "He has proven that he will do what is right, and he will look to God first."

Jan Klarich, her friend and another team leader, agreed. "Don't you feel it is a spiritual battle?" she asked to nods around the table.

The Bush campaign is seeking to rally conservative churches and their members to help turn out sympathetic voters this fall, and West County Assembly of God, a 600-member evangelical congregation in a Republican district of a pivotal swing state, is on the front lines of the effort.

The church's pastor, John A. Wilson, has led a prayer for the president every Sunday for 10 years. His sermons often extol the importance of opposing abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage, and he says he supports Mr. Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq.

Before Missouri voted last week to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the state's Constitution and keep in place a restriction on gambling, the church newsletter endorsed both measures so vigorously that the post office denied the church its usually discounted postal rate for engaging in political activity.

To promote involvement on social issues, Mr. Wilson said, the church has formed a dozen-member "moral action team."

They hold open meetings for parishioners each month. They inform church members about socially conservative electoral issues. They register them to vote at stands outside the sanctuary on designated "voter registration" Sundays. Last week, the "moral action team" even drove church members to the polls, and they plan to do the same for this fall's general election as well. ...

I encourage you to read this whole article. I'm sure it will raise the hackles of many conservatives that have both feet firmly planted in the religious parking lot, as well as liberals with both feet in, well, any direction you can imagine. But these people are doing the right thing. This little Church knows what it means to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. Not only that, they're being relevant in exactly the right way; not with glitzy seeker services, not with psychotherapeutic mnemonics and lifeplans, but simply with applying the very concrete implications of the Gospel to very concrete areas of the very concrete world.

You may have heard the canard of atheists and agnostics that a single pair of hands at work is better than a thousand hands in prayer. (It took me years to discover this line since the former denied its existence completely and the former didn't know whether it existed or not.) But that's a typically reductionist false dichotomoy to make. The two hands are a thousand hands at work. We can only imagine, in our nightmares, what the world would be like if the prayers and virtue of the saints (working from God through them, of course) had not for centuries and millennia been seeping into the earth like salt into meat and water into barren soil. The fist in the air has its deepest and most powerful roots in the knees at prayer on the floor. These evangelicals are actively and boldly laying their faith on the line in very real ways about very controversial ways. I salute them.

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