As mentioned yesterday, an interfaith coalition called We Believe Ohio is determined to keep gutter politics out of Ohio during the upcoming election cycle by summoning the moral authority of religious leaders and the will of the people to tell the campaigns what they will affirm and what they will condemn.
A hop, skip and a jump across the Ohio River, we’re seeing some sleaze on election day in Kentucky. On election eve Governor Ernie Fletcher suddenly chose to put the Ten Commandments in the state capitol and fly around the state proclaiming himself the values candidate, and at the same time the state GOP and some mysterious outfit that loves Fletcher very much are making automated calls telling voters that Steve Beshear, his likely victorious opponent is a partisan of “the homosexual lobby” and “every homosexual cause.” Message — vote for God or vote for Sodom.
Fletcher is deliberately (and desperately) polarizing voters, and polarization feeds on feeds off of distrust, misunderstanding, and animosity. Simply put, it is spiritually degrading.
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By their deeds shall we know our public servants. That applies not just to how they govern, but to how they run their campaigns. When it comes to electoral politics, the conventional wisdom seems to be that there’s no middle ground between cynicism and naivete, but an interfaith coalition called We Believe Ohio seeks to prove otherwise with a prophetic call for honest, informative, positive political campaigns in the state.
Columbus Dispatch editor Joe Hallett wrote a column yesterday about a discussion he had with We Believe’s Rev. Tim Ahrens which perfectly captures the pessimism that year after year of negative campaigning produces:
Each campaign season, a well-meaning group comes up with a clean-campaign pledge that candidates use to their own advantage or ignore as they unleash hired guns to manipulate voters’ hopes and dreams, frustrations and fears with half-minute television messages.
I called Ahrens the next day and confessed my skepticism, along with my intention to use him as fodder for this column. He understood and, good preacher that he is, said his group would forge ahead against the odds, putting its faith in the underlying goodness of Ohio voters and their elected representatives.
A seasoned observer such as Joe isn’t disposed to believe negative campaigning will go away altogether, but he gave Tim a fair chance to explain the moral significance of We Believe’s work and how it can make a difference,
“What we’re looking for is an avalanche of people saying, ‘We need to do this.’ This affects our kids. Some of the worst TV our kids see is at election time, with these horrible political advertisements about their leaders.”
So many candidates today hawk their Christian credentials while ceding their integrity to paid consultants whose bottom line is winning, no matter what it takes.
“At what point do we give away all the integrity of our lives in order to get something else?” Ahrens said. “When you bear false witness against your neighbor, it says more about you than your neighbor. We really have to deal with the effect these campaigns are having on us as a society.”
We Believe is holding press conferences in Cleveland and Columbus on Thursday to declare Ohio a political Sleaze Free Zone. A petition endorsing this declaration is quickly amassing hundreds of signatures as it begins to circulate through churches, synagogues and mosques across the state, and it will be presented to the state political parties, campaigns, and the board of elections. If it gives candidates the courage to keep their campaigns out of the gutter, it’ll be a resounding success, but an interfaith demand for an end to the sleaze and an embrace of the positive is an important witness regardless of whether it is heeded.
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As I have been traveling around the states organizing religious coalitions to speak out on progressive values and issues in the 2008 election, I have found a tremendous wealth of intellectual clarity and moral passion for this work. Butch Montoya’s letter below that he just sent out to his pastor’s network, H.S. Power and Light ministries in Colorado, is a good example of that. His letter calls all of us in the faith community to speak out against the bigotry in the immigration debate, and was written in response to a very good NYT Editorial that exposes the use of the word “illegal” as code for racism and hatred in this debate. It’s worth reading, and as Butch suggests, praying about as we consider how we can draw on our spiritual traditions to help civilize this debate a little . .
Please take some time to prayerfully read the following New York Times editorial. Prayerfully because I feel it is essential that we understand the true ramifications of the immigration debate which has taken on a dreadful and hateful tone.
As Christians, we follow the values and beliefs that we can substantiate through scripture and Biblical teaching. Yet, it is so easy for us to ignore the teachings of Christ when they do not fit the political or social mold we have created for ourselves.
We proclaim to stand for justice and righteousness, to stand against injustice and against the evils of the day, yet we find it easy and more convenient to allow emotion, hate, racism, and bigotry lead the discussion on immigration.
Rarely do we see pastors stand and deplore the despicable hate and racism that we know our members of our churches feel toward the lowly class of people we call “illegal immigrants.” It is as if we are incapable of ‘leading’ the discussion and proclaiming the truth from the Bible about what our spiritual posture should be about ‘those people the government chooses to harass, detain, and deport.’
It is shameful that we cannot proclaim the justice and righteousness that Christ set as our example. Instead, it seems we choose the easy path to take is to ignore the chants and ravings of our congregations as they yell out their racist and disgusting calls for deportation because these illegal people speak Spanish, want to work, raise a family in a better land, and because our government leaders continue to treat them as criminals.
Yes, we can all tell stories of how our ancestors came over and passed by the hallowed stature of Lady Liberty, with tears in their eyes, with hope in their hearts, and with an expectation that hard work would reward their efforts on behalf of their families.
Yet, we conveniently forget that for a mere $20 dollars, the fee to cross the border at the time, immigration ‘officers’ would look the other way and allow the European immigrant to enter the Land of the Free even if they didn’t have the proper papers or the $20 dollars.
Yes, we forget that many entered our country without documentation and official papers. Yes, we forget that many left the ‘old country’ because they were wanted by the law or had committed crimes against humanity, but still this country opened it arms to them. Our country even gave political amnesty to Nazi missile scientists who joined our country’s efforts to create the perfect war weapon.
Today, because many of the immigrants are the children of the Conquistadors and Native people, and because they still love their culture and their language, and still want to hold on to those cultural values and customs, and to pass those valuable beliefs on to their children, and because these people are Brown, these new immigrants take on a new identity of being ‘illegal and criminal’.
I have raised my voice against the apathy and slow response of the Church against the sin of racism and bigotry, only to be branded as “outspoken, activist, and extremist.” I have only done what the Bible has asked us to do. We have all read Leviticus 19: 33 -34, Deuteronomy 10: 18 – 20, and Proverbs 31:8.
I know that many are quick to point out other scripture, particularly Romans 13: 1 – 5 about submitting to the authorities and conforming to the governing authorities as reason for our strong stand against undocumented immigrants.
If one were to read Deuteronomy 28 about the blessings of obedience and curses for disobedience toward God, it is easy to see what I believe how disobedience has brought about what we can see demonstrated in country today.
I plead with each of you to seek spiritual direction as our country faces serious and divisive issues concerning human rights and justice. As spiritual leaders, we must address the reasons we are seeing a greater manifestation and increase in hate, racism, bigotry, and the liberty so many people feel they have to publicly share their hatred and disregard toward other human beings.
God Bless you,
Fidel “Butch” Montoya
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