When it comes to political campaigns, what voters need and what they’re given are often very different things. The constant stream of negative ads, dishonesty on the campaign trail, and the outsized influence of big money drown out substantive discussion of the issues that affect us all.
However, faith leaders have a unique ability to offer a positive alternative and a better values debate that emphasizes justice, compassion and the common good. I saw it firsthand last week in Atlanta, Georgia, where clergy from across the state held the Georgia Faith Forum with Governor Nathan Deal (R) and his Democratic challenger, State Senator Jason Carter. Organized by Faith in Public Life and held in the beautiful sanctuary of Trinity Presbyterian Church and produced for broadcast by Atlanta’s WSB-TV, the forum featured 14 diverse faith leaders asking the candidates in-depth questions on issues ranging from healthcare to immigration policy to gun violence to criminal justice reform. These are issues that faith leaders are uniting to address — a values agenda for a new era in faith and politics.
But the first question asked of each candidate delved deeper: “You and your opponent both share the same faith, but you hold very different policy positions; how does your faith, as opposed to your political ideology, shape your views?” From then on, both candidates wove together their values and their policy positions in a way that voters don’t often hear.
I spoke with many clergy members of the Georgia Faith Forum board after the event, and while none agreed with every last thing they heard from the candidates, they remarked at how illuminating and unique the discussion was.
You can watch the Forum in its entirety here, or a brief overview of what it was all about here.
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Candidates will discuss values and issues with diverse Georgia faith leaders
Atlanta, GA – Gov. Nathan Deal and State Senator Jason Carter have both agreed to meet with faith leaders from across Georgia as part of the Georgia Faith Forum, where the candidates will field issues-focused and values-focused questions from clergy members of the Georgia Faith Forum board.
The forum will be live-streamed by WSB-TV Channel 2 and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and aired live by WSB Radio and KISS 104.1FM on October 22 from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. The event will consist of separate, hour-long discussions with Governor Deal and State Senator Carter. Moderators from WSB will facilitate, and the candidates will discuss issues of common concern to the faith community such as gun policy, criminal justice, human trafficking, immigration and the future of our children.
“Trinity Presbyterian is very pleased to host the Georgia Faith Form with Governor Deal and State Senator Carter,” said Rev. Pam Driesell, Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. “We look forward to a substantive dialogue that allows both candidates to talk in depth about their values, faith and policy priorities.”
“The faith community is vitally concerned about many current issues,” said Dr. R. Alan Culpepper, Dean of the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. “So we are grateful that the candidates are willing meet with us to discuss issues and possible avenues of collaboration.”
“Our congregations are hungry for a substantive dialogue that focuses on the common good instead of the usual political talking points,” said Rev. Billy Honor, Senior Pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church in College Park. “The Georgia Faith Forum will provide a conversation that reflects our values.”
“We are pleased to support the 45 diverse leaders of the Georgia Faith Forum board in holding this unique bipartisan forum,” said Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, which is helping to coordinate the event. “I look forward to an event that addresses the issues and priorities that bring the faith community together.”
Further information about the Georgia Faith Forum board can be found here.
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Diverse religious groups unveil plans to engage voters on common-good policies, rather than divisive culture war issues
Washington, DC – Today, leaders from prominent progressive faith organizations announced plans to mobilize voters and hold politicians accountable in this year’s midterm elections. Around the country, clergy and faith-based organizations will launch campaigns, ranging from massive voter registration drives to cross country bus tours.
Ten years ago, so-called “values voters” re-elected George W. Bush by playing to peoples’ fears and highlighting divisive social issues. Since then, progressive faith leaders have been forging new coalitions to disarm these ideological divides, and are using new strategies to amplify their voices and their agenda—an agenda that centers on addressing growing economic inequality, racial discrimination, immigrant rights, voting rights and healthcare.
“We believe that for too long, the so-called ‘Religious Right’ has established themselves as the point of view of people of faith in America,” said Gov. Ted Strickland, president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Methodist minister. “The community of faith is particularly positioned to bring to light what is right in wrong in the politics of our country.”
A recent study from the Brookings Institution found that religious progressives are gaining on religious conservatives and constitute a powerful political force. That force is moving justice for the marginalized and the poor back to the heart of the political debate.
“We need to reexamine our moral compass,” said Rev. Dr. William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays Movement. “The extreme ideology we see is a sign that we need to reexamine our moral compass. We believe this is a resurgence of social concerns in the public square.”
Several speakers announced plans to specifically target drop-off voters in the Rising American Electorate.
“Over the next few months, we will be reaching out to 1 million persons of faith, engaging them people to people, neighbor to neighbor,” said Rev. Alvin Herring, deputy director with PICO National Network, the largest faith-based community-organizing group in the country. “We understand that moving people from disengaged to engaged requires a new understanding of the moral components of voting.”
“Immigration reform was remained stagnant in the House, there still has not been reform to mass incarceration, and it makes no sense that in the richest country in the world, people can’t make a living wage,” said Rev. Gabe Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. “We raise these concerns not just as political issues, but as values issues. In the next few weeks, we are rallying in key states for Latino voters to raise these issues as priorities at the polls.”
For the first time, progressive religious organizations will be using state-of-the-art-technology to engage voters around social justice issues.
“Why faith matters in this election is that we can do all of the innovative, tech things, but in the end it’s all about people connecting with people and building relationships,” said Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. Sister Simone, the organizer of Nuns on the Bus, detailed plans of a new bus tour covering 10 states and 35 cities this fall aimed at combatting big money in politics.
As these campaigns grow in the coming weeks, Faith in Public Life will continue to share the work of these voices and organizations that are engaging and mobilizing people of faith across the country.
A full recording of today’s call can be heard here.
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“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
The tear gas has cleared from the streets of Ferguson, the National Guard has withdrawn, and Michael Brown has been laid to rest. But building true peace will take a long time.
Faith leaders began this process during the protests. Members of Clergy United, a 200-person St. Louis-area interfaith coalition, helped keep demonstrations nonviolent, counseled many outraged young residents, and provided a channel of communication between law enforcement and protesters.
Leaders from the PICO National Network, the Christian Community Development Association, Sojourners and numerous other groups went to Ferguson and helped the community channel heartbreak into constructive action. FPL organized an open letter from more than 300 faith leaders to the town’s police, mayor and citizens. The National African-American Clergy Network coalition released a powerful statement and set up a fund for Brown’s family.
It will take sustained effort and substantive change to achieve true peace. Independent, transparent investigations of both Brown’s killing and Ferguson law enforcement practices are necessary. Residents must become politically empowered to ensure real reform. Congregations must continue to organize disenfranchised residents and heal the wounds of racism. All of that will take a lot of work, but the leadership the faith community has already shown gives me hope.
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DAYTON, OH – Today, Dayton religious leaders responded to Rep. Mike Turner’s shameful criticism of plans to potentially shelter refugee children. As tens of thousands of children flee violence in their home countries, communities like Dayton – which pride themselves on being welcoming – must not turn away these children with callous indifference.
At his press conference this afternoon Rep. Turner claimed that Mayor Whaley does not speak for the community. These and many other Dayton faith leaders disagree:
Rev. Rodney Wallace Kennedy, Lead Pastor, First Baptist Church Dayton:
“Representative Mike Turner and six other elected officials, most from outside Dayton, have declared that Mayor Nan Whaley doesn’t speak for Dayton on the subject of caring for immigrant children. When Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come unto me,’ what did he mean? Care for the children and pass meaningful immigration reform.”
Sister Maria Stacy, SND, Director, Dayton Hispanic Catholic Ministries:
“This is an issue about defenseless children. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, calls us to welcome and protect these children. The violence in these countries calls for a humanitarian response to this crisis, not a closed door.”
Rev. Dr. Perry Henderson, Pastor, Corinthian Baptist Church:
“If sending desperate, vulnerable children back into the arms of murderous gangs and human traffickers isn’t a sin, I don’t know what is. Our faith tells us that we must not turn our back on these children of God.”
Rev. Sherry Gale, Senior Pastor, Grace United Methodist Church:
“We must be welcoming to all of God’s children and do everything in our power to combat this humanitarian crisis on the border. I am proud to stand with Mayor Whaley in supporting the principles laid out in the Welcome Dayton Plan to make Dayton an immigrant-friendly city.”
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