Clergy across Area Mix Religion and Politics, Using Pulpit to Speak out on Election Issues

Article excerpt

NOT SINCE THE Vietnam War have so many Missouri clergy been so fired up by an election.

At worship services today and next weekend, hundreds of clergy will call congregations to consider issues on the November 8 ballot.

In the golden sanctuary of the Islamic Center on West Pine Boulevard, from the white altar of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Florissant, from the carved, stone altars of Christ Church Cathedral and St. Bridget of Erin downtown and under the church steeples and synagogue domes which line I-270 the faithful will be charged to vote their beliefs.

Many clergy are asking their congregations to reject two proposals in particular:

Amendment 7 known as Hancock II, which would limit state taxation, and

Amendment 6, which would allow slot machines on riverboat casinos.

The pulpit push began the first Sunday in October. Hundreds of people including Mormons, Catholics and Episcopalians registered to vote at church.

This weekend and next weekend, church-goers will listen to messages from bishops and other leaders, read church bulletins with election information, and find election flyers under car windshield wipers.

Reminders will be subtle in some synagogues and churches. Clergy may read passages from the Koran, the Torah and the New Testament about avarice and greed, or, about caring for the needy, ill, elderly, children and disabled.

In other houses of worship, pastors will specifically spell out moral objections to the two propositions.

Interfaith clergy groups have objected to both. Friday at the noon service at The Islamic Center of Greater St. Louis, 3843 West Pine, both amendments will be described as contrary to the spirit of the Koran. Some clergy object actively to only one of the two hot-button amendments. Opponents to both issues span conventional liberal/conservative clergy lines.

Clergy have to be careful not to take up partisan politics but to focus on the ethics and morality of issues, said the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker, president of Eden Seminary in Webster Groves. But, act they must, he says. Sunday at 10 a.m. at Ladue Chapel, he will preach about "The Fourth R: Religion and public education" about Christians' responsibility to provide good public education.

" `God so loved the world,' as scripture says, so clergy and members of congregations need to be concerned about the world, cannot ignore the issues of the world," Kniker said.

Many clergy feel an obligation to make their congregations to be sure before going into the voting booth that their votes are consistent with scripture.

"I think it is the role of the clergy to remind people as they work to bring about the Kingdom of God on this earth that there should be education for all, health care, peace - everything that goes into the concept of shalom." said the Rev. Ann Asper Wilson, who is being installed as the pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Belleville Sunday. Illinois clergy have not organized around any Illinois ballot issue. "We always have a right to view the way we live in society through religious life."

Clergy have long used their pulpits to influence community issues.

Ever since the start of the industrial revolution, clergy have been watchdogs. They led reforms of child labor laws, abolition of slavery, civil rights and the rights of the poor and disabled.

Without protests from clergy, the Vietnam War may have continued longer.

"Anyone who thinks religion and politics don't mix doesn't know anything about religion," said the Rev. Jerry Kleba, pastor of St. Bridget of Erin, just northwest of downtown. "Not when religion is about social concerns: health, education, hunger, dignity and human rights. The whole body politic has to address those issues. …