What matters most on Election Day?
To many Church of Christ members, it’s the nation’s moral fabric.
“Righteousness exalts a nation,” said Don Selvidge, part-time minister of the DeWitt Avenue church in Mattoon, Ill. “Whoever is closest to this standard gets my vote.”
Dean Kelly, minister of the Highland Home, Ala., church, considers the war in Iraq, the price of oil and Social Security important issues.
But when he steps into the voting booth, he puts more weight on protecting the unborn and affirming traditional marriage.
The reason? “These and other moral matters will bring disgrace before God and, ultimately, destruction as a nation,” Kelly said.
As the midterm elections approach, interviews with political scientists and dozens of church members by The Christian Chronicle suggest that a majority of members remain staunchly in the right-wing conservative core.
At the same time, the interviews reveal a high level of political diversity among members, with many saying issues such as war, poverty and social justice should come into play when values are discussed.
“I understand why people vote certain ways and respect that, but I think we need to think more about the bigger picture, not just abortion and gay marriage,” said Drew Battistelli, a 21-year-old praise team singer at the Storefront church in Pineville, La. “Why don’t we consider poverty, health care, abusive people, death penalty, motives of war and other issues?”
Still other members take the approach of David Lipscomb — the late church leader who urged Christians to avoid the political process.
Greg Kendall-Ball, a 27-year-old member of the Highland church in Abilene, Texas, said he has begun to reclaim “the belief that civil government is a corrupt thing and that Christians should seek to influence the world through the church, not power structures like government.”
Keith Brumley, the 40-year-old minister of the Northtown church in Milwaukee, said he likely won’t vote either, but not for a theological reason. Rather, he said, “I no longer care to encourage the rampant corruption of the political process by voting.”
CHURCH MEMBERS INVOLVED IN CAMPAIGNS
In recent times, many church members have become so identified with the Republican Party that some ask — jokingly, in most cases — if one can be both a Christian and a Democrat.
James Johnson, president of Ohio Valley University in Vienna, W.Va., doubles as a speechwriter, fund-raiser and political consultant for candidates. Typically, his clients have been Republicans.
But Johnson said, “I think you can be a Christian and be a Democrat, and I don’t think all Republicans are Christians.”
One of the former speech professor’s clients is Allen McCulloch, New Mexico’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. As part of that campaign, Johnson met recently with Vice President Dick Cheney.
“Church of Christ voters do tend to be ‘values voters,’” the kind seen as right-wing conservatives, Johnson said. “However, we have seen some of the very conservative brethren vote liberal tickets due to family heritage.”
At least one Church of Christ member — Ted Poe, a Republican and member of the Bammel church in Houston — is running for re-election to the U.S. House. Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the University Avenue church in Austin, Texas, is not up for re-election.
In West Texas, Mel Hailey — political science department chairman at Abilene Christian University and a longtime University church elder — is running as a Democrat to fill a state House seat. An ACU administrator, Bob Hunter, is vacating the seat after 20 years. Hunter first won election as a Democrat but later changed his party affiliation.
The anti-abortion group Texas Right for Life endorsed Hailey, and he has made it clear to the National Rifle Association that he owns “a deer rifle, a shotgun and a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.” He does favor limits on certain non-hunting firearms.
An ACU professor or administrator has held the seat since 1978. But will Abilene’s conservative church members support a Democrat, even one with ACU ties?
“Either ACU is going to lose its seat in the Texas Legislature or … a Democrat will again win an election in Abilene,” said Robert Williams, a Hailey friend and political scientist at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. “This oversimplifies the matter, I know, if only because there are a lot of Baptists and Methodists in Abilene.”
Mark Elrod, a political scientist at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., said middle-aged and older church members he knows tend to lean toward the Republican Party. However, those members have voiced “some frustration with the fact that this support has not translated into all of the social legislation that they had hoped for,” Elrod said.
Many of his students, on the other hand, “are frustrated with the war in Iraq and … seem to be much more outspoken against the use of military force to achieve national objections than I have seen in the past,” he said.
Two Harding students — J. Cliff Ganus and Valerie Hendricks — are playing prominent roles in the campaign of Mike Beebe, the Democrat for Arkansas governor.
In Virginia, Glenda Gail “for Rail” Parker, a member of the Falls Church congregation, is an Independent Green candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Parker, 59, said her values affect every decision she makes, but middle-class Americans “can’t continue to send millionaires and lawyers to the Congress and expect them to represent the interests of the rest of us.”
POLITICAL PARTIES, AND CHRISTIAN VALUES
In West Tennessee, William Smith, a 40-year-old former social worker and stay-at-home dad who home-schools his teenagers, is an independent for Congress.
Smith, a member of the Jacks Creek church, said both major parties rely on wedge issues aimed mainly at getting their candidates elected.
When the Republicans tout family values, Smith said, “they’re really waving two major flags — the abortion issue and the homosexuality rights issue. In reality, Congress has little to do with each.”
In Atlanta, Democrat Ernest Holsendolph, a 70-year-old teacher at the West End church, said the House page scandal involving disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley of Florida “raises serious questions whether this Republican administration is truly devoted to Christian values that they profess.”
But Republican Neal Pollard, the 36-year-old minister of the Bear Valley church in Denver, said: “Foley’s behavior is deplorable, but this has the scent of political posturing as the elections loom.”
Nov. 1, 2006