Our Faith, Our Vote, Our Voice: Faithful, Nonpartisan Engagement this Election

By Elizabeth Durant, First Congregational UCC, Portland, Oregon

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As we approach the November election this fall, many of us are disheartened and weighed down by despair. For the first time in 50 years, voters will go to the polls without the protections of the Voting Rights Act. In the news, we read of discriminatory attacks on the democratic process at polling places across our nation.

In our families and neighborhoods, we experience divisive debate and polarizing rhetoric about political candidates and public policies. At times, it seems impossible to have a respectful dialogue about the key issues facing our communities.

Yet we know that church – our s
acred space where we encounter the face of God in one another — is not a “politics-free zone.” Our congregations are precisely the place where we need to model respectful dialogue about political issues and concerns.

traci3Rev. Traci Blackmon, Executive Minister for Justice & Witness Ministries, writes:

“For people of faith, the public arena we know as “politics” represents much more than the partisan politicking we see on the news. It is a means by which we live out the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Scripture reminds us over and over that building right relationship in human community and with God’s creation is an act inseparable from our relationship with God.

So it is important for faith communities to engage in nonpartisan voter education and empowerment programs that help us reflect on our collective life and work to uplift the common good through the political process.”

Our national UCC offers an “Our Faith Our Vote” campaign with resources for enabling us to encourage the civil, respectful, informed dialogue that builds community and a hope-filled vision of the future that includes all people. Here are a few of the resources offered online:

If you are passionate about being involved this election season, consider leading your congregation by becoming an “Our Faith Our Vote” Captain! Captains assist their congregation in activities related to at least one of three areas:

  • Voter Education – Hold issue forums in which church members can talk openly and respectfully about key issues in this election season on the local, state, federal and international levels. Create spaces to encourage people to connect their faith with their hopes for the 2016 election and beyond.
  • Voter Empowerment and Mobilization – Organize nonpartisan get-out-the-vote activities for your congregation and community. Empower members of your community with the information they need to exercise their right to vote.
  • Voter Registration – Make sure your congregation is 100% registered.  (NOTE: If you live in Oregon, you may be automatically registered, but need help designating your party affiliation; visit http://sos.oregon.gov/voting/Pages/motor-voter-faq.aspx to learn more.) Register your church-based or community service clients.  Provide your college-bound students with information on absentee voting or voting in their campus community.

We hope that these resources will enable you to be a role model for respectful dialogue in your congregation, and in your wider community, this election season.

#LoveForOrlando

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We mourn the victims of mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016. As people of faith, we publicly declare our love for LGBTQ people, especially Latinx and Black queer folk. We embrace our Muslim friends, family and neighbors and wish them a Blessed Ramadan. As we pray for peace, we also recommit ourselves to working for a world without violence and oppression.

We acknowledge that this shooting is part of a larger culture of hostility toward transgender, gender nonconforming, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. We reject the use of religion to promote judgment or violence toward LGBTQ people. We disavow rhetoric that seeks to devalue and dehumanize Latinx people. We stand in solidarity with the Muslim community against Islamophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry, and the scapegoating of Islam for this act of violence.

As people of faith, we long for a world where love triumphs over hate and fear. Our faith calls us to seek justice. We commit to working so that all people can flourish and live whole, authentic lives. #LoveForOrlando

Four Crosses: Visiting the Borderlands

By Alice Forsythe, First Congregational UCC, Portland, Oregon

A Samaritan leaving fresh clean water in the Sonoran desert

A Samaritan leaving fresh clean water in the Sonoran desert

I had the privilege of visiting the US/Mexico Borderlands with a small group from our church, First Congregational UCC in Portland.  We were there to experience for ourselves this troubled region and carry the knowledge we gleaned back to our wider church community.

A local humanitarian group that meets at Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, AZ, the Green Valley Samaritans, helped shape our itinerary. They generously host visiting groups such as ours, sharing their duties and hard-earned knowledge, but also asking that we go back home and pass the word about what many of them freely describe as a ‘militarized’ border.

The mission of Green Valley Samaritans is to prevent needless deaths in the Southern Arizona desert, and they go to great lengths to meet this goal.  Many of them travel miles of bumpy, dusty back roads to make water drops in the desert, and check on existing water drops.  The group tries to maintain a good rapport with the Border Patrol, some of whom attend Good Shepherd.

Our first morning we went on a three-mile desert memorial walk, which introduced us to the harshness of the Sonoran Desert.  As we hiked the uneven and graveled path, we were often surrounded by thorny vegetation of all shapes and descriptions—a misstep could prove painful at the very least. We came to four stark gravesites, each marked by a crude, white iron cross and the word ‘descondido’, Spanish for unknown.  It can also be a noun meaning ‘stranger.’  At four different times in 2009, the scattered bones of these four people had been found. The last gravesite bore one additional word, ‘adolescente’, meaning that a teenager, probably no older than fourteen, lie buried there.  The surviving families, will never know their fate, or even where they lie.  This is also likely true for many of the 2700 others that The Samaritans estimate have perished in this desert land over at least the past 15 years.

We made a couple of forays across the actual border into Nogales.  The first occurred the second morning at a Jesuit shelter located within a hundred yards or less of the border crossing.  It’s called El Comedor (Spanish for dining room—type the word into google, and it will present images of handsome dining room furniture.) Jesuit nuns, priests and social workers join with volunteers to provide not just food and basic medical care, but much needed listening and morale boosting, both for those who had been deported and for those still wanting to cross into the U.S.  They attempt to warn the latter of the dangers that they face in the form of the vastly increased Border Patrol and the dangers of this desert land, but many have family in the U.S. and will not be dissuaded.

We were asked to carry our stories back to Portland.  It’s a complicated issue, one that is not well served by the human habit of generalities.   We individually study and research, often sharing with others of our group a link or reference.  At different intervals we plan events for our wider church membership.  We talk with each other about what we saw and felt.

Perhaps it starts with those four solitary crosses surrounded by cactus in one lonely patch of the Sonoran desert, but it can’t end there.

More information: Green Valley Samaritan website