Religion in the ballot box

WICHITA, Kansas – The IRS forbids non-profit organizations from most campaign activities, and that includes churches. But make no mistake, religion strongly influences many Kansas voters when they head to the polls.

Related| IRS information on charities, churches and politics

Chuck Pawloski is among them. He’s a member of St. Mary Catholic Church in Derby, but there was a time each Sunday in October, when he was prohibited from being on the church’s property.

“Basically, the property line runs from the pole where the sign is on down,” he shows us.

The sidewalk marks a legal boundary, and for Pawloski to distribute his flyers on behalf of Kansans for Life, he must stay on public sidewalks.

“Pro-life is my primary goal,” he says. “I’ve been fighting it since 1973. I spent several hours in jail over the thing, so I think it’s number one with me.”

He’ll tell you it’s his responsibility as a Christian.

Inside the sanctuary at St. Mary, the message on this particular Sunday focuses on the upcoming election, but falls short of endorsing specific candidates.

The homily is framed by a document published by United States Bishops and claims Catholics are not single-issue voters.
But among the issues, some carry more weight in the eyes of the Wichita Diocese.

“Some of those fundamental, moral principles are incredibly significant and of course one of them is the right to life,” Fr. John Lanzrath, Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita says, “because if you don’t, in fact, give a citizen the right to life, no other right has any bearing.”

Voter guides aren’t unique to members of the Catholic Church. In fact, we collected a sample from a variety of faith groups. They address everything from abortion, to gun control, to gay marriage. But, there are also those who take a more subtle approach, saying the teachings alone should be enough to guide voters when they head to the polls.

“It has always been my belief that if there’s anybody that tells you that the answer is this when it comes to God and or politics,” Rev. Jackie Carter with Metropolitan Community Church says, “you probably need to run quicker than you can.”

Carter has spent seven years leading her current church. Her progressive political views aren’t uniform among her entire congregation, something she’s learned to not only accept, but embrace.

“I think that’s beauty of this congregation,” she tells us, “that there’s a Democrat sitting next to a Republican, and they may disagree about the political field, they believe that their God is bigger than that.”

At Pathway Church, they engaged in the political process by hosting a series of voter registration drives. So with that comes the question, is there an expectation based on the teachings of this church that voters vote a certain way?

“No, not at all,” says Executive Pastor Larry Wren.

Wren does say a responsible Christian citizen should take part in the political process. He tells us being a follower of Jesus will shape the way his congregation votes, but he knows that may mean different things to different people.

“If you make a list of ten issues,” he says, “people are going to prioritize those in different orders, and there’s always that. We try not to give a priority list. We say you ought to look at the issues and you ought to make an informed choice.”

On that, most Christians agree. Being informed is issue number one, and only then can faith impact the political process.

“Whatever we decide as political citizens, if we, in fact, do not participate in the political process,” Fr. Lanzrath reminds us, “I do not think we have a right to complain about who is elected.”

Call it the universal election guide, and one that applies to all voters, religious or not.

 

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