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Karl Limvere letter: Political candidates misuse religion to divide Americans

The escalating machinations by political candidates and their organizations seeking to involve churches, their leaders and members, in partisan politics is both a disturbing and a deeply distressing trend in our society today. The use of selectiv...

The escalating machinations by political candidates and their organizations seeking to involve churches, their leaders and members, in partisan politics is both a disturbing and a deeply distressing trend in our society today. The use of selective political "wedge" issues to divide, pander to, reward or motivate various Christian communities is almost becoming an art form. However, it is potentially a very dangerous practice that undermines the integrity of both our democracy and our Christian faith.

Now don't get me wrong. I am an advocate for churches being involved in public policy issues and vigorously defend the right of churches to apply their religious beliefs to the issues affecting our society. However, as a local church pastor, I draw the line when churches are being used for partisan political activities with the objective of advancing a particular candidate or party.

A recent letter to some churches in North Dakota by U.S. Senate candidate Michael G. Liffrig crosses the line by inviting those churches to organize a "Get Out the Vote Committee" from among members who have a predetermined set of highly specific viewpoints. It is a very carefully written, but thinly veiled effort to engage those members, committees, and churches in his campaign.

What I find most disturbing however is the assumption that all members of "the body of Christ" share Liffrig's listing of issues as being the core substance of Christian beliefs upon which we should be basing this year's election decisions. The fact is that the church is not of one mind regarding the very selective and highly emotional issues upon which Liffrig seeks to advance his political career.

There are almost as many differences in understanding within the church universal on those issues as you will find in the political spectrum. In fact, these issues (abortion, homosexuality, etc.) are as much cultural in nature as they are religious. That is why they require very careful ethical, moral and religious study, thought and prayer, and have no place in sound-byte electioneering or demagoguery.

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To use these concerns to advance one's political ambition is simply offensive to the spiritual seriousness in which they must be considered. To engage in these issues without the disciplines of Christian love and grace is not only divisive and destructive to our society, but also invites dehumanizing demonization of individuals and groups.

The core values of our Judeo-Christian heritage are found in the prophetic voices that call us to care for those who are less fortunate (the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the oppressed, etc.) These biblical voices call us to redemption, reconciliation, peace, justice and amazing grace, and to share God's abundance and love with great abandon with everyone, including our enemies. These are the core values upon which I will be making my ballot decisions this year. I would hope that others might do the same.

Limvere is pastor of United Church of Christ, Medina, N.D. E-mail kivimaa@daktel.com

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