Photo Credit: Rev. Jacqueline Brett
There is urgency in the air this fall about voting and democracy. There were folks in line at 7:00 am on the first day of early voting at ERUUF. By 8:00 am the line stretched from the Fellowship Hall, past the front of the CARE Building, around the side, and down into the back parking lot. Some voters brought folding chairs, books, water, and snacks. Others brought just themselves and their phones. All were masked and remained at safe, respectful distances from each other.
When we talk about voting and democracy at ERUUF, people often wonder what’s legal, what’s simply right and good, and where are the proper lines between church and state? The Constitution is written to preserve freedom of religious belief for individuals and organized religion. The first amendment essentially says that the state can’t compel citizens to support a state-sponsored religion. Nor can the government reach into congregations and dictate what can and can’t be preached or taught.
Congregations and denominations are free to take positions on issues, and speak out and advocate for them. We can host non-partisan candidate forums, and we can serve as polling places. These actions, along with the free and open debate about ideas, is essential to a healthy balance of power in our larger society. As non-profits, congregations cannot endorse particular candidates; if they do they risk losing their tax-exempt status. However, and this is important, denominations and leaders of congregations are fully free to exercise their right to free speech to support or critique elected officials, especially on moral grounds.
We are at a point in our public life when politicians have created vicious partisanship to further their own ends, and citizens who don’t think alike about politics have been manipulated into polarization that threatens our democracy’s ability to function. And because some of these issues are so critically important for our whole society, it’s fair for religious leaders to respectfully speak out about issues on moral grounds. To remain silent when speaking up would make a life or death difference, or would affect whether democratic government survives, would be an abdication of the leadership role that’s been entrusted to us.
Morality is not limited to personal behavior. Throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures morality is primarily understood to be about how those with power exercise it—do they use power only for themselves and to further their own gain? Or do they use their power to include everyone, and make sure that everyone has the basic minimums to survive? These are important questions. So when we see elected officials in our own day and time who use their power for their own personal gain, or listen to them push moral agendas that are only good for the wealthiest 1%, we have to speak out.
The Sunday service on October 18 will feature leaders from the larger Unitarian Universalist movement, including our president, the Rev. Susan Frederick Gray, who will deliver the homily. She and others will talk about how we’ve acted on our UU moral values around voting in the past, what UUs are doing today, and most importantly, what we can do to help pull our country back together after November 3, 2020.
The offering on Sunday will go to the UUA’s “UU the Vote” project which supports voter education and non-partisan community organizing. This is an effort to ensure that our liberal religious values are entered into debates about who will be included and served in our common, public life.