Just before the midterms, the clergy preach politics and civics classes

By DAVID CRARY and HOLLY MEYER, Associated Press

Faith leaders across America squeezed in some closing messages about the midterm elections during their services this weekend. Some took passionate positions on contentious issues such as immigration and abortion; others advocated a relaxation of the political polarization that is tearing their communities and their nation apart.

“God doesn’t have a team,” Rabbi David Wolpe told the politically mixed congregation at his Sinai Temple synagogue in Los Angeles.

“The notion that a party or faction is the repository of all virtues is silly and dangerous,” Wolpe added. “God is greater than parties. By capturing some of that spirit, perhaps we can begin to heal the deep divisions that beset our nation and our world.”

Less than 50 miles away, at the Calvary Chapel Chino Hills megachurch, Pastor Jack Hibbs was eager to take sides in what he calls a “culture war.” In addition to collecting ballots during Sunday worship, he called on his evangelical congregation to oppose an electoral measure that would enshrine abortion rights in the California constitution, calling it “the death cult proposal.” He told them to be wary of local candidates who endorse them or receive endorsements from groups like Planned Parenthood.

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The measure — Proposition 1 — comes in response to the US Supreme Court’s June decision that abolished the country’s longstanding constitutional right to abortion. While this ruling did not affect access to abortion in California, Democratic politicians did seek the additional protection of a constitutional amendment.

Hibbs said whether or not California would continue to receive God’s grace depended on the fate of this measure: “We must open our mouths to defend the defenseless.”

Also for Mike Breininger, pastor of an evangelical church at Richland Center in Wisconsin, opposing abortion was a priority during the election season. Breininger is not shy about discussing political issues with his theologically conservative congregation at the New House Richland and is urging support for candidates who agree the government’s responsibility is to protect life and religious freedom.

“I don’t think all political candidates are the same — some are more biblically righteous than others,” said Breininger, who often votes Republican.

Clergy did not confine their electoral messages to the church walls. On Saturday, Rev. Alyn Waller, senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia, hosted a Black Bikers Vote Rally. Motorcyclists gathered in front of the church before driving through the city, asking residents to vote.

“We think categorically, if you’re a good citizen, a person of good faith, a good Christian, vote,” Waller said.

At a left-of-center Catholic parish in Hoboken, New Jersey, Rev. Alex Santora exhorted parishioners to take a stand on issues like immigration, abortion and gun control.

“As Catholics, we should always focus on the common good and what is best for the majority of people,” he said in his homily at the Church of Our Lady of Grace & St. Joseph.

“I live in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and I reject all attempts to demonize the migrants and immigrants who built our country,” added Santora. “We should be magnanimous, not restrictive and unchristian.”

A few miles from Hoboken, at the Community Church of New York, Rev. Peggy Clarke, a Unitarian minister, condemned statements by some Republicans, including Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano.

As a minister with a degree in peace studies, Clarke has often asked people to reject impulses for division. But “there are many times in life and history when one side is wrong and the damage done needs to stop,” she said.

“Using propaganda to convince the public that an election was stolen is wrong,” she added. “Preventing teachers from educating students about uncomfortable truths about race in this country is wrong.”

“In Tuesday’s election, democracy itself is on the ballot,” she said.

Another New York pastor, Rev. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church, similarly emphasized the urgency of the election, saying that “matters of life and death lie before us.”

“Jesus was political. The Church has always been political,” she said. “The question is, what was Jesus’ policy and what is ours?”

Lewis attacked Christian nationalism, saying its followers posed a threat to LGBTQ people, people of color and women’s right to safe abortions.

“They believe that a false Jesus is returning to earth to save them, with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, his long blond hair held back by a camo headband, his blue eyes shining with hatred for the marginalized , including his own Jewish people,” Lewis said.

Rev. Ingrid Rasmussen, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, also invoked Christian nationalism and partisan divisions in her sermon on Sunday.

“We need the fellowship of the saints to fill the voids of our unbelief and doubt…to weave together a divided people and help us see God’s new way,” she preached.

In Texas, Robert Jeffress, a prominent pastor of the megachurch, welcomed the confrontation and told his Dallas First Baptist congregation that he advocated the enforcement of “Christian values” in America.

Without specifying his party affiliation, Jeffress urged the audience to “go out and vote against the godless values ​​— the abortion and transgender values ​​— of the godless left.”

Rev. Dumas A. Harshaw Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, told his predominantly black congregation that there was an urgent need to vote.

“It is our rightful privilege to participate in the process of creating a better society for all of us,” he said.

A similar message was shared with predominantly African-American believers at Masjidullah, an Islamic community center in Philadelphia.

“As Muslims, we are meant to be positive changemakers in the world,” resident Imam Idris Abdul-Zahir told The Associated Press. “Voting for and working with officials who have that interest in mind is tantamount to believing.”

Voting is a priority, but so is unity at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, said senior pastor Jeff Leake, who encouraged his congregation to vote: “We have the freedom to be part of the process and to vote. Can I get an “Amen” from someone?”

He advised worshipers to weigh the candidates’ characters—as well as their abilities—when deciding how to vote.

“No matter what happens on Tuesday, we believe God is in control,” Leake said

Dan Trippie, a Southern Baptist pastor at the Restoration Church in Buffalo, New York, has urged his youthful, ethnically diverse congregation to support candidates who may seek middle ground on some important issues.

“No candidate or policy will ever achieve perfection in this world,” he said. “We must not allow our idealized visions of society to prevent us from seeking workable solutions that ensure the prosperity of all people.”

Members of The Associated Press’ Global Religion Team—Jessie Wardarski, Deepa Bharath, Mariam Fam, Luis Andres Henao, and Giovanna Dell’Orto—contributed to this report.

The Associated Press’s religion coverage is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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