Dec. 21, 2004
A UMNS Feature
By Tamie Ross*
was unpredicted, yet predictable, as political strategists and campaign
advisers worked in different ways to get out the vote.
attendance became a better predictor of vote choice than income,
education, union membership, region or gender. But did pulpit directive
affect the turnout of “church voters” – and how they voted? Can that
explain the outcome of the 2004 elections?
likely, said James Matthew Wilson, who teaches political science at
Southern Methodist University in Dallas and is an expert on church-state
think the role of clergy is often overstated,” Wilson said. “Secular
people like to think of religious voters as naïve, unthinking automatons
who are specifically instructed by their pastors on what candidates to
vote for. For the most part, though, voters don’t need specific
political direction from clergy to find the candidates who most closely
align with their values.”
The Rev. Scot Ocke, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Marysville, Ohio, jokingly wishes he had that kind of influence.
said a reaction to a recent sermon he preached on marriage and divorce
illustrated the depth of disagreement over many topics among church
members. Influence, he said, is more a matter of being salt and light
than leading people by the hand.
are very passionate about issues on both sides of the table,” Ocke said
of voters in Ohio, a high-profile state in each presidential election.
They believe “strongly their morals were correct for them.”
A United Methodist pastor in Oregon said he thinks the church affects more voters than it influences.
The Rev. Steve Ross
The Rev. Steve
Ross, pastor of the McMinnville United Methodist Church, said those
outside the church may have been driven further away by what some
perceive to be a “very triumphalistic attitude among the conservative
people talk about taking this country back, that sets this type of
person off,” Ross said. “To them, they’re being told they’re unholy or
ungodly and to go away.”
Ross expects some in his community to become more interested in
religion as a result of the media post-election talk about Christians’
role in the recent vote.
my part of the country, 80 percent of the people are unchurched,” he
said. “They consider themselves spiritual, but they’re highly
individualistic and, at the same time, interested. They might wonder
what religion has to offer, if it obviously can get people together to
Wilson said Oregon provides a good example for anyone looking for answers about the 2004 election and those to come.
viewed as a liberal state, was one of 11 states where the ballot
included a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union
between a man and a woman. The amendment was ratified there – and in all
10 other states.
think the last two presidential campaigns have set a pattern that will
endure for the foreseeable future,” Wilson said. “The issues at the core
of the values debate – abortion, gay marriage, religion in schools –
are not going to go away any time soon.”
Clergy’s role is best limited to presenting voting in the historical context and limiting personal admonitions, he added.
may play a role in helping to emphasize the moral dimension of
politics,” he said, “but that is usually the extent of it.”
*Ross is a freelance journalist based in Dallas.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.