GOTV and the pulpit

(L to R) James Lewis, executive director of East St. Louis Board of Elections Commission; Doris Gray Jones, vice president of the Urban League; Terrie Holder, director of New Spirit and the Rev. Johnny Scott, NAACP chapter president and pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Venice.

Some area clergy are becoming less shy about taking a stand on lightning rod issues--abortion and same sex marriage--carefully avoiding blatant endorsements of political candidates.

Without telling parishioners whom they should vote for, Pastor Rick Hufton of Faith Family Church in Swansea, did tell his flock Sunday to vote for pro life and anti-same-sex marriage candidates.

"There, I said," Hufton said.

Forbidden from endorsing candidates lest a church lose its precious tax exempt status, a pastor's message, veiled or not, carries weight.

"I've got Democrats and Republicans, black families and white families in the congregation," Hufton said and has not taken to inviting candidates to face the congregation.

"Talking about issues and voting is not covering new ground for me," Hufton said. "But this is the first time I have been this direct with my message. There's a lot at stake in this election."

The church regularly holds voter registration drives, having recently registered approximately 80 new voters.

While cultural and moral issues will be the focus of a pre-election sermon, the Rev. Fred Winters, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Maryville, is worried about other topical election issues, such as tort reform.

"I believe there are under-the-radar issues that are hard to address," said Winters. "I'm very concerned about doctors leaving Madison County. We need to be informed."

Winters said that even if he were allowed to endorse certain candidates, he wouldn’t. "It's not something I would do," he said.

But he will delve into God's view of marriage and abortion, believing that the church has an obligation to give direction to its people.

"Not merely this is how to vote, but getting people to think what the issues are,” he said. "We definitely have an obligation to protect the church."

Citing the book of Romans, Winters said Christians who don't vote are "disobedient."

The Rev. Johnny Scott, president of the Metro-East NAACP chapter and pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church in Venice, said he doesn’t tell parishioners how they should vote.

“I tell people to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Scott said. “It’s unfair as a civil rights leader to try to persuade people to vote for whom I feel is a good county or state leader or judge.”

But Scott does acknowledge the practice happens in area churches.

“I don’t like it,” Scott said. “I don’t want to be associated with it. It’s an injustice.”

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