This time of the year brings with it some predictable, but attention-grabbing events. Trees in certain regions are transformed into kaleidoscopes of color. Professional baseball reaches a fever pitch as news about the recession temporarily gives way to coverage of America’s traditional pastime. And politicians begin making their annual pilgrimages to African-American churches mining for votes that they need to win elections in November.
Of course, the electioneering is most intense during a presidential election. But every year there are elections in every state on some level. This year two states – Virginia and New Jersey – will elect governors. Since these are the first gubernatorial elections after the last presidential election many observers predict that the outcomes will have tremendous significance as referenda on the leadership and influence of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
It is always quite interesting that so many politicians feel that it is perfectly appropriate to absent themselves from churches throughout the year and then appear in church a few weeks before an election to display their affection for the community of worshippers. One would think that politicians would have sense enough to at least make periodic appearances long before an election. It seems to be both arrogant and dumb to wait until a few weeks before needing people’s votes to show up smiling and begging for support.
But it is even more incredulous to watch churches open their doors and their pulpits to these politicians and welcome them as heroes and heroines regardless of their accomplishments or lack thereof. Granted there are elected officials whose contributions to public policy and whose advocacy are so exemplary that they are legitimate heroes and heroines. Unfortunately, however, they are few and far between. Our political representatives are too often puppets of their financial sponsors and missing in action on major issues. For instance, home foreclosures are increasing and more and more families are becoming homeless. What politician comes to mind when attempting to identify one that has championed the cause of homeowners in distress? If there is a list, it is probably very short.
It is therefore alarming that so many politicians will not only show up where they have not been recently but in many churches they will be given the microphone and allowed to give a campaign speech to the congregation during the worship service. It is important to both remind people to vote and educate church attendees about current political issues. But to turn church pulpits over to political aspirants and subject congregations to political, self serving ranting is a disservice to the worshippers, an undeserved gift to political personalities and a possible threat to the tax-exempt status of a church.
This practice is most prevalent in African-American churches partly due to the fact that churches are an effective way to reach black people. All available research confirms the fact that African-Americans attend Sunday worship more regularly than any other group. But that attendance is motivated by needs that transcend politics. Sunday worshippers deserve to be spared the pain of being force-fed political junk food when they get to church.