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Thursday, July 01, 2004

Today's Washington Post is reporting that a Democratic operative has forwarded to them a copy of directions the Bush-Cheney campaign has sent to activists in Christian congregations around the country. Isn't it nice that they start reporting the spin attempts starting with a Democrat?

In any case, if what's being reported is accurate, it represents a real acceleration of BC04 to politicize churches.

Quoting from the story:

The instruction sheet circulated by the Bush-Cheney campaign to religious volunteers lists 22 "duties" to be performed by specific dates. By July 31, for example, volunteers are to "send your Church Directory to your State Bush-Cheney '04 Headquarters or give [it] to a BC04 Field Rep" and "Talk to your Pastor about holding a Citizenship Sunday and Voter Registration Drive."

By Aug. 15, they are to "talk to your Church's seniors or 20-30 something group about Bush/Cheney '04" and "recruit 5 more people in your church to volunteer for the Bush Cheney campaign."

By Sept. 17, they are to host at least two campaign-related potluck dinners with church members, and in October they are to "finish calling all Pro-Bush members of your church," "finish distributing Voter Guides in your church" and place notices on church bulletin boards or in Sunday programs "about all Christian citizens needing to vote."

I have to say as a pastor that these instructions make me terribly uncomfortable. The church directory is not exactly confidential information, but I would never allow it to be forwarded to a junk-mail list operator, let alone a political campaign. Parishioners have a right to expect more privacy than that.

Having to fend off a parishioner wanting to hold a "Citizenship Sunday" could put me in a terribly awkward position, particularly if my definition of a politically-neutral event didn't match theirs. Lest you think this is a hypothetical dilemma, I did have up until very recently a Republican committewoman in my congregation, who would have been all over this idea. And lest you think this would be a problem with me only in regards to conservative activism, I wrote a couple of weeks back about being uncomfortable with a similar drive by the United Church of Christ.

I wonder now if they'd gotten wind of the Bush-Cheney program, and decided they needed to offset it with one of their own?

As for organizing groups in the congregation, using the bulletin boards, etc.; it makes me wonder what they think the purpose of the church is. Are we here to develop a spiritual life centered on Jesus Christ, our are we worshiping at the altar of St. George? It smacks of idolatry, and a creepy Maoist/Saddamist cult of personality. Those of you up on your church history will remember that Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Confessing Church movement came out of a crisis involving the question of hanging the Fuhrer's picture beside Jesus' in the German churches. We're not quite there yet, but it's a little too close to that path for my comfort.

Besides, as someone pointed out to me, it looks like the campaign is trying to reach its, ah, "faithful" in these congregations, not sparking conversation that might lead to, ah, "conversion." That in turn leads to two thoughts. One is that they're willing to risk dividing American congregations for the sake of a slim electoral lead. This is not a program that's going to reap huge benefits, but it doesn't have to. All they need is to sway a few people in swing states, particularly in the Big Three this year: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

The other is that that cynical a maneuver probably isn't coming from someone who respects the life of congregations. So not only is the campaign willing to damage churches in search of re-election, but it's not even Christians (or at least good ones) coming up with this strategy.

In any case, I will probably be sending a letter to BC04--and to the UCC--explaining how offensive this is. I won't take the topic up directly with my leaders (they'll need something immediate to see it as a problem), but I damn sure won't let this stuff get off the ground in my congregation.
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