October means falling leaves, hard frosts, and a massive infusion of political ads. Those ads are designed to get you to vote one way or another. Election Day is November 4 this year. As the Bishop of the Synod, I encourage you to vote. (Yes, I know that we scheduled First Call Theological Education over Election Day--please vote absentee!). As Christians, we do God's work with our hands. Part of that work involves making decisions about our government. That means voting.
Who gets to vote, and why does it matter? At first it was propertied white men. Then with the emancipation of slaves and the passage of the14th Amendment, freed male slaves could also vote, at least in theory. In the early 20th century women were added to the list, and in the late 20th century it was 18-21 year olds. The laws are one thing, actual practice is something else. For years, African Americans were prevented from voting in a number of states by unfair laws. Then, in 1964 the Voting Rights Act established safeguards to prevent discrimination based on race. In 2013 the Supreme Court overturned the safeguards, opening the way for states to pass laws that make it more difficult to vote.
In 2013, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly passed a resolution encouraging Lutherans to advocate for voting rights, and to work against state and local laws that limit voting rights. Montana voters have a chance to defeat a ballot initiative that would limit voting rights. LR-126 would eliminate same day voter registration, and thereby deprive otherwise eligible voters from exercising their right to vote. Typically the people most affected by this sort of limitation are people living in poverty, and people of color. There have already been lawsuits in Montana challenging counties' voter registration policies, especially rural counties encompassing reservations.
Why do we care? We believe that God created us all, and loves us all equally. We believe that every citizen has the right to vote without barriers, and that when we see barriers to our neighbors, we act. As a church we do not endorse parties or candidates. But we do speak out for justice. LR-126 is a justice issue. To pass it is to disenfranchise some of our neighbors. The Churchwide Assembly resolution urges us to say no. And our Synod benchmark-- "Serve the world, especially the poor and those in need" encourages us to vote the needs of our neighbor.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA