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Asking the Clergy: How can faith communities support democracy?

From left, the Rev. William F. Brisotti of

From left, the Rev. William F. Brisotti of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church, Rabbi Art Vernon of Congregation Shaaray Shalom, and the Rev. Kevin O'Hara of Lutheran Church of Our Savior. Credit: Anthony Cacioppo; Jeff Bachner; Kevin O'Hara

A month from now, Long Islanders will be helping to choose the next president of the United States and other national and local leaders at a crucial time in American history. Indeed, Election Day, Nov. 3, will be unlike any other in recent memory, taking place in a climate of political divisiveness and with a deadly pandemic affecting how, when and where voters cast their ballots. This week’s clergy discuss why it is important for people of faith to participate in the electoral process.

The Rev. William F. Brisotti

Retired Pastor, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church, Wyandanch

The Gospels teach civic responsibility for the common good, rooted in the dignity and equality of every human person, each of us being, according to our faith, in the image of God. The Gospels show a special concern for victims of social abuse, for example, in the parable of The Good Samaritan.

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus taught that a faithful person is to be a light for the world, salt for the earth, seeking and helping all to find wisdom, meaning, compassion, influencing the humanization of history by love, mercy and service. As St. Paul wrote, "Overcome evil by doing good." (Romans 12:21)

We need to learn, to come to understand wisely the issues of our time, neither indifferent nor blindly reactionary to them, always conscious that issues are embodied in people, from the promise of the unborn child to the enduring legacy of the frail elderly. Christianity promotes democracy through universal access to education, combating ignorance and developing the unique talents of each person with the insight that such gifts are not just for personal benefit, but for the common good. We participate conscientiously in civil, secular society, enlightened by our faith, through voting for civic leaders. Then in solidarity with people of other traditions, we help ensure that democracy works for all, beginning with the most vulnerable.

Rabbi Art Vernon

Congregation Shaaray Shalom, West Hempstead

Religious institutions in America are supposed to be value-oriented in their messaging to their congregants. They are not supposed to support particular candidates for office. However, all citizens have a vested interested in the continued success of our democracy, and synagogues embrace that as well.

Most of us regard government as a positive institution in our society. Almost every synagogue offers a prayer on the Sabbath for the welfare of the government and its elected officials. We pray that they govern with wisdom and pursue justice for all. Our rabbis speak at public civic occasions offering messages of amity and hope.

Before each election, I preach about the most important issues, but without endorsing a particular political party or candidates. We do welcome elected officials to speak to our congregants about current issues, and we invite them to offer greetings at many of our cultural events. Jews have been part of American society and culture since 1654. We recognize the uniqueness of America in advancing religious liberty, and we work, alongside others of good faith, to maintain a society that treats all citizens equitably under the law without regard to religious beliefs, practices or affiliation.

The Rev. Kevin O’Hara

Pastor, Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Patchogue

Most places of worship are varying shades of purple — a mixture of conservative and liberal members. This is to our benefit. When congregations become solely one persuasion, it’s easy to become dismissive of the other side. A few years ago, articles abounded around civility during Thanksgiving dinner; the repeated advice: Avoid politics altogether.

But like faith, politics is everywhere. Our choices of where to spend our money, who in our community gets our attention, and even our common assumptions all point to political expressions in some regard.

Places of worship need not avoid politics but should rather be places where people can learn to listen and disagree without severing all ties. Unlike our "cancel culture" today, churches can help craft conversation about politics through displaying open hearts and minds. We can hear the good and negative qualities in others’ arguments without dismissing outright, paving the way for the ideal political compromise. Indeed, there is more that unites us.

Congregations have this wonderful diversity already, so why not use it to help heal our divided community?

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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