Extended discussions on religion and politics are like oil and water. They just don’t mix. When these talks ensue, there are no winners. Prolonging the expressing of opinions does not produce favorable results.
Disguising the opinions as “separation of church and state” at best alienates most people, and at worst spreads wrong and misleading information to those who have not studied this constitutional concept.
It goes without saying, but we will say it: Legal scholars and the courts are still grappling with religion and politics. Suffice it to say that regular discussions can become heated and unproductive unless the parties involved are civil and agree to disagree.
The U.S Supreme Court has acknowledged that the total separation of church and state is not truly possible. The government adopts a “benevolent neutrality” toward religion that does not promote nor inhibit it. It is something of a reasonable accommodation; hence the tax-exempt status that is afforded religious organizations.
A great deal of the talk has centered around the fact that the voters of Gadsden have duly elected several pastors to public office. Two pastors are elected to the City Council. A pastor was re-elected to the school board. A pastor was elected as county commissioner. There may be others that we are not aware of.
All of those who serve as pastors won their races outright. People who voted deemed them to be best qualified for the position they sought.
I hasten to say that just because you are good at one thing does not mean that you are good at another thing, or everything. This is true for any profession or “calling.” All men are created equal, but all talents, gifts and skills are not.
Those who venture into the world of politics may determine that they are unable to stomach the kind of wheeling and dealing that goes on. They may decide that the arrows of unhappy citizens come too hard, too often.
Then again, they may see an opportunity to restore civility, and to do the right thing on behalf of all of the people, no matter what others may think.
Sometimes it takes the courage to leave your comfort zone if you want to make a difference and you are committed to doing so.
The Rev. Randy B. Kelley was recently elected chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. Rev. The Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia was elected to the U.S. Senate, and is now being challenged in his efforts to help Democrats keep their Senate majority by another African American candidate.
Bishop William J. Barber II is president of the Poor Peoples Campaign. Despite a crippling physical condition, he and others are leading an effort, “If We Ever Needed to Vote for Democracy and Justice, We Sure Need to Vote Now.” They are pushing for people to mobilize around issues, not personalities.
There is a call that has been issued for moral review in 15 states, including Alabama, for voter outreach. The millions of disaffected voters are being told in order to “change policies it means that you have to get involved in the political process.”
Ministers and lawyers have been at the forefront of change for all people in this country for a very long time. Since the days of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the honorable Thurgood Marshall and the honorable Margaret Bush Wilson, the numbers of prominent people in public service have dwindled.
What if any of the people named had bowed to naysayers and loud vocal critics. Restrictive covenants (attached to housing and land) would still be enforceable. Education would still be separate and unequal. (There is more that can be said on the subject of education in the modern day). Poll taxes and other restrictions on the right to vote would be worse than the new restrictions that are being pushed across the country.
Perhaps the duly elected to public office ministers will use the power of the people to effect positive change for all of the people. They will remember to treat others as they want to be treated. They will not forget the oppressed and the continuous fight for fairness and justice, no matter who needs it.
Pastors, like judges, are human and have the same emotions and feelings as every other person. They are not super beings, and sometimes need a word just as you and I do.
The standard they should be held to in public office is the same as others: Do the right thing on behalf of the people with honesty, truth, integrity and openness, no matter what the naysayers continue to crow about.
I have often said that some things have to be said no matter who says them. Pastor Sam Hayes of First United Methodist preached a sermon a few weeks ago: “It Matters Who Says It.” With the election of these ministers, I no longer say that.
It really does matter who speaks, and what they have to say.
Elaine Harris Spearman, Esq., a Gadsden native, is an attorney and is the retired legal advisor to the comptroller of the City of St. Louis. The views reflected are her own.