Local Churches and Synagogues Vary In Extent of Role in the Election

Issues associated with religion may decide the outcome of the election in many swing states. Massachusetts isn’t a swing state – Barack Obama is expected to win by a sizable margin – yet religious issues still hold special meaning for many in the Merrimack Valley. “I think your faith impacts your views and your views impact your politics,” said Pastor Jack Heydenreich of Faith Lutheran Church in Andover. The congregation has 750 members and is located less than half of a mile south of Phillips Academy on Main Street. Faith Lutheran does not discuss politics in an official fashion, the Rev. Heydenreich said. New England Bible Church is an independent non-denominational church in Andover. The Rev. Tyler Thompson, who founded New England Bible 26 years ago, said “[The church] emphasize[s] what the scripture emphasizes. To give an example, we believe in traditional marriage, one man, one woman. We are passionate about that because the scripture is passionate about that.” The Rev. Thompson said other issues that are important to his congregation include abortion and fiscal responsibility. “We believe that every person should support themselves, so that would affect how we see welfare,” he said. New England Bible Church teaches its members that as citizens they have the responsibility to vote and participate in government. The church, however, does not endorse candidates. The members of Free Christian Church, another non-denominational church in Andover, feel strongly about abortion and same-sex marriage and environmental defense, said Rev. Jack Daniel, the congregation’s senior pastor. “I don’t want my sermon to be an op-ed page,” said the Rev. Daniel, who would not endorse a candidate from the pulpit because he feels it would be an insult to people’s intelligence. The Rev. Daniel said that in past elections, the church published voters’ guides explaining candidates’ stances on a variety of issues. This year he feels most people know a great deal about the candidates, so the Church has not compiled a guide. Father Francis Mawn is the pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, a Catholic church in Lawrence with services in both English and Spanish. He said that the issues that are most important to most Catholics, including his parishioners, involve respect for human life and the sanctity of marriage. The Boston Diocese’s Priests’ Code of Conduct prohibits priests from advancing any political agendas through the church. Father Mawn said his diocese reminds him regularly not to get involved with politics. Documents he has received from leaders explicitly prohibit the posting of campaign signs anywhere on church grounds. Rabbi Dr. Robert Goldstein, the father of Emma Goldstein ’09 and spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel, a Jewish temple in Andover, said that although he does not endorse a candidate from the pulpit, he believes that it would be fairly easy for members of his congregation to guess which candidate he supports. An article appearing in the Boston globe about a debate between representatives from the Obama and McCain campaigns held last week in a Brookline synagogue listed the security of Israel among important issues for some Jews. Rabbi Goldstein said Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s support of Israel might be slightly stronger than Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s, but many Jewish voters’ more liberal views on social issues would push them toward supporting Obama. Like the Rev. Thompson, Rabbi Goldstein said he does urge everyone in his congregation to vote.