Thursday, September 25, 2014

How would Jesus vote? Conservative group guides local churchgoers to the polls

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 3:50 PM

Most everything you need to know about the political beliefs of “We Believe – We Vote” can be found in the graphic at the top of their website. The “T” in “vote” is a Christian cross, right next to an American flag superimposed upon a bald eagle.

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We Believe – We Vote has for the past five years made it their mission to use "biblical and traditional values to make informed voter recommendations to the faith-based community."

WBWV sits down with candidates, asking them to weigh in on issues ranging from the U.N.'s “Agenda 21” to whether “the state should ban licensed therapists from using their clinical judgment to help a minor turn away from unwanted same-sex attraction,” and ends up producing one of the more unusual, more in-depth local voter guides out there, one they’ve encouraged pastors to send their flock flocking to.

This week, We Believe – We Vote published its candidate evaluations. The interesting part isn’t who the group loved more (Hint: Republicans), it’s the details. 

The group is led by Penny Lancaster, a retired Central Valley school teacher who has long been moonlighting as an anti-pornography and anti-casino crusader, though she prefers the phrase “pro-family.” (Her name came up earlier this year when Inlander writer Heidi Groover talked to people at Miss Kitty’s in our East Sprague cover package.)

“It really bothers me when I see how many people don’t vote,” Lancaster says. “And I think a lot of people don’t vote when they don’t know who to vote for.”

Years ago, she says, her reputation as an activist led to friends asking her who to vote for in elections. “I started feeling convicted that I had not done a very good job of reviewing candidates,” she says. That led to her bringing together a group of conservatives of “many different stripes” to interview candidates, debate over their merits and then offer endorsements. Today, its board of 35 people includes 6th District Rep. John Ahern, former city councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin and Dick Erb, the former VP of Operations for the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family.

WBWV specifically targets local churches, including a statement for pastors to put in church bulletins or project on the overhead screen as the election approaches:

“It is our privilege and duty as Christians to vote in the General Election by November 4. As your pastor, I am not endorsing any candidates, but I recommend www.WeBelieveWeVote.com as a website with a number of non-partisan resources available for your review.”

And in previous years, some pastors have done just that. “I’ve heard people say, 'Oh yeah, we have that in our bulletin,'” Lancaster says. “We have over 400 pastors on our email contact list, and 2,000 individuals. We’re hoping to have an impact on the election.”

The website even features a guide discussing what churches can and can’t do politically to avoid the risk of losing their tax-exempt status. (“In fact, you may be surprised at how much influence you can have,” one line of the guide reads.)

“I think our position is that pastors are shepherds of their flocks. … They should give [their parishioners] encouragement to be good citizens to investigate the candidates,” Lancaster says. “They should be connecting what the Bible says about culture and life and death to what’s going on to the culture today.”

That’s where things get tricky: It’s easy for churchgoers to agree on what the Bible says about loving your neighbor, it’s less easy to agree on what it says about, say, the expansion of Spokane’s Urban Growth Area.

The group doesn’t believe in using land-use and zoning laws to restrict development in most cases, but does believe in using it for moral reasons, like squashing casinos and strip clubs. The site justifies that (mostly) pro-private property, free-market stance through a Bible verse in Genesis that simply says, “Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.”

And their gun-rights support is justified through an Old Testament passage from wall-builder Nehemiah: “From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor…”

That socially conservative viewpoint infuses their assessments of even less partisan races. District Court Judge Gregory Tripp gets criticized for being “vague in articulating his view on ‘the law of nature and nature's God' as being the foundation of the rule of law” while WBWV expresses concerns over Supreme Court Justice Debra Stevens endorsement “by GLBT Bar Association of WA.”

Despite the many controversies Spokane Valley Rep. Matt Shea has weathered, the group calls Shea “the incumbent with a good Biblical moral and ethical record; has served the district honorably.” Lancaster elaborates that she has personal knowledge of Shea beyond what’s been reported in the media.

“I know Matt well. I heard the backstories on all of that,” Lancaster says. “I was there when he was going through that divorce.”

Shea, state Rep. Kevin Parker, Sen. Michael Baumgartner, Sen. Brian Dansel and County Treasurer Rob Chase all get the maximum five stars in their ratings. (The Democratic candidates aren’t even listed on the general election handout; Lancaster says it’s because they all got less than three stars.)

Most liberal candidates refused to sit down with WBWV for an interview. Baumgartner's opponent, Rich Cowan, and prosecutor candidate Breean Beggs, however, were exceptions.

“I haven’t turned down anyone who wanted to talk with me so far,” Beggs says. “My father was a minister, and I come from a faith background. My politics are different, [but] I thought it would be an interesting conversation. And it was an interesting conversation.” Beggs' big area of interest, after all, is the one where WBWV has veered away from a traditional social conservative stereotype: The group is a big supporter of criminal justice reform, linking to this website.

A Smart Justice-style system, Lancaster says, “is a better use of taxpayer money. You get people back on the job and taking care of their families.”

Most interesting are the sections of the evaluations listing concerns for even very conservative candidates: Shea “on occasion has lacked tact and patience when working with others,” the group writes, while his opponent “lacks political experience.” Rep. Jeff Holy “supports some level of public sector union authority” and Sheriff’s Ozzie Knezovich’s “‘commanding presence’ may have a tendency to be intimidating.”

Rep. candidate Diana Wilhite gets dinged for having concerns “about ‘fairness’" and being willing to raise taxes in some situations, while her opponent Bob McCaslin, Jr., is criticized for having “limited solutions to problems of government over-reach, unions, and health care.”

You can read the whole thing at the link below:


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