Leaders at Gateway Church say their voter registration campaign is a reminder that God’s teachings to pray for leaders can be backed up with civic action.
“Every few years we have a great opportunity here in America and that is that we get to decide who is going to lead our nation. Who are leaders are,” said Pastor Robert Morris, senior pastor at Gateway Church in a “Vote Under God” video. “These elections are so important because the leaders that we elect will determine our future on several very important issues including marriage, life, the national debt and our religious freedoms.”
Gateway Church is based in Southlake but has campuses in Dallas, Frisco, Grand Prairie, north Fort Worth and North Richland Hills. The mega-church has more than 36,000 members.
Morris said about 30 million Christians who don’t vote — enough to sway an election based on recent voting trends.
36,000the estimated number of Gateway Church members
Encouraging more church members to take part in civic duties, such as voting, is one of the main goals of the church’s “Your Vote Under God,” social media campaign. Church leaders said it is a resource that grew out of church members asking for more election information or expressing concerns about the value of their vote in national, state and local elections.
Gateway’s website says it’s important “because the leaders we elect — from the federal to the local level—will influence important issues, including:The right to life.
▪ The institution of marriage.
▪ The national debt.
▪ National security.
▪ Our religious freedoms.
▪ Our next Supreme Court justices.”
‘Been going on forever’
While it’s a violation of federal law for churches to participate in political campaigns, pastors have long encouraged their congregations to vote.
Jim Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at TCU, said in African American and Hispanic communities the church has long been a center point of civic activity, including getting out the message that voting is important.
“Most churches encourage members to vote in elections,” he said. “That’s not unusual and has been going on forever.”
But what is unique is Gateway’s lofty goal of asking for 100 percent voter registration from its members. The goal is described as something to strive for, not a requirement for church members and the church is not keeping track of who registers, said Lawrence Swicegood, director of media relations for Gateway Church.
It reminds church members of key dates, including Monday’s deadline to register to vote in Texas for the March 1 primary.
“We first and foremost endorse no party or candidates,” Swicegood said.
Monday is the last day to register to vote for the March 1 primary election
Swicegood said that like most churches they have members who represent all parties and the entire political spectrum.
“Our desire is not to alienate or even influence a person to a party,” he said.
On Gateway’s website, Morris notes that it’s important to vote because WHY
Voting takes to heart the biblical teaching of praying for leaders, Swicegood said, adding that not voting is not practicing the teaching.
“That’s really not backing up our works with prayer,” Swicegood said.
Hot topic this election season
Religion has been an especially hot topic this presidential primary season.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the son of a conservative preacher and is popular with evangelicals and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump this week gained an endorsement from Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, of the nation’s most prominent evangelical schools.
Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who loves to stir the political pot, recently told an audience at Iowa’s Dordt College: “Although as a pastor I cannot officially endorse a candidate, I want you to know I would not be here this morning if I were not absolutely convinced that Donald Trump would make a great president of the United States.”
In a Pew Research Poll released earlier this week, Americans describe Trump as the least-religious political candidate. But the poll also notes that many Americans who are religious still support Trump.
The presidential election is on Nov. 8
Since 1980, American conservative/evangelical churches have aligned more with Republican candidates than Democratic ones, Riddlesperger said.
“There is not a single Republican candidate who doesn’t come with a strong view of religion and politics,” Riddlesperger said.
This report contains information from the The Washington Post.