As a clergy member, I’m used to talking about “crises of faith,” but I’m going to talk about a different kind of “crisis of faith”: a crisis of faith in our government that goes by the name of “gerrymandering.”
Gerrymandering is the manipulation of voting districts to give a partisan advantage to one party over another. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that the Pennsylvania congressional districts were “clearly, plainly, and palpably” gerrymandered. There are also several cases before the United States Supreme Court on the same issue. We are going to be seeing more and more of this word, in the weeks and months to come.
And let’s be clear, both major parties are guilty of gerrymandering, depending on which party controls a state’s legislature. You might be wondering why a member of the clergy would be talking about “gerrymandering,” but religion has always been concerned about justice and fairness in government, at least when it is doing its job.
I come from the United Methodist Church, and our social principles state, “We hold governments responsible for the protection of the rights of the people to free and fair elections….” And, “The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.”
Just last summer, our Conference of the United Methodist Church passed a resolution condemning gerrymandering and calling for an “independent citizens redistricting commission devoid of political motivation” in Pennsylvania.
And, even more fundamentally, the Bible has many voices calling for those who believe in God to work for justice and fairness. Amos and many of the other prophets in what us Christian’s call the Old Testament, stridently called upon their societies and governments to be fair and just.
Being a “prophetic” voice in society has always been a God-given role for the church, when we have been willing to embrace it. And this is one such time.
We are currently facing a nearly universal crisis of faith in our government. Far too many of our citizens do not vote because they do not think their vote matters. And it does not matter nearly as much as it should, when the system is rigged, when it is gerrymandered. Gerrymandering violates our sense of fundamental fairness and justice.
And sadly, while these court cases may be a good start, they still leave the setting of voting districts in the hands of politicians — the very people who are elected in these districts!
There is legislation in both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature to have the process taken over by an independent commission, as many other states have done. This legislation would be a powerful step in restoring our faith in our government, in restoring the legitimate power of the voters.
Unfortunately, this legislation is being held up in committee by the political leadership of our legislature, even though many of the legislators support it. If you are a person of faith, please consider taking up your God-given duty to be a prophetic voice for justice and fairness in our society. Please consider calling your local legislator to encourage the release of these bills so that they may be voted on, especially calling the office of our local state Sen.Jake Corman, who is the majority leader in the Senate. The phone number for his local office in Bellefonte is 355-0477.
Craig Rose is the pastor at Howard United Methodist Church.