Election's reach extends into area churches

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SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - In the Christian church, there may be one Lord and one savior, but there is more than one political opinion.

Although there may be a feeling of deep divisiveness this election season between "Red" and "Blue" Americans, Valley churches remain homes to both ends of the political spectrum. Local pastors said they have enjoyed seeing people of all political persuasions in the pews and, though they might have some strong political beliefs of their own, relish the fact church is one of the few places where one can find both an ardent Kerry or Bush supporter on Sunday.

"We don't want to let that [political divisiveness] tear at the fabric of our fellowship," said Paul Hermansen, pastor of the Mount Si Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Bend.

Hermansen said it is good, though, for Christians to be not only engaged in politics, but prayerful about it. He bases this belief on a chapter in the book Romans in the New Testament, where Paul instructs Christians in Rome to pray about the nation's leaders. He said the Bible instructs Christians to pray for the leaders over them to make the right decisions.

While he gets pressure to speak more about politics, Hermansen said he preaches about the broader issues of freedom and love. He asks his congregation to pray about the end of terrorism, the self government of Iraq and for God to direct elections, but stays away from endorsing a particular candidate or party.

"People can have very strong beliefs and still kneel at the same altar rail," he said. "We recognize our higher relationship in Jesus Christ."

In a big election year, Pastor Jan Bolerjack of the United Methodist Church in Fall City has pointed to scripture regarding what Jesus said about the poor and disenfranchised. As opposed to talking about specific candidates, Bolerjack said she likes to talk about the values of Christ. When it comes to social issues and politics, Bolerjack believes Christians are called to think of the least among men.

"I want our votes to benefit the invisible people [those struggling financially and politically]," Bolerjack said.

While her own views may tilt a little more to the left (she said she is doing anything she can to get Bush out of office next month), Bolerjack said there are some conservative church members in her congregation, although she may not hear much from them about the election. The issue of politics can be a little divisive in an atmosphere where a neighbor of the church keeps having their Kerry signs stolen.

Bolerjack worries that the progressive values Christ preached are being lost to a generation that is fed up with Christian conservatism.

She wants her church to be a place where people can celebrate and grieve about the world, whatever their politics may be, but she is concerned about that environment getting suffocated by political debates that are more about shutting people out than bringing people in.

"Liberals and progressives have left the church," she said.

Charlie Salmon, pastor of The Church on the Ridge in Snoqualmie, said his congregation's political allegiances can be hard to pin down, but he thinks they vary. His nondenominational church, which opened six months ago in the business park of the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood, gets a lot of visitors who have been away from church for awhile but are coming back. These people bring new beliefs and attitudes about church and politics that can be different than the traditional churchgoer's, on the left or right.

When politics has come up, Salmon, like Hermansen, has cited Romans as an instruction to pray for leaders. His advice has been encouraging people to do their civic duty by being informed and voting, but he has stressed that politics is something that is ultimately left up to a higher power.

"God sets up kings and puts down kings," he said.

Salmon stressed that politics will be a second-tier issue in his church. If a member of the church came up to him and asked him whom to vote for, Salmon said he would encourage that person to line up the candidates and see which one best exemplifies the Gospel, but he said he approaches both Bush and Kerry supporters the same way. He said Jesus Christ is really the only person who is going to make a difference in any person's life. He said life's problems, be it marital, financial, political or moral, will remain with mankind no matter who is in office.

"God is not a Republican or a Democrat," Salmon said. "It is not going to be a Republican or a Democrat who is going to change society."

For those wringing their hands on whom to vote for this year, Salmon said the best he can offer is an exhortation to pray and ask God to speak to their conscience.

"God is big enough to talk to people," Salmon said. "I don't have to be a political voice."

Beyond praying and rendering unto Caesar what is his, there may be few specific instructions on how Christians should behave toward the leaders of their countries. On the Sunday after Election Day, whatever the outcome of the polls, Christian pastors said they will continue to talk about the one they gather for, and the issues he had to deal with.

"The only authorities he [Jesus Christ] ever challenged were religious leaders," Hermansen said.

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