RELIGION IN CAMPAIGNS: HOW TO USE IT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Candidates often find it difficult to navigate the intersection of religion and politics during their campaigns. Many candidates are religious and think that other followers of their denomination should be an easy target for votes. They are often unaware that churches risk losing their tax exempt status by engaging in partisan politics. This is not to say that you shouldn’t court religious voters. You just need to be careful doing so. With that in mind, here are some helpful tips for courting religious voters:
KNOW WHY YOU’RE THERE
Houses of worship are a great place to get volunteers and supporters. They are also a terrible place to seek money, signatures for petitions or endorsements. Many churches, synagogues and mosques will give you a few minutes on the pulpit, but even if they won’t, it’s important to go anyway to show your presence. If you are not personally religious, you can choose denominations that are more in line with your own beliefs whatever they may be, but you shouldn’t skip religious voters.
MIX IT UP
Go to a different church each week, two or three ideally. Don’t ignore your local church, but you will be organizing them outside of services. Go to as many different denominations as possible. Baptist, AME, Catholic, Pentecostal, Coptic, Unitarian, Quaker, Greek Orthodox. Based on the demographics of your district, don’t forget about the Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists. They vote too. Remember that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the most segregated hour of America is during church. If you are white, make sure you go to African-American churches, and vice versa.
KNOW THE RULES
When you go to a new house of worship, there is often etiquette and rules of which you are unaware. Try to be sensitive since the whole point of going is to gain votes and supporters. Jews will make you put on a hat, while Christians will make you take yours off. At white churches showing up late is generally considered unacceptable and may upset people. Showing up at the beginning and leaving partway through tends to be acceptable for candidates. At African-American churches, it is generally acceptable to show up late, even halfway through the service, but God help you if you leave early. Keep this in mind when booking 2 or 3 churches on a Sunday.
USE THE RIGHT LANGUAGE
If you are religious and want to cite scripture in church, go for it. But if you want to use it in your stump speech, be careful to not alienate any voters. George Bush’s speechwriters would interweave Biblical verses into his speeches so that those Christians who knew the Bible word for word would get a different message than those who did not, but it was done very carefully. If you say “Bible,” “passage,” “scripture,” “verse” you risk alienating nonreligious voters. Instead, say “There’s a quote from my favorite book…” Religious Christians will get it, everyone else will just think it’s a nice quote.