One theme which seems to emerge over and over again while covering spirituality, faith, and worship is the relationship these have to politics. America was founded on the idea of the separation of church and state, a principle many faith leaders, in Santa Barbara at least, believe in. However, in a democratic system each member of the community will vote their values - and so faith may have a more important place in political life than many are willing to admit.
It was to address some of these issues that Congresswoman Lois Capps invited members of the Santa Barbara Clergy Association to join her in Washington, D.C. in October. During what she called Faith Leaders Day, Capps met with about 22 Santa Barbara clergy in the nation’s capitol, assessing their opinions and taking the opportunity to introduce her constituents to some of her colleagues.
As a follow-up to this trip to Washington, Capps met with the Clergy Association on Wednesday to discuss their reactions to the experience. Several of the group spoke out about their feelings and their concerns, voicing not only their delight at having met Nancy Pelosi, toured the Library of Congress, and seen first-hand how our government functions, but also a sense that there are issues at stake for the country and for Santa Barbara which are not always adequately addressed.
The environment was mentioned over and over again as the most pressing of these concerns. Although one might expect a group of clergy to choose a hot-button topic more directly related to morality or to faith, global warming and climate change were at the forefront of their minds. Earl Ensberg, of the Grace Lutheran Church, responded to meeting with members of Congress by commenting that “seeing all these earnest speeches makes me wonder about the lack of technical support of these problems.”
Although the overall response to the trip was overwhelmingly positive - Rev. Teena Grant said that she “fell in love with democracy again” - that undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the way government handles, or fails to handle, major problems was always present. The Clergy Association seemed to feel that Capps’s having made the time to meet with them and hear their concerns was a major step in the right direction, but the end of their meeting revolved around ideas for how to make changes here and now, without any governmental involvement.
The bottom line seemed to be that although the Clergy Association appreciated Capps’s efforts, and were thrilled to have had the opportunity to be listened to, they feel that it’s time for faith leaders to take a more active role in politics. Supporting individual candidates is against the law, but there’s no reason why the clergy shouldn’t be involved in issues and political change. As Rev. Steve Jacobsen said, the question is “how do you tap into this religious faith and strength so many of us have.”
When the Santa Barbara Clergy Association comes up with the answer to that question, look out. They’re intelligent, active, and focused on improving the world they live in and their faith just makes them more determined.