ST. PAUL -- In an age when voters are barraged with information about candidates, a group of liberal-leaning church activists is saying, "Enough."
They believe churches should be a place to discuss issues -- perhaps including politics -- but not a place to distribute partisan political materials.
About a dozen state chapters of the Interfaith Alliance have mailed letters to churches, asking them to reject the voter guides developed by the conservative Christian Coalition.
"Our houses of worship are not to be manipulated by groups who cloak their partisan political agenda in the language of faith," said the Rev. Eldon DeWeerth of Redeemer Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake.
Roberta Combs, executive director of the Christian Coalition, disagrees.
"I think people of faith definitely need to be involved in politics," she said. "They need to exercise their right to vote."
The coalition, founded in 1989 by Pat Robertson, is distributing 70 million voter guides and making about a million get-out-the vote phone calls.
The roughly 2000 local chapters are dedicated to getting whom they call "pro-life" and "pro-family" voters to the polls.
The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the 120,000-member Washington D.C.-based Interfaith Alliance, said religious leaders have the right to educate congregates, but should not distribute materials that direct people to vote for specific candidates.
"To do so is immoral and undermines the integrity of the proper role of religion in politics," Gaddy said.
So what exactly is that role?
Jim Guth, a political science professor at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., said religion has long been a part of the election process.
"At critical points, churches have been full of politics," he said. "It tends to be somewhat cyclical."
Many issues divide churchgoers along political lines such as abortion and gay rights, he said.
"There's a real sense that religion has relevance to politics," he said.
This year, some candidates have taken bolder steps than in recent elections, making highly personal declarations of faith.
GOP Presidential candidate George W. Bush said during a debate that Christ was the political philosopher or thinker with whom he most identified. Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman says people have forgotten that the Constitution promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.
In August, in a speech to a Detroit church, Lieberman called for a greater role for faith in American political life. That led the Anti-Defamation League to warn that emphasizing his religious observance could be "inappropriate and even unsettling in a religiously diverse society such as ours."
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