Guest column by Melissa Carpenter
Politics and Faith DO go together, despite what the popular adage might say.
My faith and participation in the democratic process have been strongly entwined for as long as I can remember. I have early memories celebrating the ritual of Fourth of July on the beach with bbq, fireworks, family, and friends from church; learning the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem with a classmate who shared my early faith tradition; walking with my parents to the neighborhood voting booth. Our engagement in the democratic process was important. It helped ensure our right to practice our faith.
As a child I knew that pilgrims came to New England to escape religious persecution. I knew that our country’s Founding Fathers worked hard to create rules that would allow one to speak freely and believe deeply in the faith of one’s heart. In our faith tradition as Christian Scientists, one of two new religions established in the United States, I knew inherently from my family and my teachers that if I wanted to experience the same possibility and access to freedom as my forefathers, we had to participate in the democratic process. Education, voting, writing letters to editors, speaking with legislators, reading the daily newspaper, engaging in public discourse, listening to a variety of sources for information gave my parents and our faith community the tools necessary to defend our rights in the rare occasions when it was questioned or threatened.
Granted as a kid it translated to: be a good neighbor so you can do what you want to do. Treat people how you want to be treated. Participate in your community, work for the common good. If something does not seem right, speak up, seek to understand, assume positive intent, and work with kindness to find a solution.
In middle school, as my parents began exploring a different faith, I saw how working for the common good was expressed through faith on a national arena when the church we attended proclaimed to be welcoming and affirming to gay and lesbian couples. It raised great conflict. But rooted in the faith traditions of that church, members engaged to provide: welcome to all, comfort to those threatened, education, engagement with legislators, voters, but most important the opportunity to build relationship. Not everyone in or out of the church agreed, but because of the relationships developed – church could go on while working through the democratic process.
In college, a favorite faith leader once told me, “God is seen most through relationships with others.” The relationships I built there gave me the tools to look within myself and the strength to consider what I did not know or understand with a curious mind.
Now as an adult, the foundation built by my family, faith leaders, and teachers provide me with a faith life that affirmed often through the democratic process. I have had the opportunity to work for 10 years as a teacher, followed by a brief stint as a union organizer, and now I’m celebrating my one year anniversary working for Gov. Jay Inslee. My curiosity seeks to understand what I do not know. My intrinsic foundation to engage in a dynamic democratic society that is just and kind is fueled by relationships for those that I love, enjoy, and respect.
Melissa Carpenter is the Eastern & Central Washington Regional Representative to Gov. Jay Inslee.
Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk forum on “Faith and the Democratic Process” at 9:30 a.m., March 5 at Stella’s Cafe, 917 W Broadway Ave. Carpenter is a guest panelist.