AS THE people of the United States prepare to go to the polls, churches are to hold a 48-hour vigil of “intense prayer” from noon on Sunday to noon next Tuesday, the day of the bitterly contested presidential election.
The vigil has been initiated by the Bishop of Massachusetts, the Rt Revd Alan M. Gates; his Bishop Suffragan, the Rt Revd Gayle E. Harris; and the Bishop of Western Massachusetts, the Rt Revd Douglas J. Fisher.
In an open letter, the Bishops write: “We must pray that God be at work in our electoral process. We must pray for a peaceful transition, no matter the outcome of our elections. We must pray that the demonization of one another’s opponents which has characterized this election not be further stoked by its outcome.”
The Bishop and Suffragan Bishop in Connecticut diocese have also commended the vigil. They write: “We all need to repent for the sinfulness in this election season, seeking amendment of life and a return to wholeness with God and with each other as American citizens.”
The Episcopal and Lutheran Bishops of Indiana, in a joint statement, have also called for “fervent prayer”.
In a video message, the Episcopalian Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, has emphasised Americans’ responsibility to vote, “informed by what it means to love your neighbour”.
Religious organisations are barred from explicitly supporting or opposing any candidate or political party by Internal Regulation Service (IRS) regulations. Falling foul of the regulations can result in investigation and a loss of tax-exempt status.
One case, which prompted a two-year investigation by the IRS, was that of the Revd George Regas, a retired priest who was a former Rector of All Saints’, Pasadena, in California. He preached a sermon just before the 2004 presidential election which, the IRS initially said, constituted intervention in the process. He had imagined Jesus telling President George W. Bush that his doctrine of pre-emptive war was wrong, and said that tax cuts sponsored by President Bush “would break Jesus’s heart”.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, the Most Revd Charles Chaput, in a regular newspaper column, has made scathing comments about both candidates in the current election. He quotes a friend who described the choice that Americans had to make as between “a vulgar, boorish lout and disrespecter of women, or a scheming, robotic liar with a lifelong appetite for power and an entourage riddled with anti-Catholic bigots”.
The Presbyterian Church USA, a partner of the Church of Scotland, has called on Scots to pray for peace and a “non-violent transition from one president to the next”. The Moderator of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, the Rt Revd Dr Russell Barr, who is currently in the US, said that he was “quite taken aback” by the mood there, and has backed the call for prayer.