MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Reed DePace doesn’t preach about politics from the pulpit at his small Presbyterian church in Montgomery. He doesn’t talk publicly about the contentious Senate race brewing in his state.
But DePace, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, said he prayed Friday night that faith wouldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of politics on Election Day.
“I’m scared about the continual abuse of the church, using the church as a source of power, using the church as nothing more than part of the coalition that you use to get elected,” he said. “I understand that’s how politics works… but can we figure out somehow to be gracious and kind and agree to be generous with one another. That’s what scares me the most.”
DePace and some other religious leaders in Alabama say they’re concerned faith is being used for political not religious purposes in the Senate race pitting Republican Roy Moore against Democrat Doug Jones.
Both candidates have talked about their faith with Moore touting his Christianity as the core of his campaign and the basis for his positions on everything from same-sex marriage to abortion and immigration.
Jones hasn’t promoted his Christianity as much, but regularly cites his faith on the campaign trail.
Mixing faith and politics in this Bible Belt state is not unusual, but some religious leaders from pastors to imams worry the role of faith has been heightened in this race – and not necessarily in a good way.
“The big issue between all of us is the way that we appropriate scripture,” said Elizabeth O’Neill, pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Montgomery. “Our challenge is not to use it as a weapon one side or the other… My deep lament is the scripture is being used for political reasons by tapping into the power of that divide.”
On recent Saturday afternoon, a steady stream of worshippers visited the Masjid Qasim Bilal El-Amin mosque in Montgomery. Imam William Abdullah said the Muslim population is growing in the city, which has for the most part welcomed them.
Abdullah said his mosque hasn’t been involved in politics, and he doesn’t think faith should be the focus of the campaigns.
“Islam is a way of life,’’ he said. “It’s not something you just do once a week it should be something you practice every day… If you’re a Christian and you have concepts that you live by, let it be seen. Let it be seen in how you treat people.’’
Abdullah said he is bothered that Moore has said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress. He was less troubled that Moore unsuccessfully tried to keep a Ten Commandments monument at a courthouse.
“If you just live by it, you don’t have to put them up,” Abdullah said.
Abdullah said the focus on faith distracts from other issues.
“All this religious talk just takes away from our real problems, discussing what our real…