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Pastors advocate prayerful voting
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Senior Pastor Tom Smiley discusses the importance of voting in anticipation of Election Day during Sunday morning’s sermon at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

ELNCHURCHaud

Listen to the Rev. Marcus Dixon of St. Paul United Methodist Church on Summit Street in Gainesville talk about voting.

Click here for video: Watch Tom Smiley, senior pastor of Lakewood Baptist Church in North Hall, talk about the importance of Christians making an informed choice on voting day.

General Election Voters Guide

Stories on the 2008 Election

Bow your head well before touching the screen on Tuesday.

Tom Smiley, senior pastor of Lakewood Baptist Church in North Hall, told his congregation Sunday they should carefully contemplate the votes they plan to cast in the election.

That means research and prayer before heading to the voting booth. Smiley also urged his audience to "never compromise Christ-following values for (any) party, person or issue."

Like Smiley, other area pastors say they have refrained from endorsing any particular candidate from the pulpit, but they have encouraged church members to vote.

"For me, I think that voting is a very personal, individual responsibility and each Christ follower should give careful, prayerful deliberation to any candidate, and then vote on how they feel God and their Christian values would lead them," Smiley said in an interview before Sunday’s service.

Nationally, though, some pastors have spoken more boldly in their Sunday morning sermons.

In a Sept. 28 service at a church in Minnesota, the Rev. George Marin took to issue Barack Obama’s abortion-rights stand, exhorting his followers "to reject this man as the next president of the United States."

Such comments fly in the face of Internal Revenue Service rules, which ban nonprofit organizations, including churches, from political endorsements. Churches that cross the line endanger their tax-exempt status.

Area pastors surveyed for this story said they don’t venture into expressing political preferences from behind the pulpit.

"I have my own philosophies, but I don’t choose to fool with it or anything (in sermons)," said Samuel Dale, pastor of Spoken Word Church in Lula.

Smiley said he doesn’t think it’s proper for a spiritual leader "to advise other Christians what to do," he said. "I think it’s the responsibility of the pastor to remind them what their God-given responsibilities are."

Pastors can lead congregants in "how to go about making that decision, how you go about being prayerful, how you go about being investigative," he said.

"Those kinds of helps are always good."

James McLaney, pastor of Fountain of Faith Worship Center in Flowery Branch, said he encourages his members simply "to go vote."

"That is a right that has been given to us and if we don’t, then we are abandoning a right and a privilege that we as a country have," he said.

Christians should take every race seriously, from president to local offices.

"See what they stand for, see what they’re wanting, see what their ideas are," McLaney said.

The Rev. Marcus Dixon of St. Paul United Methodist Church on Summit Street in Gainesville said he also encourages members to vote.

"We’re willing to provide, if necessary, transportation to the polls," he said.

Dixon also instructs members to "make an intelligent choice and not an emotional choice," he said.

"People have the rhetoric that goes forth in support of an individual and (sometimes they don’t) look at really the issues."

The Rev. Emerson Ross, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in South Hall, said he likewise doesn’t endorse candidates from the pulpit. He said he believes, however, it is important to encourage members to vote.

"The gospel of Jesus Christ ...encourages people to get involved in society, to help the world be a better place by the life that they lead and how they treat one another," Ross said.

Believers "do have a responsibility toward the community and the country," he added.

Smiley said Sunday morning that he believes Christians "should be engaged in political processes, and our vote should always sync with the values and the morals that the scripture teaches."

Regardless of who gets elected on Tuesday, though, believers shouldn’t turn to just criticizing those in power.

"Let’s pray for those in authority," he exhorted Lakewood members.

Smiley also reminded them, "God is fully aware of what will happen Tuesday. More than a pundit, more than a pollster, God knows."

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