Although Christian involvement in partisan politics has gained headlines nationally, other believers are just as active in nonpartisan arenas.
In Joliet, Illinois, a new coalition has embarked on one of the largest voter-registration campaigns of its kind in the nation.
Sponsored by Joliet Area Congregations-based Organized Body (JACOB), the recent training of 100 deputy registrars is the first of a three-part electoral action campaign that also includes voter education and voter turnout. JACOB, formed in 1990 with a handful of pastors, now involves two-dozen member churches in the Joliet area and an estimated 25,000 constituents.
But JACOB is unlike many Christian voter-turnout efforts in the 1990s, which more and more concentrate on targeting prohomosexual or pro-abortion rights candidates for defeat. JACOB's Electoral Action Campaign (EAC), an intensive effort to give a voice to those who have been marginalized in electoral politics, shows that nonpartisan political involvement by Christians is not dead. In an area with stubborn unemployment, growing gang activity, and a large high-school dropout rate, the functionally disenfranchised represent a large portion of the population. JACOB is reaching out to precisely the same type of people Jesus did.
"The EAC is not only about impacting the elections and community issues, but also about people of faith expanding the decision-making table to those who are currently disenfranchised," says JACOB organizer Don Floyd.
"The church as an institution has the values, the people, and the power to bring needed changes in our communities," says Floyd. "It's a concrete way to participate in the Lord's prayer."
JACOB's registrars have a go-anywhere attitude, working in stores, churches, school open houses, and colleges. The intensive yearlong effort to increase voter registration is continuing, with the group hoping to register 3,000 new voters by next March. "We're simply taking our ability and effectiveness at bringing people together and translating that to affect decisions at the polling place," says JACOB president Willie Doss.
"What JACOB is trying to accomplish is very laudable," says Jeff Chamberlain, chairman of the joint Department for History and Political Science at the College of Saint Francis in Joliet. "It's a positive development that lets the community know people are serious about changing things."
The campaign is based on the premise of democracy: better decisions are made when everyone affected has a clear chance to participate in those decisions. For example, JACOB is calling for tax abatements to be tied specifically to the creation of jobs. Currently, the abatements (no property taxes for ten years) are giveaways to businesses and corporations, with no accountability for the creation of jobs. "The problem is that it's not tax-free," Doss says. "Those abated taxes are actually passed on to the homeowners, and there's nothing to show for it."
JACOB already has proven its effectiveness; but the time may be coming for the movement to decide whether to cross the threshold from more nonpartisan activities to the more partisan pursuits of backing candidates or picking sides.
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