Two large blue banners hung in the front of the room of Groff Event Center in Lancaster last week as an audience of around two-dozen listened to speakers talk about the intersection of faith and politics.
The banner on the left said, “Faith, hope and love for common good on election day,” while the one on the right said, “Faith, hope and love…not insurrections and Christian nationalism.”
Vote Common Good, a Minnesota-based group focused on liberal causes, brought its lineup of speakers to Lancaster County to stump for local candidates running on progressive platforms while also hosting training seminars on the identification and confrontation of “Christian nationalism” principles in the church and politics.
Doug Pagitt, a pastor from Minneapolis and executive director of Vote Common Good, said his group has been touring the country since September, going everywhere from Texas and Arkansas to Michigan and Ohio, meeting with candidates and offering the training sessions. The Lancaster event, which featured music and speakers talking about their faith, marked the group’s 27th event of the year.
Pagitt, who founded Vote Common Good after the 2016 election, said the group seeks out “faith voters” in the evangelical tradition to convince them to look past the Republican Party on election day. Pagitt said the group, which has previously worked with other organizations like the anti-Trump Republican group The Lincoln Project, is made up of progressive Christian leaders from Catholic, evangelical and Protestant backgrounds who previously felt that their faith and their political identity were a “package deal.”
“There’s a lot of people who in these last five political cycles have said to themselves, ‘Maybe I need to swap my political identity and maintain my faith identity,’” Pagitt said. “So that’s the work we do.”
Pagitt pointed out the slogan painted on the back of the group’s tour bus, “Wake up, speak up and stand up,” as a message he wants to spread at the events. Some people in the Christian community and in modern politics “like to pick on people for being woke,” Pagitt said, but that can be combatted by walking into the voting booth to cast a vote.
“I know I heard one time that it’s Morning in America,” Pagitt said. “And if it’s morning, it’s time to wake up and get out of bed and not be sleep walking around and not paying attention to what’s going on. So we want to say to people, ‘Yeah, wake up, and then speak up.’ And when it comes time to stand up and when you walk into that voting booth, you’re going to have a choice to make. But then when you leave that voting booth, we’ve got to stop the this-or-that, the separations, the enemies and the villain making. We’ve got to find a way to be We the People.”
Pagitt said he never thought he would have to tour the country to talk to voters about having to “make the common good their criteria on election day.” He also said he didn’t believe he would have to speak out “against insurrections and Christian nationalism,” pointing to the protests in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021.
Vote Common Good does not advocate “removing faith from the public sphere,” Pagitt said, but instead they talk about teaching the difference between “our common law for the common good, and the faith that any of us hold.” He said some elected officials have a hard time separating the concepts of faith and the common good for society.
Pagitt talked about his own representative in Congress, controversial Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) from Minneapolis. He said he’s “proud to vote for Ilhan Omar as a Muslim woman” not because of a shared religious faith but because of a “common commitment to the common good.”
“As a faith leader, I want people to be motivated by their faith,” Pagitt said. “I want people to live out their faith. I want people to be public about their faith. But I don’t want lawmakers only using their faith to make the laws…Everybody gets included, and we don’t allow anyone to use anyone’s faith to exclude anyone from anything.”
Lancaster resident and former Eastern Lancaster County School District superintendent Bob Hollister, who is running against Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R), spoke about his own journey from the Republican Party to run as a Democrat for Congress.
Hollister said when he was a superintendent and there was a “rough day with a kid,” he had a simple rule that “tomorrow’s another day” and to move on from the issue. He said he plans on taking this principle into his race against Smucker in which he faces long-shot odds of winning in a heavily Republican 11th congressional district.
“Win or lose, I’m going to call Mr. Smucker and offer my help to him,” Hollister said. “If I lose, I will suggest ways that he can be a better congressman to serve this area. If I win, I will seek his help in making me a better congressman. Because we have to do that, we have to get back to helping one another. We have to get back to that place where we can agree on six or seven things and disagree on three or four and still have coffee together, still play cards together, still go play golf together, whatever that is.”
Hollister said he was “dumbfounded” when Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, saying he was a “person without a party” and was “adrift.” But it was the Jan. 6 protest and a vote by Smucker against certification of the presidential election that made him leave the party.
This January, Hollister retired as a school superintendent after more than 13 years on the job, campaigning full time for the congressional seat. He said he views the position as not just representing Lancaster and York counties, but it’s also a representation for the entire country.
Hollister also pointed out the “Faith, hope and love” slogans on the banner behind him, saying those words are what can save the country and the world.
“I think this could be the moniker for America,” Hollister said. “This moves mountains – it has moved mountains. It’s brought down walls – faith, hope and love. So that’s the message I think we need to keep.”