Pastors from 10 U.S. states stood outside polling centers on Tuesday to help keep the peace amid a critical election period.
‘Bringers of Calm’
According to a report by The Blade, the clergy who volunteered for the election day task can be excellent bringers of calm into an otherwise tense activity.
Lutheran pastor Beth Westphal, who hails from Tiffin, positioned herself outside a polling center in Toledo.
“[Clergy] are a naturally calming influence. We’re also natural peacekeepers.”
“Folks see the stole, they see the collar… and it just changes their behavior. People will be more careful with what they say and do, just sort of instinctually,” Westphall told The Blade.
Westphall is among the many pastors who signed up for the task under the Faiths United to Save Democracy (FUSD). The organization is an offshoot of the 2020 elections, during which numerous voter restriction proposals were made.
The pastors who volunteered for the group came from 10 U.S. states and were tasked to serve as Poll Chaplains in the midterm elections.
The news outlet said the pastors kept a considerable distance from the polling centers and voters. The volunteer pastors were tasked with addressing election-related problems and de-escalating tensions should they become apparent.
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FUSD Volunteers’ Election-day Role
Barbara Williams-Skinner, the coordinator of FUSD, explained why their group decided to assist during the midterm polls.
“We knew that greater protection would be needed at polling sites. And faith leaders who do that in their ordinary life work,” she told The Blade.
She added that their aim is not political or partisan but based on theology.
“The three Abrahamic faiths all embrace that people are created in the image of God and have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. You’re not treated with dignity and respect if people are blocking your right to vote,” Williams-Skinner explained.
The report said that poll chaplains like Westphal were trained to maintain calm in case tension arose in polling centers or when voters expressed feeling unsafe.
Amariah McIntosh, the pastor of Phillips Temple CME Church, gave one example where they, as poll chaplains, could keep everything peaceful outside polling areas.
McIntosh said that if a voter approaches a polling center to cast a vote and another individual questions the voter’s eligibility, they can intervene and de-escalate the situation.
“As poll chaplains, we would assure the voter that the other person is trying to interfere with them going in, that they don’t owe them an answer or an explanation. As long as they have their materials and this is where they have been assigned, that they are free to go in to vote,” McIntosh explained.
FUSD’s poll chaplains performed similar functions as “peacekeepers,” for whom the national Election Protection group and the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition issued a volunteer call.
Aside from maintaining calm in polling centers, Williams-Skinner said their poll chaplains would also pray for voters requesting it.
“They’ll pray with the voters, they’ll pray with the obstructionists. That’s one of the peacekeeping steps,” she said.
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