Faith at the ballot box
By Lindsay Peyton
Looking for a way to put your faith into action at the ballot box this November? There’s a nonprofit ready to help. Texas Impact is on a mission to equip faith leaders and congregations with information, resources and outreach tools during elections. The nonprofit also continues engagement with lawmakers on public policy. Scott Atnip serves as Director of Public Witness for the organization. He is also a lay leader in the Texas Annual Conference, a Jurisdictional delegate and a member of Wesley Memorial UMC in Huntsville.
Atnip, who has served Texas Impact for a decade, explained that the organization was established in 1973, after a corruption scandal in the Texas state government. Bishops, ministers and lay leaders joined to lobby the Texas Legislature under the original name, Texas Interfaith Commission on Human Priorities. The nonprofit has evolved over time to represent shared social concerns.
A top priority now, Atnip explained, is ensuring that all are able to vote – and that enough election workers are available to facilitate the effort. In fact, a recent article in the “Texas Tribune” states, “In Texas, about one-third of election administrators have left their jobs in the past two years, according to surveys conducted this year by the secretary of state’s office.”
“It’s important that people of faith and United Methodists participate,” Atnip said. “And that takes a lot of people doing the work.”
Being able to vote is essential to our democracy. “And we have a whole lot of people in our pews who think that democracy is important,” Atnip said. “We believe democracy works best when it most closely represents the entirety of our population.”
Texas Impact offers tools to sign up to work elections and for people in the pews to learn how to cast their ballots, he explained. Visitors to the website can check to see if they are currently registered, read about who is on the ballot and learn where to vote. They can also sign up for reminders.
“After the election, we’ll start preparing for the Texas Legislative session that commences Jan. 2023,” Atnip said. “Texas Impact will have tools to help people and congregations understand public policy, help understand the issues and how they can advocate for issues they care about.”
Texas Impact works on a wide range of public policy issues, using the broadly held social concerns of mainstream religious traditions as a guide. The grassroots network includes members of various Christian denominations, as well as other faiths.
There are about 50 board members, both ordained and lay people, who come from religious communities throughout Texas. Members engage in theological conversations to determine their common concerns. “It’s a beautiful process to watch,” Atnip said.
The group’s legislative priorities are listed online. The organization focuses on human rights and civic engagement, as well as economic and climate justice.
People of faith bridge the gap
Texas Impact stands by the belief that where there are disparities in health, education and quality of life, people of faith can help bridge that gap. Faith communities are built on service and a desire to love their neighbors. “There are a lot of people of faith in Texas who care about these issues,” Atnip said.
He continued, “As United Methodists, our goal is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Sometimes that’s through mission, and sometimes it’s participation in democracy.”
When the path to making a positive impact lies in public policy, he said, Texas Impact provides the tools to support that work.