Hot Potato panel includes Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Methodist perspectives.
By Alison Graef
Voters should vote in line with their faith and make informed decisions, four religious leaders said at a Hot Potato panel hosted by the Methodist Student Center Tuesday in the Fiesta Room of Loftin Student Center.
Panelists spoke about the importance of participation in the governing process through voting and how to choose candidates.
Sister Patricia Connolly, a counselor at the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, spoke about her calling to serve the poor not only through interpersonal actions, but also through political participation.
Connolly said there are two ways to serve the poor as a Catholic. One way is through direct, hands-on service to the impoverished, while the other is through political involvement. She said service often feels more rewarding to work directly with people, but the second form of service, which has the potential to bring about change at a higher and broader level, is essential to living out the Catholic faith.
“If we want to change lives and if we believe in the kingdom of God, we have to do that kind of work,” Connolly said.
Connolly said she prayerfully studies political issues to decide what positions align with her faith, and then researches candidates’ positions. She said it is important to look back at candidates’ track records to see if they have lived out what they say they believe. She then decides which candidate aligns the closest with her faith and votes for that candidate.
Mehmet Oguz, who is Muslim and executive director of San Antonio Dialogue Institute of the Southwest, said voters should not default to voting for a candidate solely based on the candidate’s religion.
Oguz said there are three issues that every person is trying to find the answer to: ignorance, poverty and disunity. Voters should choose the candidate that they believe will help to find and implement solutions to these issues, and not be deterred if the best-suited candidate is of another religion.
“There are basic values that are shared by all humans,” Oguz said.
Oguz asked the audience to consider if they would accept a Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist leader if they were best suited to lead the country. He said to unite the country, voters need to be open to people from all religions.
Rabbi Marina Yergin, assistant rabbi at Temple Beth-El, spoke about the Jewish calling of “tikkun olam,” the mandate to repair the world in whatever way possible, which she said is, among other things, a mandate to be involved in politics.
Yergin said because of “tikkun olam,” Jewish people have a responsibility to educate themselves on social and political issues and then put their faith in action by voting for the candidate who they believe will help to resolve the issues.
Yergin said Deuteronomy 16:20 is well known in the Jewish community. She said the verse “Justice, justice shall you pursue” means that to be just, people need to consider all sides of an issue and take action.
“This is what it means to be a social advocate,” Yergin said. “ To be just, we need to look at all the sides and put that information together.”
The Rev. Ben Trammell, lead pastor at University United Methodist Church, said his faith is the reason he is active politically.
“If it was an option, I would sit out politics. … It’s hard and messy and isn’t clean or clear,” Trammell said. “One of the things my faith challenges me to do is engage.”
Trammell said “engagement” isn’t just voting every four years in the presidential election; people should be challenged by their faith to be informed and active as a regular part of their lives.
He said people should not “blame politicians for the brokenness of the world,” but rather take personal responsibility to create the social and political change they want to see, especially in their local governments and communities. He said issues get solved on a local level, and it is very important for people to love and serve their neighbors, even the neighbors who have differing political views.
“Jesus was talking about serving the people around us — our neighbors — not just people around the world,” he said.
The center partnered with Texas Public Radio and its campaign “Dare to Listen” for the first time in more than 30 years of hosting Hot Potato lectures, the Rev. Johnny Silva, director of the United Methodist Campus Ministry, said in a Nov. 10 email to The Ranger. TPR secured two of the panelists and promoted the event.
TPR’s “Dare to Listen” campaign has a similar mission as Hot Potato Issues: to promote civil discussion on touchy subjects and encourage the consideration of different points of view, Silva said, adding that he hopes to team up with TPR in the future.
The next Hot Potato topic is “Expectations: Stalking the Judge,” which will feature guest speaker Dr. Richard Amiss from the Ecumenical Center for Religion and Health, 12:15-1:15 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Methodist Student Center.