Q And A

Last Sunday, as those of you who read my posted “sermon” will recall, I spoke to the Danville Unitarians. At the conclusion of my talk, I engaged in a brief question-and-answer session, and a couple of those questions echoed comments sometimes posted here.

For example, one parishioner asked what one citizen can do about our unrepresentative  legislature, given the reality of Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering. It’s a reasonable question, given the lack of mechanisms available–we lack a citizens’ initiative or referendum, and a friend of mine who cares a lot about the issue (and not so incidentally spent several years as a judge on Indiana’s Supreme Court) tells me he sees nothing in the state constitution that might be used to overturn partisan redistricting.

My only answer rests on the fact that the most nefarious result of gerrymandering is vote suppression. Hoosiers who live in House and Senate districts considered “safe” for one party or another (and yes, there are a few safe Democratic districts, thanks to the mechanism known as “packing,” aka cramming as many voters of the “other party” into as few districts as possible) tend to stay home. Why bother to vote, if the result is foreordained? 

The voters who stay home are overwhelmingly those of the “loser” party. That’s especially the case in places where the loser party hasn’t bothered to field a candidate.

But here’s the dirty little secret: in a number of those “safe” districts, if there was a massive turnout, the “losers” could win!  That’s because, in a number of Indiana’s rural districts, Democrats have failed to go to the polls.

There are two reasons for that.

Reason one: When an acquaintance of mine who ran in one such district went door-to-door, she was astonished by the number of people who expressed surprise that there were Democrats living in the area. Years of being told that they were rare exceptions had beaten them down, and added to the belief that they were rare–and powerless.

Reason two: as another member of the congregation noted, the suburban/bedroom communities around Indianapolis and other urban areas have been growing significantly–and much of that growth comes from young, educated people looking for less-expensive housing and able to work remotely at least part of the time. Given the significant political divide between people with a college degree and those without, it’s fair to predict that many–if not most– of those new residents have more progressive political orientations.

It’s obviously impossible to know how politically significant those two observations are unless many more people vote. So my answer to the young woman who asked that question was: do everything you can to get out the vote. We know is that those engaging in the redistricting process rely upon prior years’ turnout when drawing their district lines. If longtime residents of the “other” party who haven’t previously gone to the polls were suddenly to do so–and if newcomers with different values and concerns join them–a lot of those presumably “safe” districts will no longer be so safe.

There was another question that struck me as important. A young man followed up the previous question with what he characterized as an “expanded version.” What could congregations do? Not as individuals, but as congregations.

It was a great question, because one of the most annoying aspects of our terrible legislature is the serene belief of far too many of its members that God is on their side. (Their God hates the same people they do…) When someone like me–Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian– comes to testify, it’s easy to ignore that testimony. 

But when a church lobbies or testifies, it’s a lot harder to dismiss out of hand.

We sometimes forget (as our legislature clearly does) that not all religions–or even all Christian denominations– endorse the punitive doctrines of the fundamentalists who control today’s MAGA Republicans. There are enormous differences–not just between religions, but between denominations of the Christianity that dominates American culture. It’s past time for  the many congregations that preach love and acceptance, embrace modernity and equality and care about the “least of us,” to speak up at the Indiana Statehouse.


The day before yesterday, I posted about a Christian legislator who had the guts to challenge a performative Christian lawmaker on biblical grounds. We need more people like that authentically religious legislator, and we especially need more congregations willing to challenge hateful and discriminatory measures at the Indiana Statehouse.

Those are the challenges to which our pathetic lawmakers should have to respond. Not to the “rule of law”  and “fair play” people like yours truly, but to the co-religionists they  inaccurately claim to represent.


  1. Voting works only if the “out” party has a candidate on the ballot.
    The last time I counted, one third of the Senators and about one third of the Representatives in the Indiana General Assembly were elected without opposition. These are party failures. Just putting names on the ballot allows the voting strategy to work.
    If we are to have a two party system both parties must participate. Failure to have a candidate for each office should involve a penalty for that party, say $1,000 for each office not contested by that party. Or some variant of that sort.

  2. While I agree that every contested office should have more than one candidate on the ballot, I don’t see how fining or penalizing a political party will help. Pretty sure it would be unconstitutional as no where in our Constitutions are parties even mentioned, let alone by name. I would think that anyone making the effort to sue would have their time better spent by running for office.

  3. Fining the minority party? Who does that benefit? Look at the campaign finance filings for the parties and at the county levels. The Dem party is already severely underfunded. Remember, it’s the businesses and industries that benefit from Republican rule that fund the Republican party coffers.

  4. “(and yes, there are a few safe Democratic districts, thanks to the mechanism known as “packing,” aka cramming as many voters of the “other party” into as few districts as possible)”

    For some reason that statement immediately brought the Warsaw Ghetto to my mind; how does this “packing” or “cramming” come about? Doesn’t this make gerrymandering easier for Republicans in this state to change their district borders to increase their stranglehold. It was District 88 which straddled the county line in the northeast corner of Marion County where there had not been a Democratic candidate for decades until Dana Black who “came out” to represent Blacks and LGBTQs to run against Brian Bosma after he again ran unopposed in the 2014 election. Bosma had been sitting in the House since 1986; Dana stated , “…You are Speaker of the House. Speaker means that you speak for everyone, not just the conservative Christian base.”

    “…because one of the most annoying aspects of our terrible legislature is the serene belief of far too many of its members that God is on their side.” I thought we were trying to strengthen the separation of “church and state”; those congregations who are not speaking out against our terrible legislature are upholding that part of the 1st Amendment, but are they the same Republicans who are sitting mute and idle in the House and the Senate at all levels?

  5. I hope the suburban areas you mentioned with more young and progressive people do manage to find candidates to run for office.

    For those of us that live in very rural areas it has been a terrible losing battle. When we find candidates to run for office we work very hard to support their campaigns. The opposing R candidate knows they can sit back and do absolutely nothing because they will win with over 70% of the vote every time. I’ve mentioned before that local elected officials have even switched to the gop party just to keep their job or to get elected to a new office.

    The gop is extremely well funded in IN and can spend any amount needed if their candidate has a good opponent. The IN Dem party is not as well funded and chooses to only support candidates in safe and highly populated districts.

    The gop has successfully been choosing party over people for years. Actually, they’ve been choosing businesses over people.

  6. JoAnn. You raise a good point about separation of church and state. However, if a congregation is supporting the Constitution rather than doctrine particular to their religion, that would seem to resolve the apparent conflict. An example would be pastors who organize their congregations to support separation of church and state.

  7. The Evangelicals and the Catholics have found ways around the separation of church and state. The Evangelicals organize, and I do mean ORGANIZE AND OPERATE, outside of the church proper. The Catholics simply hire a lobbyist. Sermons support the ideas behind legislation, not the legislation itself. The congregations get the message and at the door, as they leave, there is someone recruiting, handing out flyers, and asking you to join the effort.
    The pastor/preacher need not say from the pulpit, “Vote for so-and-so!” He need only mention the good works being done by the political group organized at the church but not named as such. With a captive weekly audience to work with, religious organizations have the most basic need of all met… a large pool of magically thinking people to do your bidding.

  8. Congregations need to stay out of politics lest lose their tax-exempt status. Those churches involving themselves should experience a letter from the IRS, but funding or defunding, the IRS has become a sport for the political class. The IRS is so understaffed they can hardly do their jobs anymore.

    You’ll be hard-pressed to find democrats willing to spend the time and resources ($3-5,000) to run a campaign in a district carved up to benefit their opponent. Fining the party is not feasible either.

    As the free press creeps back into the news deserts, people learn about gerrymandering and packing districts. The people know they’re being oppressed; many won’t sit idly by because it’s taxation without representation.

    When I see the politicos take our extra taxes and cut loopholes or other tax benefits to their donors, it goes beyond irritating.

    The US is a tinder box right now. It needs a solid catalyst to set the whole place ablaze.

  9. Todd; your first sentence says it all. All factions of our lives are now political issues and the primary political issue today is religion and religious education of our youth paid for by our public education taxation. This is a strange political turn-around for a democracy; representation by religious entities without taxation. Is a puzzlement as to how to get out of this political dichotomy.

  10. Gerrymandering = political despair, but worse, no Democrat to vote for. We need to recruit candidates for office in these areas where the Republicans have been getting a free ride for lo these many years. Such candidates will have to be true believers, understand that they are likely to lose because of the gerrymander, but can add that evil to their opponent’s other uncontested voting transgressions on the campaign trail. With such reeducation of the polity and given time and pereseverence, perhaps Democrats will become competive in gerrymandered districts. Perhaps.

    Step #1: Identify and recruit true believers.

  11. Underfunding and support from the Democratic Party in Indiana is a huge problem. In the fall of 2022 a group of democrats in our neighborhood requested 100 signs for Destiny Wells to be placed our yards. We were told they didn’t have enough signs to give us 100 and they would cost us $5 per sign because they didn’t have money to spend on signs. We put the word out to our neighbors and received over $800 – enough to cover the signs and some extra for the campaign treasury. Where is the state Democratic Party in funding and support for our candidates? Destiny Wells was the most qualified candidate on the state ballot and didn’t receive the funding or the fund raising support from our party. How do we fix that?

  12. Too many churches use their tax free money simply to amass wealth and power. I would like to see churches audited and regulated. Their funds that are actually used for charity ( not land, buildings, promotion of church doctrine, recruitment of new members, advertising, political action, etc.) could be tax deductible. All other funds would be subject to taxation. Same, of course, for synagogues, mosques, etc.

  13. If there are suburban areas where young voters could make a difference, the most effective method of turnout is “peer to peer” campaigning. This simply means finding as many of these voters (not us old folks) who really care about our democracy (or an issue(s): abortion, climate change, education, guns, etc.) and have them reach out to their neighbors, friends, colleagues to tell them why they should vote (can be door knocks, phone calls, texts, etc.). AND, most importantly, ask them to do the same thing. You build a pyramid of messaging FROM FEOPLE LIKE ME TO PEOPLE LIKE ME…

  14. As much as I hate the thought of involving religion with government, it does seem that clergy of good conscience have a duty to speak up when others wrap themselves in God and do harm to the weak, the poor, and the different. Congregations can and should encourage those activities.

    The Indiana Democratic party may need money, but they need volunteers to help move the needle. Manpower can make things happen. They need to show that they are worth the money needed to field good candidates.

  15. Could not the people who make up congregations organize voter education projects, “get out the vote” projects
    on their own? I strongly suspect that the massive organization of the Evangelicals Todd referenced do just that.

  16. Democracy is based on the assumption of an informed electorate and those preferring power over freedom know that is what to attack and they have. They have attacked through the megaphone of mass entertainment media and through the inordinate power of the states with the least informed electorates. It may not be politically correct to say that but at some point in the crises blunt honesty is required.

    There is no knockout blow available anymore. We have reached a stalemate as has Putin in his war. He can’t progress nor retreat so is stuck with as his only strategy outlasting the opposition.

    Dig in. Gentle pressure relentlessly applied. Never give up. Let the justice system creep along and the education system crank its slow wheels and the grim reaper tilt the playing field back in our favor. Educate a drop at a time. Never get discouraged. We each are only one in the army but if we persevere we shall overcome.

  17. Lester, in case you’re reading today, I hope you’ll look at the report in today’s Indiana Capital Chronicle about the Carroll High School student thespians who are “amusing themselves to death.”

  18. It’s my understanding that Pete Buttigieg’s campaign manager is now the Chair of the Democratic Party in Indiana. I never hear anything about efforts to counter the GOP in the State. What is he doing to support Democratic candidates? Thanks Sheila for your wisdom and guidance.

  19. Sharon – went to the Chronicle and the story wasn’t there. I presume they were doing some political action. Good for them. Presume they are not even eligible to vote though. I would never suggest that all young people are “amusing”, but huge numbers are…and it is a main source of current mental health issues for that group.

  20. Lester, the play they selected was banned by the principal mainly because it portrayed a same sex couple, so the students raised funds to produce it themselves at a local theater. Real go-getters!

  21. OK, In Marion County, Republicans often field candidates. But, when researching these people, they are often straw men. They don’t have a web page, or even a Facebook profile. They didn’t bother to fill out any surveys, like ballotopia, so they were just a name with no effort to put a real candidate on the ballot. Worst part about this, these kinds of candidates still get 30% of vote!

    So there is no effort on the candidate side, and then there is total blind ignorance on the voter side. Sigh….

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