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Staff Editorial: Race, Religion, and Politics in Vigo County

How did a strongly Democratic city, that was widely known as the nation’s most accurate bell weather, suddenly turn red in just a few election cycles? Many have pointed to the popularity of Donald Trump and straight ticket voting, but what if Trump was just another result of a wider shift.

What if MAGA was the result, not the cause, of conservative networking in rural communities, that ultimately led to a change in national politics, and the same change we’re seeing in Vigo County.

Over the past several decades Christians have become increasingly concerned that “liberal democrats” were winning the culture wars, and in response they’ve been busy creating networks between religious leaders, business people, and politicians. Of course this type of networking has always taken place, but it reached new heights with the crusade to overturn Roe v Wade.

It can be hard to see these networks from the outside, because many of them claim to be “non-political.” Take the Wabash Valley Ministerial Association as an example. This group of local pastors meets regularly to pray, eat lunch, and organize, and during these meetings members regularly discuss political topics like pro-life initiatives and sex education in public schools.

Some members even host official political party meetings in their churches, and actively promote a type of Christian Nationalist political ideology called the seven mountain mandate.

If you’re not familiar with the seven mountain mandate here’s author Elle Hardy’s comical yet accurate description, “it could be the premise of a terrible airport novel: A group of self-proclaimed ‘apostles’ have a plan rooted in biblical prophecy to ‘invade’ every sphere of life as we know it — and they have the ear of the most powerful men in the world.” 

Despite this very active political involvement, when pastors have tried to discuss racial issues during WVMA meetings they have been told repeatedly that those conversations are “too political.” When discussions of race do occasionally happen, they are usually relegated to smaller meetings, often times with pastors who emphatically deny that systemic racism still exists.

This was not always the case, however, twenty years ago the WVMA was a politically and theologically diverse group focused primarily on prayer and community service. A major turning point was the question of whether or not to accept clergy with same sex attraction. Over the years similar topics continued to divide the association, leaving a narrow group of mostly conservative evangelicals.

This even led some members of the group to invite Tennessee Pastor Greg Locke to speak at a revival in Terre Haute. Locke has become infamous for his outrageous sermons, tent revivals, and book burnings. Including several months ago when he told Democrats to get out of his church, and claimed they were “God denying demons,” election thieves, and could not be Christians.

Why would a pastor like this be invited to Terre Haute? Why would pastors who have a divine responsibility to seek justice in their community deny the existence of racial injustice? Why hasn’t the WVMA spoken out about racial harassment in the schools like they did for sex education?

These are concerns that could make someone question the future of justice in Terre Haute. When Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, “the moral arc of the universe is long,” he was speaking to those who could not see a brighter future for their communities. Let’s all pray that a brighter future is in store for Terre Haute.

– Matt Larimer

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2 responses to “Staff Editorial: Race, Religion, and Politics in Vigo County”

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