Some ASU students turn to faith for guidance in presidential election

As primary results are tallied and election season heats up, some religious ASU students are turning to faith to help them choose which presidential candidate to support.

Informatics sophomore and registered voter Sean McGonegle is involved with campus-based ministry Cru and is a student co-leader for the freshman Bible study. He said his Christian faith is “extremely important” to him and affects every aspect of his life — including his political outlook.

“I feel as though many candidates use religion as a selling point and don’t actually believe it,” he said.

McGonegle said he is “not a fan of” Hillary Clinton (member of the United Methodist Church) or Donald Trump (a self-proclaimed Presbyterian) and would consider abstaining from voting if they became the nominee for their respective parties.

He looks more at a candidate’s actions rather than religious affiliation and would not be against voting for an atheist candidate with similar morals as him. That being said, McGonegle said he would “definitely consult a pastor” if a candidate were to advocate for new laws concerning religion and religious liberties.

But it raises an issue for ASU’s All Saints Catholic Newman Center as they decide between counseling students trying to balance religious ideology with political views and distancing themselves from discussing hot-button political issues.

“I get asked all the time if voting for so-and-so is a sin, and I really can’t answer that because a lot depends on why you voted for them,” Newman Center director Rob Clements said.

Clements said he’s been asked if voting for a pro-choice candidate is sinning against Christian doctrine.

“As a Christian, you know what abortion means," he said. "You know how important life is. Are you voting for them because they’re for abortion? If the answer is no, then no, it’s not a sin."

Steven Andrew, pastor of USA Christian Church, released “The American Christian Voting Guide” in 2015 that grades presidential candidates based upon their devotion to Christianity.

Of the remaining candidates in the race, Ted Cruz received the highest score with a C. All other candidates received an F from the church and were deemed “biblically unqualified.”

While it is an independent guide released by a single church, it carries a lot of weight for nursing freshman and Catholic Breanna Dailey.

“I don’t think it always rings true but for a lot of instances being religious kind of equates to being moral," she said. "Getting an F on something like that speaks a lot to character."

While she gives weight to the guide, Dailey also said she wouldn’t directly consult a pastor for political advice. Her choice would ultimately be a private matter and expressed concern that reaching out to a pastor could lead to heated political debates.

Design management senior and Orthodox Jew Ellie Emerson isn’t concerned about that and would be willing to discuss politics with a religious leader.

Emerson said her No. 1 issue in selecting a candidate is their alliance with Israel. She said she’s a registered Republican and plans on voting for Marco Rubio, if he is still in the race by the time Arizona's presidential preference election takes place on March 22.

If Rubio drops out of the race, Emerson said she would vote for the opposing party and support Hillary Clinton, citing women’s issues as her second most important cause.

It’s a political move Emerson would discuss with her rabbi, but she also said religious leaders might not want to get involved because they view it as a “private decision” and “don’t want to exclude someone who might not vote for the same person as them.”

Chabad at ASU Director Sarah Rimler agreed and stated neither she nor her organization will tell a Jewish student how to vote — but they will encourage them to vote.

“Voting is a very Jewish concept,” she said. “There have been so many times Jewish people have been oppressed and and haven’t been able to.”

Rimler did not comment on her political views, but said Jewish students who are conflicted on who to vote for should crack open a history book.

“I’d tell them to go look at the greatest leaders throughout Jewish history and see what made them great,” she said. “What qualities did the best Jewish leaders have? Look for a leader with those qualities.”

Rimler said she doesn’t discuss politics with students because she wants everyone to feel welcome at Chabad and worries that discussing controversial matters could make students with different views feel alienated. So far, Rimler said she hasn’t been approached by any students seeking political guidance.

Senior speech and hearing science major Lena Sarsour identifies as a Palestinian American and devout Muslim. She supports Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish American. Sarsour said it’s “interesting” that she’s supporting a Jewish candidate considering her Palestinian background, but believes she’s making the right choice.

“As a Muslim, I voted for a Jewish candidate to lead the United States and couldn’t be more proud of my decision,” Sarsour said.

Sarsour said Sanders represents her political and religious beliefs. She said Sanders “advocates for justice” and agreed with his stances on environmental and economic justice issues.

She said she did not seek the guidance of a religious leader to make her decision. Although she’s involved with ASU’s Muslim Students Association and regularly attends services at the Islamic Community Center in Tempe, Sarsour said she did her own research to choose a candidate.

However, Newman Center Pastoral Associate Alex Senderling said students have asked him for guidance.

He said he’s had a number of conversations with students regarding the election, but only advises that they should vote for the candidate who will promote a “more peaceful, joyful, harmonious society.”

Senderling distances himself from directly telling students whom to vote for, saying his church “always leaves the final decision up to the conscience of the members, for better or worse.”

Both Clements and Senderling advised conflicted voters to do their homework before voting.

“My first preference would be to elect Jesus Christ, but that’s not an option, so we have to weigh our options and see who would be most like him and enact policies most like him," Senderling said.


Reach the reporter at brieanna.frank@asu.edu or follow @brieannafrank on Twitter.

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