ANDERSON — Growing up in Anderson and attending Bethany Christian Church, Troy Jackson learned the values that go with being an evangelical.
Among them is the idea of love, one that from Jackson’s standpoint is defined in Corinthians 13: 4-8. Those verses, when the word “love” is replaced by the name of a political candidate, can serve as a barometer of how well that person lives up to God’s expectations, he said.
One politician who has failed miserably, in Jackson’s estimation, is President Donald Trump.
“When I put our current president’s name in the place of love, the absurdity knocks me in the face,” the graduate of the former Highland High School said. “I am horrified that the tradition I came out of seems to be turning its back on Jesus and Scripture. I feel like we’re trading the power of love and the power of the Gospel for a political movement.”
That’s why when in 2018 he met Doug Pagitt, executive director of Edina, Minnesota-based Vote Common Good, through mutual friends, he hopped aboard to help spread the message through the national bus tour to all 50 states. Vote Common Good’s goal this election year is to help evangelicals who have been pressured by their churches to vote for Trump and the Republican Party against their interests and their consciences, to do what they believe is the right thing at the polls.
About two-thirds of Madison County voters, who in the past trended more Democrat because of their union involvement, cast their ballots in 2016 for Trump.
White born-again evangelicals nationwide were identified by exit polls as one of the primary voting blocs that propelled Trump into the White House. They gave him about 75% of their vote, and their approval rating remains at about 75%, according to the Pew Research Center.
But that tide may be turning. The evangelical magazine Christianity Today, founded in 1956 by the Rev. Billy Graham, in December stepped away from the pack and published an editorial calling for Trump’s impeachment.
According to the Vote Common Good website, up to 15% of Christian voters are looking for an “exit ramp” that would allow many of them who have been Republicans to vote in a way that prevents Trump from winning reelection. For many, that would mean voting Democrat for the first time.
“We travel this country to remind people you have a higher calling in your life,” Pagitt told about 40 people, including Anderson Councilwoman Rebecca Crumes and Anderson Federation of Teachers President G. Randall Harrison, who attended the evening of speeches and song at the UAW Hall.
He said, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he doesn’t hate Trump and believes him to be a child of God. But he also believes the president is unprepared and incompetent.
“We think there is a real battle going on not only for the soul of the nation but for individuals,” he said.
Jackson, who now lives in Columbus, Ohio, was in Anderson on Monday for one of two Vote Common Good stops in Indiana. The bus tour, which started Jan. 2 in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., also conducted a rally Sunday in Bloomington.
“One of my goals in 2020 is to do anything I can to persuade Christians to consider carefully what kind of character we want in the White House,” he said. “I want to be counted among those who on Nov. 3, 2020, did everything I could.”
The point of Vote Common Good, Jackson said, is to get people to think beyond their personal interests and consider what is best for everyone rather than blindly following right-wing ideology.
Though primarily Christian, Vote Common Good also looks to other religions, including Judaism, Islam and Sikhism to spread its message.
Vote Common Good also identifies potential candidates and trains them to run for office.
Robb Ryerse, political director for Vote Common Good, said many people are looking for their tribe this election season.
“What we find is there’s a lot of religiously motivated folks out there who have been thinking these kinds of thoughts,” he said. “When they find their tribe, they are empowered and encouraged.”
Ryerse, who described himself as the poster boy for the GOP when he was a teenager, said tour dates are set by the primary calendar but will switch to swing states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida later in the year. The tour also will make the rounds to states with important Senate races, he said.
Pam Coletti helped her friend Mary Jackson, Troy Jackson’s mother, organize the rally in Anderson.
“What appealed to me is I know there are people of faith who are feeling conflicted. They are being encouraged by their churches to vote for Trump, and they know that’s not right,” she said. “We’re hoping they will feel empowered to use their own minds to do what’s right.”