Dear Friend in Christ,
Over 100 years ago two of our faith forebears, the Rev. Herbert S. Bigelow of Cincinnati’s Vine Street Congregational Church and the Rev. Washington Gladden of the First Congregational Church of Columbus led people of faith and many others in a movement to counteract abuses of power in government. Their belief was that when elected leaders were unresponsive to the will of the people there should be a mechanism by which the voice of the people could be heard, laws enacted, and constitutional revisions made, all through a vote of a simple majority.
Our faith forebears understood that discussing a matter of public policy, without embracing a particular political party, is an essential responsibility of faithfully living out God’s call to seek the common good. Through a 1912 constitutional convention at which our faith forebears provided significant leadership, the idea of citizen-led initiatives became law in the State of Ohio. It has remained so ever since. The opportunity for citizen-led initiatives has offered a systemic safeguard so that the voice of the people could initiate policy when elected leaders seemed otherwise unresponsive to the majority of the voting population.
This safeguard of voter-led initiatives is now being challenged by Issue 1 which is now before voters in an August election.
The proposed new law would require 60% voter approval to pass constitutional amendments, provide no grace period for correcting ballot signature challenges, and require signatures from all 88 counties in order for an initiative to be placed on the ballot. Such restrictions would allow one county to circumvent the will of the other 87 counties. It is clear to us that the resulting power imbalances will significantly damage many segments of Ohio’s population, particularly African American communities historically weakened by partisan gerrymandering. In addition, the proposed restrictions would effectively end the systemic safeguard known as one person, one vote that has for over a century provided every citizen access to simple majority initiatives.
Though the new proposed law claims to protect the Constitution, the current system of citizen initiatives has seen only 19 of 71 initiatives actually approved, showing that Ohioans have used this power judiciously.
Our faith forebears recognized that when people are equipped to act in ways that illustrate that their voice matters, their dignity rises, and they are fundamentally empowered and strengthened. This dignity and empowerment lie at the heart of the gospel message of Jesus Christ, that all may flourish and have abundant life. It is the reason our faith forebears were passionate about its defense. This conviction matters no less, and possibly even more, in our own day and time.
Guided by the wisdom of our forebears and sparked by pastoral concern over the nullifying impact Issue 1 would have on African Americans and other Ohio communities if enacted, the Ohio Council of Churches respectfully urges Ohio voters to reject Issue 1. Our no votes on Issue 1 will serve as a faithful and clear affirmation of the dignity and agency of every Ohioan who has for more than a century had the systemic assurance that their one vote does truly matter.
Blessings on you, we pray,
The Ohio Council of Churches,
The Reverend Dr. David Long-Higgins, Governing Board President, the Ohio Council of Churches; Conference Minister, the Heartland Conference, United Church of Christ.
The Reverend Melanie W. J. Slane, Governing Board Vice-President, the Ohio Council of Churches; Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Officer, the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio
The Reverend Adam B. Sornchai, Governing Board Treasurer, the Ohio Council of Churches; Pastor, Saint John Lutheran Church (Windfall), Cardington, Ohio
The Reverend Allen V. Harris, Governing Board Secretary; the Ohio Council of Churches; Regional Pastor and President, the Christian Church in Ohio (Disciples of Christ)
The Reverend. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr., Executive Director, the Ohio Council of Churches
Gregory Vaughn Palmer, Resident Bishop West Ohio Conference, the United Methodist Church
Rev. Dr. LaCreta M. Rutledge Clark, Presiding Elder, Cleveland District, African Methodist Episcopal Church, 3rd Episcopal District Director, Social Action Commission
Errenous E McCloud, Jr., Presiding Bishop, Third Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Ohio; Pennsylvania, West Virginia)
Rev. Hratch Sargsyan
Bishop Tracy S. Malone, Ohio East Episcopal Area, United Methodist Church