Legislators Talk About Importance of Faith

Legislators Talk About Importance of Faith

 By Tiffany Vail
Associate Conference Minister for Communications

At a first-of-its-kind event on Friday, more than 30 people from 11 Connecticut Conference churches came to the Legislative Office Building to meet with three CTUCC legislators and talk over issues from environmental protection to gambling to economic justice and reproductive rights.

Conference Minister The Rev. Kent Siladi shares a laugh with Rep. Anne Hughes and Rep. Russ Morin before the start of the Meet the CTUCC Legislators Event.

Three legislators who are members of CTUCC churches - Senator Christine Cohen, First Congregational Church of Guilford; Representative Anne Hughes, First Congregational Church of Norwalk; and Representative Russ Morin, First Church of Christ Congregational, Glastonbury - spent an hour with UCC members.  A fourth UCC member, Senator Tony Hwang of the Greenfield Hill Congregational Church in Fairfield, had to cancel due to a last-minute conflict.

Conference Minister the Rev. Kent Siladi opened up the gathering by talking about the intersection of faith and politics.

“We believe that Christianity cannot be just confined to the private, personal part of life. In our tradition in the United Church of Christ we believe that faith is expressed in the public square,” he said “We believe that once a person embraces a faith, it has implications for the believer, the community and the pursuit of the common good.”

“People talk about the separation of church and state,” he said. “The First Amendment of the United States Constitution does not advocate for a separation of church and state at all but rather the protection of religious freedom from the state. The Constitution is aimed at allowing all people to have a voice in our government, including those whose voices are distinctly religious. “

“There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents people from bringing their faith into the public arena, and into the public square. Today’s gathering is a recognition that four members of United Church of Christ churches here in Connecticut are living out their faith in the public square, and we are grateful for their public witness.”
UCC Members listen to legislators respond to a question at the Meet the CTUCC Legislators Event.
Hughes, Cohen and Morin all talked about how meaningful it is to them to belong to a faith tradition that welcomes all, and they said they believe that welcome carries over into their work.

Hughes talked about how impactful it has been for her in her new role as a legislator to be hearing from people who are often excluded from the conversation.

“Being part of the welcoming tradition of the UCC means no matter who you are and where you are you deserve a seat at the table. You deserve a seat right here. This is the people’s house,” she said.

Cohen agreed.

“We all do have a place at the table and we all need to listen to each other and understand where one another are coming from,” she said. “People often ask me ‘how do you stand it when somebody is completely on the other side of the fence as you?’ You stand it by listening to what they have to say and really searching for that place of common ground.”

Morin said he leaves church on Sundays feeling like the minister was preaching just to him.

“That is what helps guide me, every time I am sitting and listening it makes me step back and say ‘how should I do things differently in the state Legislature? What should I do to fight a little harder for those families?’”

“Our faith guides us as to who we are in everyday life, and this is everyday life for us,” he said.

Each legislator talked about some of the issues they are most passionate about: Hughes spoke about the need for a “moral budget” in which the wealthiest pay their “fair share” toward the state budget to ease the economic disparities in the state. Cohen spoke on her work on the environment and on children's issues, and Morin spoke about the minimum wage, paid family leave and human trafficking.

They were asked about their take on the expansion of casino gambling in Connecticut: Hughes spoke against it; Cohen said she has not taken a stand and is still gathering information.

Morin, who has voted in favor of casinos in Bridgeport and East Windsor, said the UCC is a denomination in which not everyone agrees.

“I am not personally against gambling as much as many of you,” he said. “I am responsive to people that say it does hurt people. It really does. I think there’s a lot of things in our life, though, that hurt people and I just don’t know that I have an answer that would probably make any of you really happy on this particular issue.”

Siladi asked the three legislators whether they felt the state budget is a moral document.

“It is a moral document because it is an expression of our values,” Hughes said. “We cannot pretend to be inclusive of all and especially concerned about our children’s education and about our environmental resources and assets and future if we do not invest equitably and justly in those things.”

Morin said voting on budgets, knowing the impact they have on people, is one of the most difficult parts of the job and one of the greatest sources of conflict.

Cohen said the legislature needs to move toward a bipartisan budget that can get passed.

“This is about people and human beings and if we lose sight of that, then we go astray,” she said. “It’s really getting down to it, listening to one another, and putting the people first. If we use that as our moral compass, if you will, we can get to the right place on it.”

This gathering was organized by CTUCC’s Legislative Advocate, Michele Mudrick. Mudrick advocates for policies in the state Legislature that reflect votes taken by Conference Annual Meetings. Learn more at: www.ctucc.org/economicjustice.

To learn more about issues before the Legislature, and to learn how to speak out on those issues, join the CTUCC Advocate Corps email list.
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