On churches and polling places (UPDATED)

Apr 24, 2024 | by

This is not a piece to argue about, please read with an open heart for everyone involved and let’s see where we get.

A few things happened over the last 24 hours:

– The city announced that they want to move a polling place from Redd Elementary School to Liberation Church.

– I wrote that I thought this was a bad idea, because the views of the church on marriage and gender as stated on their website were exclusionary.

Lively conversation ensued in many places, and some folks reached out directly to provide feedback. One person in particular reached and offered real guidance, and that’s what I’d like to write on here as I try this again.

One thing thing they said was to write the bigger story. Let’s try to put some of that together.

This is a 9th District polling place, moving from Jahnke Road to Midlothian Turnpike. The specific situation is that the school is 40 years old, and doesn’t have the parking space or physical space to readily allow for voting. This larger situation is that aged and lacking infrastructure is endemic to swathes of South Richmond.

Why is it like this? We know that Richmond has underinvested in large areas of the city for decades, directly impacting communities that are low income and Black.

If the school can’t be used a polling place – there aren’t really any other options. That area of Midlothian developed as suburban sprawl and is a wash of small businesses. The recent district meeting near by was held in a bingo parlor adjacent to a sports bar. To paraphrase one of the comments made – if these are our options, the city has has not been investing in the communities. Where is the neighborhood space, the civic space, the community space?

Liberation Church is a large, active community that by all accounts does meaningful on-the-ground work for people in need. As part of their outreach, Liberation Church offered their space to be used a polling place, a polling place for a historically disenfranchised population. This is, to borrow a line, moving things forward.

In posting about the change in polling places, I was tipped to look at the church’s website. I took their site at face value – they wrote that they don’t believe in gay marriage and that gender is assigned by God at birth. This is their right and not what I wanted to get into.

I wrote that I thought it was a bad idea to put polling places in spaces where that believed these things, that putting our civic actions here endorses the ideals. I stand by this.

This is the point where a direct conversation could have taken place, though. Would this have happened differently if I’d called someone instead of writing it? There would have been a better chance of folks hearing each other, and lot less chance of people being upset. Real guidance that I got today is always reach out.

What I wished to communicate is that ideally our polling places should be in places that are inclusive of everyone in the community. Could this have been written in a way that was more productive? I’m trying now.

I understand that there are folks feel that the church has been attacked by my writing. I promise this was not my intent. I obviously failed at communicating that very well.

As of this writing, Liberation Church has removed the language about marriage and gender from their website.

They’ve also issued this statement:

The address has served as a polling location for the past several years. This is a separate and distinct community offering from church operations. The venue offers several programs such as food distribution, community events, and programming such as mental health, substance abuse, crisis navigation,  shelter, workforce development and family resources. All of which are offered to everyone in our community regardless of race, religious, sexual orientation without discrimination.

3 thoughts on “On churches and polling places (UPDATED)”

  1. Regardless of the concerns about Liberation Church, there are other aspects that make no sense. Redd Elementary is in the 909th district, which saw a little over 600 votes in 2020. The school is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, some more walkable than others, but generally multimodal accessible. GRTC Route 2 passes out front, about a .1 miles from the front door. There’s also about 100 parking spaces between the two lots. In contrast, the Church has over 650 parking spots, is surrounded by other large businesses and cut off from neighborhoods, and because of all that parking it is 2x as far to the nearest bus stop. Even if car dependent, consolidated, mega polling sites are the goal, the city has a community center just a mile or 2 away at Southside Plaza with better transit access and more parking.

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