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Voting on the Sabbath? Virginia’s GOP Makes an Exception

Voting on the Sabbath? Virginia’s GOP Makes an Exception

The Commonwealth of Virginia will elect a governor this year, and the state’s Republican Party convention is scheduled for May 8, a Saturday.

Virginia, a state that has seen a tug of war between parties in recent years, is a political hotspot, and the gubernatorial election this year will be watched closely. Some are dubbing it as a barometer of the effectiveness of President Joe Biden, given the state’s proximity to Washington, D.C., and the fact that many federal workers reside there.

Selecting candidates for the top state job is often done via county-managed primary elections, where absentee balloting and early voting are allowed, even encouraged. This year, however, Republicans opted for a party convention instead, which sets its own election rules.

But trouble arose when the Virginia state GOP decided to have delegates vote only in person on May 8. In other words, Saturday was the only day that delegates could cast their vote. This restriction consequently ruled out participation by those who keep the Sabbath, God’s holy day reserved for worship.

In response, a group of four rabbis objected to the Sabbath-only vote, requesting an absentee option be added and giving their faith as the reason. However, “after emotional debate,” state party officials, already worn down from months of in-fighting over logistics, chose against granting the request.

But, in keeping with the apparent theme of this convention, members were deeply divided.

“Here we are, two weeks out, trying to deal with this. My view, it’s too late.” The Washington Post quoted Virginia GOP committee member Mike Ginsberg, a fellow Jew, as saying.

Others, in contrast, viewed the decision as shooting themselves in the foot: “‘This is why people say we are not inclusive!’ Thomas Turner, chairman of the Virginia’s Young Republicans and one of the committee’s few Black members, shouted during the debate. ‘I’ve been fighting for inclusivity for the last decade in this party. … This is shameful. Let my brothers and sisters in the Jewish community vote. We talk about voter integrity and we’re trying to suppress the vote.’”

What did seem to be agreed upon, however, was that there was no “bigotry” or “anti-Semitism.” The religious accommodation was just one more task thrown into an already boiling pot. There was too much to do in too little time, and “committee members … were simply overwhelmed.” 

A Turnaround for the Virginia GOP

But then came a surprise turnaround. Three days later, the state party reversed its decision. According to a subsequent Washington Post report: “The [GOP] State Central Committee reconsidered the matter, voting unanimously for the absentee option immediately after Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel encouraged them to do so Sunday night [April 25] in a closed-door meeting.”

According to Rich Anderson, the state party’s chairman, McDaniel heavily prioritized the Republican Party’s tenets of “religious freedoms and inclusivity.”

The newspaper added, “The reversal pleased advocates for a few dozen Jews and Seventh-day Adventists who’d signed up to vote at the convention.”

Interestingly enough, religious liberty was not only abreast on the state level this week but on the federal level. The U.S. Small Business Administration, a federal agency, had put up a website for businesses to apply for grants aimed at providing relief to theaters, clubs, cinemas, and cultural arts groups that were shuttered during the pandemic. But on April 8, the website crashed. After troubleshooting the issue, the website intended to reopen on Saturday, April 24, which again proved a problem for a certain demographic, Sabbath-keepers, who refrain from doing business during Sabbath hours.

“A federal grants program for the entertainment industry moved the relaunch of its applications portal from Saturday to Monday, after observant Jews and others complained that the Saturday plan put them at a disadvantage for the billions in funding,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

The newspaper quoted an SBA Twitter message: “We heard you and we are taking action.” One thing is certain: The voice for Sabbath observance is being heard loud and clear throughout the halls of our government.

In Exchange for Your Freedom

These two decisions were wins for Sabbath-keepers, but in looking at the overall scheme of things, they also brought to light a warning sign.

Notice how quickly people’s faith got pushed out of the way in Virginia’s GOP in favor of other more seemingly pressing matters, such as convention operations. Are we guilty of doing the same, shoving God’s law on the back burner depending on what we deem more important in our own lives? Is there anything more vital than yielding to the will of God? We are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto [us]” (Matthew 6:33, emphasis added).

Today, the Sabbath-keeper has the chance to acquire federal funding. But there will come a day when the opposite will happen, when the government will ignore the case of the faithful and take action against those who follow God’s law. There will come a day when a person’s religious beliefs will determine whether or not he can buy and sell, whether or not he makes a livelihood, whether or not he lives or dies (Revelation 13:15–17). The question is: When that time comes, will seeking the kingdom of God be your first priority, even over your life?

If you’re interested in learning what God’s law has to do with the Sabbath, check out “Christ the End of the Law.

And if you’d like to learn more about what the Sabbath has to do with your faith, take a look at “Bowing to Babylon.” Gain a faith that stands firm to the very end!

This article contributed by Mark A. Kellner
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