What are the boundaries for political campaigns? Actually it seems very few. Some laws exist relative to literature verbiage, sign placement and campaign financing but for the most part it is up to the candidate. Some campaigns seek dirt, try to distort an opponent’s record or simply lie. An unhealthy “win at any cost” attitude seems to release inner demons in otherwise decent people.

But up to now there was one place that was off limits — the church. I think by respect, or fear of backlash, places of worship were considered a sanctuary from political shenanigans.

In the 1990s we attended church in the center of Churchville. In my first campaign people who owned the house across the street were not fans. Six days a week they displayed the other guy’s sign but on Sunday it was absent.

It was relayed to me that they took it down on the Sabbath out of respect for my family, my church, and me. In consideration of our feelings they did not want the first thing my family saw when leaving worship was a reminder my election would not be unanimous.

This simple act of decency, and respect for a fellow Christian, came to mind in reading a June 1 article about the Hanger-Freitas contest. The Roanoke Times revealed that the Freitas campaign had chosen to violate the norm that places of worship were politically off limits.

Two Sundays ago, during the morning service, Freitas supporters descended on Emmett Hanger’s small rural church. They placed their angry literature under the windshield wipers of each car and then ran off. (Did they fear church ladies confining them to the church hall and being forced to overfill on lemonade and cookies?)

Of course there was no need to sneak on to the property or run off as they did. Had they entered the church as strangers they would have been warmly met. Unwilling to engage those good people, out in God’s country, tells us they were not of good purpose.

As I considered this adolescent behavior I wondered what the goal was. The people who know Emmett Hanger best already have their minds made up. Campaign smears would not change a single vote.

Left for me were two possibilities: embarrass and harass the Senator or gain some publicity from the sneak attack on church-goers. Of course when you have been in the political arena as long as Mr. Hanger your skin is as tough as a rhino’s and impervious to ridicule. As for publicity; I can’t believe it could be helpful, especially in our area where respect for church is greater than that for disrespecting its congregants.

So while I believe this stunt will have little impact on the election, or on the faith life of Mount Solon worshippers, I think it deserves attention for what it says about the character of Tina Freitas. A person seeking to lead us ought to be aware that Sunday mornings are a special time for many of us.

This chance to share joys and hardships with others sharing their joys and hardships, brings a collective sense of peace. Being challenged to be better with revelations from Holy Scripture is part of growing in faith. Singing hymns or listening to a choir in praise of God is settling to the soul.

So many of us leave church in high spirits lifted by our time in the Lord’s house. How sad then to be immediately jolted out of that warm sense of peace because Tina Frietas has an agenda.

As a reminder to the candidate who thinks being elected to office means “going to war”; I offer what it means for many of us to go to church:

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer! That calls me from a world of care, and bids me at my Father’s throne make all my wants and wishes known. In seasons of distress and grief, my soul has often found relief, and oft escaped the tempter’s snare by Thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer! The joys I feel, the bliss I share of those whose anxious spirits burn with strong desires for Thy return! With such I hasten to the place where God my Savior show His face, and gladly take my station there, and wait for Thee sweet hour of prayer!

Let’s agree on this if nothing else: Church is meant to be a sanctuary not just another war zone.

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Tracy Pyles, a former chairman and member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors who lives in Augusta County, is a columnist for The News Virginian. His column is published Sundays.

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