While the presidential candidates have been discussing values and downplaying personal religious beliefs, faith is front and center in the race for Ohio’s 5th Congressional District.
The Democratic challenger, Rev. Angela Zimmann, is an ordained Lutheran minister and the incumbent, Republican Bob Latta, is a Catholic who attends congressional prayer meetings and promotes the core values of “faith, family and community.”
“A person without a religious faith can still be a person of integrity,” Zimmann said in a recent interview, “so I wouldn’t say that if you don’t have faith you don’t have values. But I know for myself my faith influences my values. Being from the Christian faith, our values are to care for the needy. The Bible talks about helping the elderly and the widows, and I see that as an analogy for helping anyone who doesn’t have their needs met.”
Latta said he’s “a firm believer that you’ve got to have a true faith value in everything that you do. It starts with faith in God, family and country.”
The Libertarian candidate for 5th District, Eric Eberly, is a member of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bowling Green.
Zimmann, 39, is the pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a small church just over the Ohio line in Riga, Mich.
To the best of her knowledge, she said, she is the only female pastor seeking federal office this year. (Researchers at Congressional Quarterly and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said they knew of no other female ministers running for Congress, but could not say definitively.)
Zimmann spoke with Bishop Donald Kreiss of southeast Michigan and Bishop Marcus Lohrmann of northwest Ohio before announcing her candidacy.
“It was all conversational, not hierarchical,” she said. “Both bishops were supportive and said the church should be more involved in the public forum and listening and participating in the process.”
With her church being in Michigan and her political campaign in Ohio, Zimmann’s church and state are literally separate. But she talked with church members before running for office.
“It’s a pretty conservative little congregation,” she said, with about 100 people on the rolls and Sunday attendance averaging between 40 and 50.
“There are more registered Republicans than Democrats for sure, but they’re pretty open and affirming. We’ve had conversations with the parishioners and many of them said, ‘We’ve vote for you even though we’re Republicans because you are an independent thinker’.”
But politics is not a big topic at Trinity.
“We don’t talk about it on Sunday morning. We’re there to worship and that’s what we do,” she said.
Zimmann, who has a doctorate degree in rhetoric, gave up her job teaching writing at Bowling Green State University to run for Congress. But she has kept her part-time job at Trinity.
“I have not missed a Sunday,” she said. “And my plan, and my bishop’s plan, is that even if I’m elected I will continue as their pastor because most weekends I’m going to go to church anyway.”
She has a ready stand-in if there’s a scheduling conflict: her husband, Martin Zimmann, also an ordained ELCA minister.
If elected, she said she will be on guard to not let politics corrupt her faith.
“I’m not going to say, ‘Oh no, I’m incorruptible. I’m above that.’ I think that’s when we become most susceptible,” Zimmann said. “Absolutely I’m worried. I pray. I’ll be on guard. I’ll be asking people around me to watch, monitor, be truthful and hold me accountable.”
Latta, 56, said his father, former Republican U.S. Rep. Del Latta, is a member of the Church of Christ and his mother is a Catholic.
He serves as an usher at St. Thomas More University Parish in Bowling Green and attends congressional prayer breakfasts in Washington on Thursdays whenever possible.
“You have got to know where your principles come from. If you don’t have principles to begin with, you can’t do this job,” said Latta, who has been in Congress since 2007.
“You’ve got to have your foundation to do what you believe in to be a good representative.”
He said both houses of Congress have chaplains and every congressional session opens with prayer.
“That goes back to 1789, when we first had a chaplain in the House,” Latta said. “And a lot of people do not realize that we have what might be called a chapel right off the Rotunda at the Capitol Building and I know that it’s utilized.”