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Wilfong says faith delayed registration

October 28, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Washington County Board of Education candidate Mary L. Wilfong on Tuesday her religious beliefs kept her from registering to vote until she launched her campaign in June.

Wilfong, who was the top vote-getter in the Sept. 15 primary, has drawn criticism from some because she has not voted in past elections.

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But Wilfong, who owns Martin's Fine Furniture and Ethan Allen Home Interiors, said her religious tradition stresses community service over partisan politics.

"My religious heritage is Mennonite and their emphasis is to be respectful of government and workers and the law, but not to participate in voting," she said.

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Wilfong said she was reluctant to offer the explanation when her voting history was publicized last week because her faith is a deeply personal matter.

"When I decided I could serve the community by being on the nonpartisan school board, I had to register to vote," she said.

Wilfong said she has devoted her energy to a number of civic and charitable causes and has had a deep involvement in her children's schools.

"Probably, that's one of the reasons why I got the number of votes that I did," she said.

According to the Mennonite Confession of Faith, Mennonites may participate in secular activities like voting "only in ways that do not violate the love and holiness taught by Christ and do not compromise our loyalty to Christ."

The faith statement said the church must determine how participation in government affects members' relationship with God.

"We ask these questions when we confront issues of military service, office holding, government employment, voting, taxes, participating in the economic system, using the secular courts, pledging allegiance, using flags, public and private schooling, and seeking to influence legislation," the statement reads.

Wilfong said different Mennonite churches take different approaches to the matter.

Wilfong said it is difficult to say precisely why she now feels ready to take the next step in public service.

"I'm not sure I have the total answer to that," she said.

Wilfong said she personally makes a distinction between nonpartisan offices like the school board and partisan offices like state delegate or County Commissioner.

She said she decided to run after years of serving in other ways and after several people urged her to seek office.

"I feel I had some gifts that I could give," she said. "I feel like I can give something to the community."

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