Faith leaders and followers of all religions across the US have been at the forefront of justice throughout history, often providing an important and protective presence. This first anniversary of the January 6 insurrection saw tens of thousands of people joining some 350 vigils for voting rights and democracy protection across the US, many faith leaders among them.
A National Interfaith Vigil with leaders from Catholicism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam shared scriptures and reflections to better understand how January 6 came to be on our watch. In memory of the Rev. Dr. King, yesterday’s observance was dedicated to voting rights with “no celebration without legislation,” their call to action for every senator.
The power invested in religion and religious symbols is clear—and also misused. On January 6, armed insurrectionists simultaneously carrying bibles and images of Jesus attacked the Capitol and threatened to kill elected leaders of both parties. Many leaders who profess strong faith continue to spread the Big Lie about the election results, a desperate attempt to hold onto power after President Donald Trump lost the election. Consider this 2021 study by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). The overwhelming presence of many Christians who believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen is deeply disturbing. The majority of white evangelicals—62 percent—believe Donald Trump won despite losing the popular and electoral vote, and they are not alone: 46 percent of Mormons; 37 percent of white mainline Protestants; 35 percent of white Catholics; 34 percent of Hispanic Protestants and 20 percent of Hispanic Catholics as well as 22 percent of smaller Christian-identified groups all believe “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.”
Massive numbers of Americans are being coached in this untruth. Now, 21 million Americans believe that violence is justified in overturning the certified 2020 election results. We can’t laugh this off as some fringe element. We cannot ignore the role a large segment of our fellow Christians play.
An Imperiled Democracy
The lust for violence, election corruption, and voter suppression remains strong, and the battlefield is expanding. New laws are being passed, state-by-state, to suppress the vote among the young, the poor, and especially people of color. Gerrymandering further attacks fair representation, and those charged with overseeing free and fair elections are increasingly partisan appointees preparing to overturn them.
Our democracy is teetering on the edge, and inaction will help push it over. Leaders across the board, and especially across Christianity, need to lead with truth-telling if we are to live into Jesus’ teachings. We would do well to also remember the words and actions of faith leaders, like the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Because at this perilous juncture in our democracy, we all need to hear that silence means we’d rather be complicit in stripping neighbors of their dignity and right to flourish in our country.
We need real reform. You may be hearing about “Electoral Count Reform” in lieu of voter protections. While the Electoral Count Act (ECA) needs updating, the Republicans’ newfound interest in the ECA is a cynical attempt to keep Democrats from passing concrete federal protections to ensure that every voter can safely and freely vote, and every vote is counted. ECA reform does nothing to address the massive expansion of voter suppression across states; nor does it address the calls for violence in our elections; nor does it protect our elections from sabotage. People of every race, place, party, faith, and background need to send a unified demand to the Senate and White House that they be on the side of the people.
It is important that the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act must be passed.
The Common Good
Shortly after the January 6 attack, Pope Francis said, “There is always something that isn’t working … (with) people taking a path against the community, against democracy, against the common good. Thank God that this has burst into the open and is clear to see well, because like this, you can put it right. Yes, this must be condemned, this movement, no matter who is involved in it.”
Every faith leader needs to join together to heal our wounded nation by speaking with conviction against all attempts to sabotage elections as well as hold accountable those who continue to try to subvert democracy. As corrupt politicians and their religious wingmen plot new ways to preserve their power, the rest of us must faithfully and diligently seek “the art of the common good.”