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‘Resurrection always wins out over insurrection,’ Presbyterian pastor tells a Capitol crowd

People of faith call for unity, peace and healing as two-year anniversary of Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol stirs emotions

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Poor People’s Campaign Co-Chair the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and PC(USA) Associate Director for Advocacy the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins lead a protest in Washington, D.C. in 2018. (File photo courtesy of the Office of Public Witness)

LOUISVILLE — On the eve of the two-year anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, an interfaith vigil was held in Washington, D.C., on Thursday evening.

The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a Presbyterian pastor who co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign, was one of several speakers featured during the livestreamed event, which focused on the need for unity and healing.

“God of the people, you teach us that love tramples hate, that truth trounces lies, that hope conquers fear, and life overcomes death,” said Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice housed at Union Theological Seminary. “Resurrection always wins out over insurrection.”

The vigil, which lasted more than an hour, was hosted by the Franciscan Action Network and Light4America, which seeks to “reclaim” Jan. 6 as a day for Americans to defend democracy and repair partisan discord.

“We call upon people of faith and no faith to use this observance of Jan. 6 to recommit to working in their community to safeguard democracy, including the right to vote without intimidation, and the protection of our poll workers and government officials from all who would threaten or harm them,” said the Rev. Paul Raushenbush, an ordained Baptist minister who’s president of the Interfaith Alliance, which strives to unite diverse voices to challenge extremism. “We invite religious leaders to teach all of us to be generous in victory, gracious in defeat, and unrelenting in our determination to find common ground upon which all might live together and flourish side by side.”

His words stood in contrast to the events of Jan. 6, 2021, the day that throngs of supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol after he made false claims that the 2020 election, won by Joe Biden, had been stolen from him. The deadly and destructive attack, which resulted in around 900 arrests and a congressional panel accusing Trump of multiple crimes, continues to be an open wound for the country despite the passage of time.

Thursday’s Faith in Democracy interfaith prayer vigil attracted an online audience of more than 1,000.

“We come together at the U.S. Capitol today to pray for national healing after a painful event that still divides us as Americans,” said Michele Dunne, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, a nonprofit organization focused on transforming public policy on various issues, including poverty and human rights. “We’re here today to pray that Americans uphold and improve our democracy so that we can resolve our differences peacefully.”

But political strife continues despite the commitment of those gathered at the vigil to peace, justice and reconciliation, Theoharis noted.

“We’re here this evening, right near this Capitol Building, where extremist politicians sow division and discord, where two years after an attack on the building, we’re witnessing such extremists continuing to defy and undermine our democracy,” Theoharis said.

She likened it to the days of Jesus when powerful people “were oppressing and subjugating the people, sowing violence and strife.”

In her speech, Theoharis lifted up the issues that she believes people of faith must commit themselves to. “The issues that Jesus holds dear are not about gun rights, or waving flags, or determining who can marry who,” she said. “They’re not about having politicians pick their voters rather than voters electing their leaders. They’re not about controlling women’s bodies or harassing and threatening LGBTQ and trans youth. No, those issues are the work, the law of empire.

“Instead, Jesus’ main concerns are food and sustenance and immigrant rights and health care and an adequate standard of living and decent housing and prison abolition,” Theoharis continued. “They’re about peace among and between nations, letting the light of justice and truth and peace shine, lifting from the bottom so that everybody — everybody — rises.”

Imam Dr. Talib M. Shareef, president of the Masjid Muhammad, “The Nation’s Mosque,” said that “Faith is the strongest energy for establishing the life that Almighty God wants on this Earth.”

Noting the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, he added: “We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. If there is a time for unity and solidarity, the time is now. The unity we ought to have can only manifest when there is real faith. Real faith requires real work to realize it. We can never simply believe; we have to also build upon our beliefs.”

Shareef also called for tolerance and thoughtful leaders. “We’re a nation of nations, a country made up of people of every land. We choose our leaders and we need our leaders to be respectful and reflective of our reality and to live up to the responsibility that we the citizens of this country have entrusted to them — that is, provide good government for the people by the people and to protect the rights of all citizens.”

Bishop John Stowe, Roman Catholic Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, and president of Pax Christi USA, noted that “corruption and secrecy undermine the values that make democracy productive.” He added: “Like St. Paul reminded the Thessalonians, we are to be children of the light, not of darkness. Our presence tonight is to insist that we cannot allow these values to slip away because we’re not vigilant nor to be taken away by those who would prefer to be under the dictatorship of one who shares their views, rather than doing the hard work of creating a democratic consensus in which all voices matter.”

Associate Rabbi Stephanie Crawley of Temple Micah in Washington, D.C., also spoke with commitment and an eye to the future: “We are not comforted but we are rededicated. We will rededicate our country and its hallowed halls once again — this time, through the steadfast commitment to every ideal we dream of.”

To watch the vigil in its entirety, go here.

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