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Saving both our vote and our democracy

Ecumenical Advocacy Days workshop explores programs and toolkits designed to strengthen participation this November

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Arnaud Jaegers via Unsplash

ARLINGTON, Virginia — During an Ecumenical Advocacy Days Spring Summit workshop entitled “Voting Matters,” representatives from two entities devoted to promoting the civic good — Sojourners magazine and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA — shared their thoughts on saving both our vote and our democracy.

The Rev. Adam Russell Taylor is president of Sojourners and the author of “A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community.” The Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune is the NCC’s Senior Associate Secretary General and Director of Advocacy. Taylor joined EAD via Zoom.

Taylor discussed the ecumenical initiative called Faiths United to Save Democracy. “It’s cliché to say this is the most consequential election in our lifetime, but it’s true,” he said. “We have been in a struggle to expand who is included in ‘We the People.’”

The Rev. Adam Russell Taylor

Taylor is the product of a Black mother and a white father who were married a year after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its unanimous decision in Loving v. Virginia. The couple passed along two deeply-held beliefs to their son: we’re all made in the image of God, which “instilled in me that our nation’s diversity is an incredible asset, not a weakness,” and that he and his fellow Gen Xers “inherited the unfinished business of the civil rights struggle.”

The nation’s patchwork of voting laws means “we are becoming a separate but unequal country,” Taylor said. In half the country, voting is easier than it used to be. “In the other half, we are going backwards,” he said. These laws disproportionately affect Black and brown voters and younger and older voters, as well as voters with disabilities, Taylor said.

“We believe faith leaders should be on the front lines defending and transforming democracy,” he told the faith leaders gathered for EAD. People of faith should vote for at least four scriptural reasons: voter suppression offends God, voting is an act of faith, faith without works is dead, and we are called to seek justice.

“Understand,” he said. “Bad leaders are elected by good people who don’t vote. … In order to transform democracy, we first need to protect it.”

Sojourners and about 30 other faith organizations have launched A Call to Civic Discipleship. Among the ways faith leaders can participate is by volunteering as a poll chaplain. “Learn more about the campaign,” Taylor urged, “and hopefully sign up.”

Poll chaplains will be trained on election laws in their state and how to de-escalate confrontations that can lead to violence. Lawyers will serve as voluntary election monitors.

“It’s hard to know how much you’re able to deter by your presence,” he said.

Copeland True talked up the NCC’s Voting Matters Toolkit, which can be accessed here. The toolkit includes a historical background on voting rights, a theological grounding for voting and scriptures for preaching on voting.

The Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland True

“I consider myself a voting evangelist,” Copeland True said. Her grandparents told her stories of how Ku Klux Klan members burned a cross near their house because the couple had been helping others to fill our voter registration forms. When Copeland True expressed alarm, her grandmother assured her, “It wasn’t right in front of our house.”

“I said, ‘You’re burying the lede,’” Copeland True said. Now she understands “how you have to risk your life in order to vote.”

“We don’t have to like the people we’re voting for. We don’t have to deal with them much,” she said. “But we should never give up the power to vote.”

The NCC is helping to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer in a big way, which is described here.

“We can trust and depend on God, but God is also looking to us,” she said. “Let’s get people registered and out to vote.”

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