On Aug. 12, the Rev. Neal Christie, the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s Executive Minister of Connected Engaged, met with religious and political leaders in Washington, D.C. to hand-deliver a message about voter rights to Congressional leaders.
The message, from United Methodists, leaders from Texas where voters’ rights are under attack, the Poor People’s Campaign, and the National Council of Churches, calls on lawmakers to take action to ensure the health of democracy. The message said:
“We write to you as racially and theologically diverse pastoral leaders of denominations and religious bodies along with Texas state legislators. Together, we are concerned both about the spiritual well-being of souls and the social health of the nation in which we serve. We write as the heirs of moral leaders who pushed for a more perfect union even as they worked to bind up the wounds of those who were injured by this nation’s imperfections. We join the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival to insist that these four actions of the US Senate are connected and must happen immediately for the health of our democracy:
- End the filibuster.
- Pass all provisions of the bill John Lewis wrote: The For the People Act
- Fully restore and expand protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act
- Raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hr
Fifty-six years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. issued a call for clergy to join him for a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. On Bloody Sunday the nation had witnessed the brutality of Jim Crow’s determination to suppress African-American votes. This was not simply a political issue, Dr. King insisted. It was a moral issue that demanded the attention of faith leaders. By denying Black people in Alabama the rights guaranteed to all people in America, Jim Crow was denying the image of God in African-Americans and using the power gained by that denial to hurt poor Black and white people. Connecting voter suppression to economic injustice, Dr. King made clear that both were moral issues impacting the very soul of this nation.
More than half a century later, we are saddened to see voter suppression once again adopted as a political strategy. The same lies that were told to incite an insurrection at the US Capitol are being repeated in statehouses across America as justification for voter suppression measures that not only make it more difficult for some people to vote but also make it easier for state legislatures to overturn the results of elections they do not like.
In the aftermath of 2020’s challenges to election results, we are seeing a massive form of political insurrection through attempts to block and suppress voting rights in ways that will hurt people of all races and demographics. These attacks are a threat to our democracy itself. They are born of elitist greed and aim to limit access to the ballot and to create disparate impact, especially on communities of color. As in 1965, the moral issue of voter suppression cannot be separated from economic justice. Yes, Black people are targeted by voter suppression as are Native and other people of color. But the politicians who want to hold onto power by suppressing voters use their power to deny living wages and healthcare to poor Black, white, Native, Asian and Latino Americans. Voter suppression is a moral issue that impacts all of us.
For this reason, we join our voices to insist that the filibuster rules of the US Senate must not be allowed to prevent passage of federal voting rights protections this year. The filibuster has been used over and again to subvert democracy by denying the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans who want to protect the promise of unfettered access to the ballot for every American. The filibuster must step aside so that democracy can survive. The filibuster is not in the Constitution, but voting rights are fundamental to the Constitution. The filibuster causes chaos and has been used over the years to block civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, labor rights, environmental protections, and health care.
Voter suppression and subversion measures have already become law in 18 states this year. This is bigger than any political party. The very soul of our democracy is at stake. For the sake of those we are called to shepherd and the rights of those we were elected to represent, we stand united in this call.
We implore you to not recess until you take action on these matters. Do not give into racism, greed, or political games. Mr. McConnell, join the right side of history and the Constitution. Mr. Schumer, now is the time to do what is right, even with only 51 votes. If 51 votes are good enough for budgets and lifetime appointments the Supreme Court, they must be good enough to save the life of this democracy.
The three infrastructures we must protect and strengthen now are the voting rights infrastructure of our democracy, the economic and wage infrastructure of poor and low wealth people, and the infrastructure of the roads and bridges, ports, and pipes of our nation. There is an urgency to this moment, and we must meet it for the sake of the democracy here and the vision of democracy around the world.”