Every two years in the United States of America we have federal, state, and local midterm elections. And every year we hear from politicians or administrative officials about why we should vote for them (or not vote for their opponent). The people elected during midterms become the leaders who manage our communities’ money, advocate for our well being, determine how our justice system works, shape our education systems, provide for our safety, dispose of our waste, maintain our environment, and more. Local and state elections are the most impactful on our day to day lives and yet few of us even know who our representatives, administrators, or public officials are.
Our democracy is at stake. Politicians, media outlets, public figures, scholars, researchers, activists, and others have all sounded the alarm. There are thousands of people across the country working in coordinated ways to undermine our system of elections, take control of our local governments, and advocate for political violence. Many of those who are part of this movement claim to be Christians. There are politicians running and influencers on social media who have convinced millions of Americans to place greater faith in lies and liars than in Christ Himself. They devote their energy toward upholding election lies and won’t trust anyone that doesn’t agree with them. They are unmoved by evidence, only valuing the echoes of affirmation in their social circles.They have created a religion of suspicion and their faith is distrust. Believers must stand in contrast with the false followers of Jesus who are really white Christian nationalists and make sure to vote for leaders who represent justice, equality, value, and care for all people regardless of their background. We cannot support or endorse hate, fear, and violence in the name of our Lord and call it faithfulness. We have learned we cannot be slaves to single issues at the federal level and neglect policies and positions at the local and state levels. We have to vote in midterm elections like this one, or our votes may become truly meaningless in the future. It is only pride that keeps us from seeing that if fascist governments can rise in other other countries that it can happen here if we do not participate.
As a voters we fall easily and deeply into tribalism, the identification and support of leaders we feel like are part of “our group.” Unfortunately when we do not have a president to vote for, most of us don’t vote at all. According to Pew Research Center 62% of people of voting age turned out in the 2020 elections, which was a record breaking number, mostly fueled by the bitter cultural wars in the Presidential race. But consider that means that 38% of people who could vote, did not. In midterm elections the numbers are usually under 50%. Literally the minority of people elect leaders who impact all of our lives. And yet when we don’t vote or care about who to vote fore beyond the top officials, we miss out on a critical piece of our democracy.
West side of the Capitol Building at Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Daily photos in the afternoon, good for late autumn, winter and early spring illustration
We are engaged and fervent whenever we elect the president, even though most of us will never meet them and rarely understand their impact on our day to day lives. A president is a symbolic leader for many of us, representing our collective hopes, aspirations, and ultimate accountability. But a president can make none of the changes we imagine for ourselves and our communities without the cooperation and support of the legislature. The laws passed by legislative bodies are ineffective when the courts don’t enforce them. Our entire government is built on cooperation between branches and accountability through voting, both of which are under greater threat than many of us could imagine. We must vote in midterm elections, otherwise our desires to see flourishing in our communities will remain only dreams. We need to know who our tax assessor is, our city council members, our sheriffs, our judges, our attorney generals, our state representatives, our county officials, our congresspeople, and our governors.
As people of faith we have an even greater responsibility to be informed voters and to vote. The United States of America is not the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the eternal King of the Kingdom and He is not up for election. No leader can serve as proxy for Jesus over our lives or our nation. We are not voting to put Jesus Christ in office. He is already reigning over everything by His own power. But we can absolutely elect leaders who agree with our Christian principles of justice, help for the poor, safety for children, value for all lives, and care for the environment. We must look to our faith to inform what matters in our personal politics, and value other people’s faith or lack of faith enough to care for them too. Jesus taught us to seek justice for those who are different from us. Jesus taught us to hold leaders accountable. Jesus taught us to pay special attention poor people, homeless people, those from different countries, those with disabilities, those with food insecurity, and young people. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Which means we have to vote for leaders and policies that will positively impact not just us, but members of our community.
We should vote because we need more good in our government. And we should know our leaders from city hall to capitol hill because their decisions impact us at home, work, school, church, in the park, in the street, in the store, and everywhere else in this country.
WHEATON, Ill. (RNS) — The Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. still remembers clearly the moment as a teenager he thought he was going to die.
Parker was 16 years old, visiting family in Mississippi, when he woke in the early morning hours to the sound of voices in the house. Moments later, the door to his bedroom opened and a man pointed a flashlight and a pistol in his face.
He shut his eyes tight, but the shot never came.
The man moved on to the next bedroom and the next before finding and kidnapping his cousin — Emmett Till.
It was the last time he saw his best friend alive, Parker, now in his 80s, told a packed concert hall Tuesday night (Oct. 25) at Wheaton College, the evangelical flagship school in the Chicago suburbs.
What happened next — Till’s brutal murder, his mother’s decision to allow an open casket at the 14-year-old victim’s funeral, so the country could see what had been done to her son — shone a light on racial violence in the United States and became a catalyst for the civil rights movement.
Mamie Till-Mobley weeps at her son’s funeral on Sept. 6, 1955, in Chicago. (Chicago Sun-Times/AP Photo)
“A picture’s worth a thousand words. That picture made a statement. It went throughout the world, all over the world, and it still speaks,” Parker said of the photographs of Till in his casket, taken by David Jackson and first published in Jet magazine.
The story of Till continues to resonate because it “provides us with a lens to understand racial conflict in our own moment,” said Theon Hill, associate professor of communications at Wheaton College and primary organizer and moderator of Tuesday’s event, “Remembering Emmett Till: A Conversation on Race, Nation and Faith.”
“When we see George Floyd killed right in front of us due to the officer’s knee,” said Hill, “when we see Breonna Taylor’s death, when we see Ahmaud Arbery, we’re trying to make sense of what’s happening, and Till’s death, as tragic as it will always be, provides us with a grammar to understand this is what’s happening and this is how you might respond in your moment.”
The enduring relevance of Till’s death is apparent in the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime and signed in March by President Joe Biden, nearly 70 years after Till’s murder.
“A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till” by the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. and Christopher Benson. Courtesy image
It’s also borne out in the critical acclaim for a new film, “Till,” centering on Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, and her fight for justice for her son, which appears in theaters nationwide this week. In January, Parker will publish his recollections of his cousin, “A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till.”
It was 30 years before anybody asked Parker his account of what had happened over the handful of days in 1955 he and his cousin, who lived in Chicago, spent in Mississippi visiting family, according to Parker, the last surviving witness to Till’s abduction.
In Parker’s account, Till is a jokester, the boy next door he accompanied fishing, picnicking and on other trips. When his cousin found out he was planning to take the train down South to visit his grandfather, he insisted on going too.
“If you didn’t live in Mississippi at that time or experience what it was like, you have no idea what it was like,” Parker said.
He had lived in the South until he was 7 and knew “what you had to do to stay alive and what could happen to you,” he said.
When the younger boy whistled in the presence of a white woman outside a store, Parker said, the cousins left in a hurry. He worried what could happen in a place and time when a Black man couldn’t so much as look at a white woman, he said.
But days passed, and they’d nearly forgotten about the incident. Then came the moment Parker heard voices in his grandfather’s home at about 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, asking about the boys from Chicago.
“Sunday morning should be the safest place on earth for a young man in his house — on Sunday morning, waiting to go to church,” he said.
Shaking and sure he was about to die, he prayed, “God, if you just let me live, I’m going to get my life together.”
That Monday, he returned to Chicago alone, his life changed “completely,” said Parker, now pastor and district superintendent of the Argo Temple Church of God in Christ in Summit, Illinois.
The Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. speaks during the “Remembering Emmett Till: A Conversation on Race, Nation and Faith” event at Wheaton College, Oct. 25, 2022, in Wheaton, Illinois. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller
What happened to Till changed the country, too.
Dave Tell, author of the 2019 book “Remembering Emmett Till,” told the audience Tuesday night that he had become invested in civil rights because of Till’s story.
“The Till story prompted a new generation to stand up for justice, and I think the good news of the night is that the Till story — Rev. Parker’s story — is still motivating a new generation,” Tell said.
It’s a story, he said, the U.S. needs to hear today more than ever. Considering the stories of Floyd and others against the backdrop of Till’s murder, it’s hard to minimize their killings as “a problem of a bad apple or bad cop,” he said.
And the church has a role to play in sharing that story, both Tell and Parker agreed.
The biblical Book of Genesis tells the story of Abel, murdered by his brother Cain, Tell pointed out. In the story, God says Abel’s blood cries out to him from the ground, where Cain has tried to bury what he did.
If God demands that voices that have been buried be brought to light as part of the work of justice and healing, shouldn’t the church? Tell asked.
“We’ve got to keep the legacy going — got to keep the story going — and not with animosity,” Parker added.
“Just tell the story. It’s history. It’s real. Tell what happened,” he said.
(RNS) — Water is both sacred and the cradle of life. It connects us to one another. We all have relationships with bodies of water, whether that be with the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, a local creek, wetland or river or a nearby lake. These places are vital to our health and wellbeing but also help us spiritually connect.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act — legislation that helped clean up waterways across the nation — we must use all the tools available to ensure clean water is available in all our communities. Ensuring clean water often means properly stewarding upstream waters and wetlands. With more than 117 million people in the U.S. receiving their drinking water from public systems fed in whole or in part by intermittent, headwater, and ephemeral streams, protecting these waters is paramount.
The Clean Water Rule, which the Environmental Protection Agency put in place to designate which waterways were protected under the Clean Water Act, helps ensure safe drinking water for communities. The Clean Water Rule protects nearly one-third of all Americans’ drinking water from pollution.
Despite the reality that water is not bound to particular waterways but is connected, the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case that could change which waters are protected under the Clean Water Rule and eliminate certain wetlands and waters from protection. This would have severe repercussions to clean drinking water in Virginia and across the U.S.
In Virginia, we have a lot of water to protect: 249,000 miles of streams, 322,000 acres of lakes, 1,600 springs, and approximately 1 million acres of wetlands that provide flood protection, pollution filtration and essential wildlife habitat. For a state that values its lakes, streams and waterways, as well as public health, a robust Clean Water Rule is crucial.
Clean water is not a luxury. Clean water is integral to all human communities and the rest of the Earth. Which is why it makes common sense to ensure our common good through clean water protections. While clean water isn’t a partisan issue, it is a faith issue. Water is central to many faith traditions and most sacred ceremonies: washing, baptism, forgiveness. Religious traditions across the spectrum attend to justice and urge us to properly steward the Earth. In addition to our call to be faithful stewards of the Earth, our faith traditions teach us to care for vulnerable populations, including communities of color and low-income communities.
Regional studies and stories from across the country document the water struggles of these communities and demonstrate that there is much progress to be made before water justice is achieved in the United States. There are numerous instances where these communities are disproportionately burdened by water degradation, ranging from lack of clean drinking water to higher exposure to fish contamination.
The removal of clean water protections for wetlands, such as the Supreme Court is considering in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, leaves too much to chance. Specifically, it puts more than 117 million people at risk for pollution and would be highly detrimental to wildlife.
Protecting clean water is a moral call. The Clean Water Rule helps us, as a country, protect one of the most important elements of creation: clean water. We have a duty to care for these essential, life-giving waters.
(Cassandra Carmichael is the executive director of National Religious Partnership for the Environment. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
Jim Clyburn has led a remarkable life that has been marked by the pursuit of a more just society. As the child of a minister and a Christian himself, his faith has been a driving force in his public work for justice. He was an early members of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) working alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jon Lewis who became his fellow Congressman. He now serves as a Congressman in South Carolina and one of the senior ranking members of the United States House of Representatives. President Joe Biden credits him directly with helping him win the presidency. UrbanFaith sat down with Congressman Jim Clyburn to discuss his faith, his legacy, HBCUs and his work to strengthen democracy and justice in the United States. The full audio interview is above!
As a Christian, you may ask yourself at times how to live out your faith in the public sphere. Injustices are occurring in the world around us every day. Because your faith doesn’t allow you to ignore these happenings, you feel a strong desire from within to take productive action. Some people choose to take harmful action but your desire is to take action that heals, that works towards justice and that shows God’s love for humanity. This is what we should aim to do, and my goal is to help you begin to think of ways you can live out your faith while having a positive impact on the world around you.
We are called to live out our faith and have an impact on society. A verse in the scriptures that reiterates this calling is Micah 6:8, which says “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In this verse Micah points out what God requires of us. We are to do Justice. How are we “to do Justice”? What does that mean for us? Justice comes in different forms. We can do Justice by lending help to the parent who is struggling to put food on the table and is earning just enough to put a roof over their children’s heads. We can lend our help by offering to buy them groceries, maybe filling up their car with gas or connecting them to resources that can give them financial assistance and build their credit. We can do justice by assisting the homeless in our community to find shelter and get them connected to resources that will supply them with food and daily necessities. We can do justice by giving our time, talent and treasure to community organizations that give back to youth, those who are less fortunate and those who are struggling to make it each day.
These are some ways we can do justice on an individual basis. To those who already do such acts regularly, I commend you. Continue this good work. However, there’s also a need for justice on a systemic level within our society. As Christians, we are to follow the example of Christ, and stand beside those who are looked down on and mistreated by society. We have the capability to do justice on a systemic level by advocating for changes within our systems. We should advocate for opportunities for disadvantaged youth. Whether that be through mentorship programs, academic tutoring, pouring more resources into historically underfunded schools and giving families more choices as to where their child can attend. We should advocate for those who are battling unfair sentences in the justice system and creating opportunities for those who have paid their debt to society, in an effort to reduce recidivism rates. We should aim to provide more accessible opportunities for employment, educational opportunities, and programs for financial and civic literacy once they are released. More people should focus on advocating for those struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse. These are initiatives that would exhibit justice as Micah 6:8 led us to do.
Our participation in advocating for policy and systemic change in the public sphere is crucial. Many people believe their voice doesn’t matter, and as a result they don’t bother to vote or advocate for change. I can understand why many feel this way. However, inaction by good hearted people doesn’t get us further towards justice at all. Our government is supposed to be by and for the people. That means we the people of the United States have a voice and can move our government through civic engagement to reform laws and systems to deliver true justice. We can have a great impact especially on a local level. For example, after the terrible deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor many cities across the country were pressed by citizens to take action against not only police brutality but racial injustice on a broad systemic level. That means in education, voting, criminal justice, and especially public health as the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the inequities in our health care system. With much to be addressed U.S. cities and state governments passed their own policies in an attempt to tackle racial injustice. In my home City of Middletown, CT where I am a member of the City Council, we decided to establish a Task Force on Anti-Racism. This Task Force was given the charge to find policy solutions to systemic racism wherever it exists under our jurisdiction. My colleagues and I received numerous emails from residents calling for change. The establishment of the Task Force was a response to residents’ call to action and would be the beginning of furthering justice within our own community. This is one example of how people can make a difference and move our government from stagnation and lip service to action and moving in the right direction. I encourage you to believe that your voice matters. Someone is waiting for you to stand up for the cause of justice.
With myriad issues that need to be addressed it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You don’t have to figure out how you will be an advocate for all of them. I encourage you to look at the example of Christ. He advocated for those who were hungry, sick, outcasts and shamed. He even advocated for you before you were born so that you may have life more abundantly. If you use your time and energy each day advocating for justice, you are advocating for those who are facing current circumstances as well as generations to come. Remember, to do justice is to take action that creates a society where everyone has the opportunities, tools and resources to fulfill their God-given potential. Justice can be restorative instead of further tearing individuals down.
I focused in the previous passages on how we “do justice.” However, those actions are to love kindness and walk humbly as well. When we reach out our hand to help and advocate for others who society would rather turn their backs on, we extend kindness. When we set aside our pride and consider the circumstances of others instead of solely focusing on our own, we begin to walk humbly. I challenge you to think about what issues in your community you can begin to advocate for that would further the cause of justice. What Town Hall meetings can you attend to advocate for justice? What issues can you write your Legislator or Mayor about? If you don’t know who these individuals are, I encourage you to research them. As you begin to walk in the requirements of Micah 6:8, you will be living out your faith in the public sphere.
Visitors with a Let’s Talk initiative pose together at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Sept. 13, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
WASHINGTON (RNS) — For missionary Doug Gentile, it was seeing the “shackles for tiny children” used during American slavery.
For seminary professor Darrell Bock, it was confronting the specificity of the list of “Black codes” that restricted the lives of Black people after slavery ended — mandates in many states, for instance, that they sign annual labor contracts on pain of arrest.
These revelations, and many more, came out of an early morning tour Tuesday (Sept. 13) of an otherwise empty National Museum of African American History and Culture for 42 Black, white and Asian American evangelical Christian leaders, sponsored by an initiative called Let’s Talk, which aims to foster racial unity among evangelicals.
“A lot of folks had some real eye-opening moments at the museum,” said Bishop Derek Grier, founder of Let’s Talk, the day after the tour.
The visitors, who included Council for Christian Colleges & Universities President Shirley V. Hoogstra, public relations executive and longtime Billy Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross and National Association of Evangelicals President Walter Kim, followed a museum guide, most listening silently, past Harriet Tubman’s hymnal, a dress made by Rosa Parks at the time of her bus protest and an exhibit about the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, which occurred 59 years nearly to the day before the tour.
Their guide explained that enslaved Blacks regularly attended “what could be called church” secretly in brush arbors, because it was illegal for them to preach or gather during the time of slavery.
But there were other lessons about how the slave experience formed the basis of what some view as racial injustices today. “Most people did not realize the economic impact slavery had on the founding of the United States of America and one of the plaques said something along the lines of 60% of the U.S. economy was based on slavery,” said Grier, who is Black.
The initiative comes in answer to the rejection by some evangelicals of the idea of systemic racism. A 2019 survey found that, when asked if the country has historically been oppressive for racial minorities, 82% of white evangelicals did not agree.
Gentile, founder of Alexandria, Virginia, nonprofit James 2 Association, said the tour bolstered his organization’s goal “to use the Bible to fight back against these white-rage, rear-guard attempts to cancel discussions of racial history and racial justice in the public schools.”
Pastor Lee Jenkins, the leader of the nondenominational Eagles Nest Church in Roswell, Georgia, and co-chair of the regional organization One Race, said he appreciated how some white visitors to the museum were affected by what they saw.
“It shook some of them to their core,” he said. “And that was encouraging because it showed that they had compassion and they were willing to acknowledge that America has had a problem in this area and this problem of racism and injustice needs to be addressed.”
Bishop Derek Grier, right, founder of Let’s Talk, talks with missionary Doug Gentile outside the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Sept. 13, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
The Let’s Talk initiative was launched at a banquet at the Museum of the Bible in November, and since then more than 500 people have signed its “Statement of Change,” which says in part: “We believe both the spirit and clear moral imperatives of scripture require the Christian community to lead the way in defeating racial bigotry.”
Some of the signers have also committed to meeting regularly — at first monthly and now quarterly — over Zoom to continue conversations about racial tensions.
Many of the participants already work on race issues through their churches or organizations. But Kim said Let’s Talk was a chance to learn, share and network together. “There’s a desire for us not to be territorial about this work,” he said. “This is gospel work, and it is really important for us to be in collaboration with others, sometimes applauding what they’re doing from afar, other times collaborating closely.”
Bock, a white New Testament scholar who has taught at Dallas Theological Seminary for 41 years, said the museum tour helped orient the work the group has ahead. He said their focus on unity in Christ is a starting point for conversations about polarization in the country, adding that discussions of race should not be separated from the church’s testimony.
“Most of the evangelical church is about individual salvation and a person’s individual walk with God,” he said. “This is all about larger community structures and being able to think through that space and to help people see that space is an important part of the conversation.”
Kim said his organization expects to support Grier’s plans for a “Unity Weekend” in June 2023, when churches will cooperate across racial and denominational lines on service projects and hear sermons about unity.
In March, the NAE hired a director of its new Racial Justice & Reconciliation Collaborative who has been meeting with leaders of local and regional initiatives to address racial injustice such as One Race. The NAE, an umbrella organization for a wide range of evangelical organizations, hopes to foster networks that address not only what the churches can do within their own structures but beyond them to transform their communities.
Grier, who is pastor of an independent church in Dumfries, Virginia, said his reasons for founding Let’s Talk are based on biblical lessons about collaboration, including Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels “that they may be one” and that “a house divided against itself will not stand.”
“I have children I love, people I love that are going to be here a lot longer than I will be,” said the 57-year-old pastor. “And I want to make sure that I do my part in trying to make this a better country for the young people that are going to follow us.”