Category Archives: Voting and Democracy

Voting Under the Sign of the Cross

Voting Under the Sign of the Cross

Putting Our Focus on the Margins
Meghan J. Clark
August 13, 2020

In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, our communities powerfully cry out for racial justice. The global COVID-19 pandemic remains, it has not dissipated, despite growing public fatigue with mitigation measures. Amidst all of this, we struggle to maintain voting rights in primaries and in preparation for November. NETWORK and its partners have tirelessly worked on issues of racial and economic justice for decades. The issues are not new, unknown, or unstudied; and yet, something about 2020 feels different.  The collective albeit deeply unequal experience of COVID-19’s vulnerability, suffering, and death has inescapably interrupted our business as usual attitude.

Today there is a growing chorus of people demanding a more just and equitable community. A chorus that rejects returning to a business as usual that benefits only the privileged while excluding millions. At marches in Rockaway, Queens, youth leaders pair a focus on racial justice alongside voter registration and census participation. Alongside chants of “Black lives matter!” you also hear, “Don’t just hope, get out and VOTE!”

Participation in the political, social, and economic life of the community is both our right and our responsibility. While not everyone is called to be an activist, all are called to actively work for the common good. Voting, in Catholic social teaching, is a moral obligation. Yet, as Christians, we are called to vote not motivated by own self-interest but by a commitment to the human dignity of all, an all-inclusive common good, and with a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. Faithful discipleship, then, becomes a matter of solidarity and kinship in which all are equally sacred. In faithful citizenship, we are called to vote under the sign of the cross.

Beginning with the Crucified

In his first homily as pope, Francis prayed that we, as the people of God, may receive the grace to “to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ crucified.” In focusing our journey on Christ crucified, Francis draws individuals out of themselves and towards the margins of society. The task is two-fold: to focus our attention on those excluded from our societies while also recognizing the structures by which they are rendered invisible or expendable. Beginning with the crucified Christ illustrates the ways both individual dignity and structures of sin are inextricably linked.  When Francis labels inequality as the root of all social ills in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG), it is in recognition that it is “making it practically impossible to live a human life ruled by moral principles.”

Building on both Catholic social teaching and the prophetic insights of liberation theology, Pope Francis’s decries, “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading.…those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it.” (EG 53).

Voting under the sign of the cross, then, asks us to begin our discernment from the perspective of the excluded, of those who suffer from institutionalized violence, those whom the martyred El Salvadoran Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuria called the crucified peoples. For Ellacuria, the cross focuses our attention on the “collective reality, grounding and making possible individual sins.”1 Talking about the reality of individual sin is not enough. Seeing the reality of our society’s crucified peoples requires those with privilege to face the uncomfortable and unavoidable complicity in social sin, of which in the United States, racism and white supremacy are paramount.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the call for racial justice in our country today. Professing Christ crucified, in all its historical complexity, has long been central in African American Christian ethics, most notably the work of Protestant theologian James Cone, who famously described the crucifixion as a first-century lynching.2 Reflecting on the current protests, Nigerian-American Sister Anne Arabome laments that God cannot breathe; “As the protests continue, I see people on the streets — breathing in and breathing out. In their voices I hear the God of life screaming and asking for space to breathe again.”3

Living Incarnational Solidarity

“A faith that does not draw us into solidarity is a faith which is dead, it is deceitful…faith without solidarity is a faith without Christ.”4 These provocative words, spoken by Francis on a pastoral visit in Paraguay, challenge us to see that solidarity and work for justice are at the very heart of the Christian faith. For Christians, Jesus is our model of solidarity and it is in practicing solidarity that we encounter Christ in our neighbor.

In the Gospels, both the Beatitudes and Matthew 25’s parable of the last judgement provide clear descriptive illustrations of the connection between solidarity with Jesus and solidarity with those on the margins, culminating in an uncompromising statement that whatsoever one does or does not do for the least, one does or does not do to the Son of Man himself. A radical identification of Jesus not with his followers but with those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, etc.  Visual artists like Kelly Latimore powerfully concretize this for us depicting the Holy Family as migrants crossing a militarized border.5

“Solidarity is a wrenching task,” notes theologian M. Shawn Copeland, “to stand up for justice in the midst of injustice; to take up simplicity in the midst of affluence and comfort; to embrace integrity in the midst of collusion and co-optation; to contest the gravitational pull of domination.”6 Incarnational solidarity is deeply rooted in seeing one’s neighbor as the image and likeness of God, as the face of Christ in our midst. For Francis, “Solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them” (EG 189), a difficult task because “complacency is seductive” (Gaudete et Exsultate 137). In practice, this solidarity strengthens efforts to practice good politics, in which “everyone can contribute his or her stone to help build the common home.”7

A Community of Kinship and Justice

Both the image of the crucified peoples and the focus of incarnational solidarity ask us to reflect deeply on how we view the work around us and possibly change the position from which we participate in the political community. For Christians, the task of politics is to build a community of kinship, and justice. It is the recognition that we belong to each other and that we are all diminished by the exclusion and oppression of some. In his many books and TedTalks, Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ of Homeboy Industries challenges us to imagine a circle of kinship and then imagine it is big enough where no one is on the others side.8 For Boyle, Jesus does not provide us with easy answers but relentlessly asks, “Where are you standing?” The shift is at once a severe challenge but also freeing.

The fundamental starting point is where do you position yourself? With the marginalized and against marginalization? With the oppressed against their oppression? These seem like easy questions and yet for those like myself, a white woman in the United States, answering them honestly requires facing the ways in which my life has been aided by the white supremacy I recognize as sinful and evil. It requires humility in acknowledging one’s own complicity in systems of injustice, followed by a firm and persevering commitment to be anti-racist.

The Challenge of Radical Kinship and Politics

At this point, you may be thinking voting under the sign of the cross is impossible in U.S. politics. While it is true that Catholics who hold with the Church a consistent ethic of human dignity do not neatly fit into the U.S. political system, I wish to make two caveats before delving into the practical reflections on the type of political engagement envisioned above.

First, voting is always a bounded choice. There are no perfect candidates or political platforms. One advantage of Catholic social tradition’s approach to social ethics is that it recognizes the reality of both individual and structural sin. Our political engagement is aimed at bringing about greater justice and peace but recognizes that the fullness of either relies on God. By letting go of purity and perfection, we are freed to act for justice. This recognition, alongside a realistic appreciation of pluralism, also helps us act with humility, recognizing with Pope Francis that “growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others” (GE 141).

Navigating voting and political participation amidst these complexities is a challenge. It requires practicing: see (learning about candidates’ records), judge (discern), act (vote/advocate). Whenever Catholics explore the meaning of “the preferential option for the poor” the list includes: the unborn, migrants, those living in poverty, the elderly, victims of human trafficking, etc. For many in the United States today, the challenge is most acutely felt in navigating their position on abortion alongside their solidarity with marginalized and minoritized peoples.

Personally, I find Pope Francis’s approach helpful for discernment. Cautioning against ideologies within the church which either avoid talking about God or avoid social justice, he states, “our defense of the unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm, and passionate…equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned, and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking. . . we cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice” (GE 101). There is a unity and integrity to this image of “equally sacred” that is rooted in prioritizing those whose dignity is thrown away.

Equally sacred is not a capitulation or deflection. It does not deny the specific reality of injustice, the way “all lives matter” dismisses the need to specify Black lives matter. Instead it is a desire to be faithful to the Gospel, to standing with the crucified.  “A fundamental tragedy of this broken and sinful world,” notes theologian Cathy Kaveny, “is that the most vulnerable persons – the unborn, the disabled, the needy are often completely dependent upon persons almost as vulnerable as themselves.”9 The first step, according to Kaveny, is to listen and hear their voices. In U.S. politics, concern about abortion is often reduced to the question of criminal law. However, if we follow Jesus to the margins, it is difficult to treat any single issue as the only one of concern. Similarly, if we follow Kaveny alongside Boyle’s vision of kinship, it asks us to consider our policies on abortion from both the perspective of the unborn and the pregnant woman in crisis. In doing so, the nexus of concern expands far beyond mere criminalization of abortion.

Throughout his ministry, Pope Francis has implored us to pray with the Gospel, reject the throwaway culture, and be in kinship with the marginalized. When we do that, our understanding of building a pro-life community of solidarity must be a circle in which no one is left out. We position ourselves with Black Lives Matter,10 with migrants of all ages, and with those experiencing poverty and struggling to meet their basic needs.

As we head into election season, voting is one important way that we participate in the political life of our communities. It is an act of solemn discernment and conscience. In 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, desperate cries for racial justice, and increasing economic need, it feels as if the stakes are quite high, and they are. Still, as people of faith, we begin by making sure we are standing in the right place as we discern, our focus on promoting the common good and building a community of solidarity in which none are excluded.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Meghan J. Clark, Ph.D., is an associate professor of moral theology at St John’s University (NY). She is a senior fellow of St. John’s Vincentian Center for Church and Society. From 2010-2013, she served as a Consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. She is author of The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: the Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights (Fortress Press, 2014) and co-editor of Public Theology and the Global Common Good (Orbis, 2106).

Sources:

  1. Ignacio Ellacuria, “The Crucified Peoples,” in Ignacio Ellacuria: Essays on History, Liberation, and Salvation, Edited by Michael E. Lee, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2013), p. 204.
  2. James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2011).
  3. Anne Arabome, “I can’t breathe because God can’t breathe,” National Catholic Reporter, June 10, 2020 https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/i-cant-breathe-because-god-cant-breathe
  4. Pope Francis, “Visit to the People of Bañado Norte” (Address, Paraguay, July 12, 2015) https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/july/documents/papa-francesco_20150712_paraguay-banado-norte.html
  5. Kelly Latimore, “Refugees: La Sagrada Familia” https://kellylatimoreicons.com/gallery/img_2361/
  6. Shawn Copeland, “Towards a Critical Christian Feminist Theology of Solidarity,” in Women and Theology, ed. Mary Ann Hinsdale and Phyllis H. Kaminski (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995), 18.
  7. Pope Francis, “Good Politics is at the service of Peace,” World Day of Peace Message 2019.
  8. Gregory Boyle, SJ, “Compassion and Kinship,” TEDxConejo 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipR0kWt1Fkc
  9. Cathleen Kaveny, “Could the Church take a risk?” Commonweal Magazine, August 10, 2018.
  10. Olga Segura, “What Black Lives Matter Can Teach Catholics About Racial Justice” https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2019/02/01/what-black-lives-matter-can-teach-catholics-about-racial-justice
This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue
Orange sign that says "It's in the Constitution: Everyone Counts"

A Fair Census Count in Georgia and Across the Country

A Fair Census Count in Georgia and Across the Country

Leah Brown
July 20, 2020

The Census is a survey that collects necessary information on every person living in the United States. The invitation arrives in the mail and can be responded to, online, by phone, or email. With over 300 million people to count accurately, everyone must complete the 2020 census. Currently, only 4 out of 10 households have participated in the Census.

Last week, NETWORK Government Relations Advocate Sr. Quincy Howard spoke with Rebecca DeHart of Fair Count, Georgia. To listen to their conversation about the relationship the census has on voting rights and our democracy, watch here:

 

Not only does the Census take a count of everyone living in the U.S., it determines how many seats each state receives in the House of Representatives, which ultimately decides the Electoral College. The Electoral College is a system where each state gets a certain number of electors based on the number of representatives. Each electoral candidate is allowed to cast one vote in the presidential election.

The Census determines other vital areas such as funding for schools, hospitals, fire departments, and communities. These areas accumulate to an estimated amount of $1.5 trillion a year in tax dollars. It also informs employers about opportunities for economic development while planning new homes and improving communities. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Census Bureau pushed back deadlines for people to respond to the survey until October 31, 2020. This week, census workers will resume home visits to those who have not yet responded to the survey. Visits will begin in selected locations in Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington. These states were selected based on the amount of sanitation protection items such as sanitizer, masks, and gloves. The nationwide rollout of door knocking will begin on August 11 for the rest of the states.

The census workers will be working diligently, by handing out flyers outside of grocery stores, libraries, and pharmacies and assisting people in answering the surveys. The bureau relies on door-to-door outreach to gather data from commonly undercounted groups, including people of color and immigrants.

In the 2010 census, 9% of Black people were unaccounted for, which is 1 in 12 households. While it may not seem detrimental, missing data for Black households means missing funding. Missing data for people of color is a problem that has occurred for decades with the Census. Black children are twice as likely to be undercounted as non-Black children. In addition to this, since Black people are incarcerated at five times the rate of white people, the Census counts Black incarcerated people as residing in the rural areas where prisons are located, not their home communities. Ultimately, these small actions throughout the Census count end up not providing enough funding to the communities who need it.

The 2020 Census is also the first year that people can fill out the Census online. Everyone must fulfill their civic duty by filling out the census survey before October 31, 2020. You can complete your Census online even if you do not have a pin at www.my2020census.gov. Be sure to get counted!

Leah Brown is a summer volunteer at NETWORK. She will be beginning her second year at La Salle University this fall where she studies Criminal Justice and Political Science with a minor in English.

New Agreement, Old Problem for the USMCA

New Agreement, Old Problem for the USMCA

Laura Peralta-Schulte
July 14, 2020

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the updated North American trade agreement, came into effect on July 1, 2020. NETWORK and progressive allies worked with Members of Congress to ensure the new agreement contained significantly improved labor standards and labor enforcement. Unfortunately, new evidence shows labor activism remains a deadly undertaking in Mexico even though the new North American trade deal ushered in the first real legal protections for workers there. It is increasing clear that only strict enforcement of the agreement will end violence against union activists and give Mexican workers true protections and freedom to organize for better working conditions.

Since the agreement was signed by President Trump in January 2020, there have been significant threats and violations. U.S. and other multinational corporations have filed over 600 lawsuits to block Mexican labor reforms. The Mexican government has also pushed back on creating a review and redo process for Mexican union contracts.

Further, labor unionists have been the targets of violence and arrest. In May, Oscar Ontiveros Martínez, a Mexican union organizer, was murdered as he was trying to organize mining workers.  The 29-year-old’s killing sent a warning to anyone still thinking about organizing the mines where Ontiveros once helped to lead a strike. Ontiveros was the fourth organizer of the Media Luna strike gunned down in three years. A fifth colleague, Oscar Hernández Romero, disappeared in October. The murders remain unsolved, and no trace of Hernández has been found.

More recently, Mexican labor activist Susana Prieto, a prominent labor lawyer representing exploited workers in Mexico-Texas border maquiladora factories, was held without bail for three weeks on trumped-up charges of “mutiny, threats and coercion” after trying to register an independent union to replace a corrupt “protection” union. Her case reflects the myriad of labor abuses throughout Mexico, where workers fighting for independent unions, better wages and COVID-19-safe workplaces face ongoing abuse and resistance. She was released on July 1. The conditions for her release, including a 30-month internal exile, are designed to end her representation of Matamoros workers seeking independent unions and intimidate workers nationwide seeking to exercise their labor rights. She must end her Matamoros labor organizing, not leave Mexico, and relocate to the state of Chihuahua, where a prosecutor issued new warrants for her arrest.

Mexico has a long history of labor abuse. The new USMCA agreement is a significant new tool to pressure the Mexican government to protect workers, but change will not be quick. Until new labor rules are fully enforced, corporations will continue to exploit workers on both sides of the border.

Washington, D.C. Deserves Equal Representation

Washington, D.C. Deserves Equal Representation

Sr. Quincy Howard, OP
June 26, 2020

Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 51, the Washington D.C. Admission Act, legislation introduced by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton that would finally give equal representation to the more than 706,000 people who call Washington, D.C. their home. NETWORK supports this legislation and the movement to secure equal representation and equal rights in the U.S. Congress for the District of Columbia.

In a letter sent to Representatives today, we write, “With a majority Black and brown population, the fight for D.C. Statehood cannot be separated from the struggle for racial justice in our nation. The lack of voting representation for D.C. residents is part of the harmful heritage of racial injustice in our nation. Our government cannot continue to arbitrarily revoke the fundamental, constitutional rights of our fellow citizens living in the District. It is wrong to justify the status quo based on party politics or the historical precedent of preventing Black and brown people from voting.”

The House vote on H.R. 51 could be a significant step forward for Democracy, as Rep. Holmes Norton said on twitter, “Neither chamber has passed the DC statehood bill in DC’s 219-year history. This is the beginning of the end of taxation without representation and the start of consent of the governed for DC residents.” We urge all representatives to vote yes on H.R. 51!

Read NETWORK’s full letter to the House of Representatives below, or download as a PDF.

 

 

June 25, 2020

Dear Representative,

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice urges you to vote YES on the Washington D.C. Admission Act (H.R. 51). H.R. 51 is a vital piece of legislation that will finally give equal representation to the more than 706,000 people that call Washington D.C. their home.

Voting representation is the foundation of our democracy and it is past time to extend it to the people of D.C. Even with the passage of the 15th Amendment and the success of the women’s suffrage and Civil Rights movements, District of Columbia residents have remained disenfranchised from voting since its establishment. Today a population the size of Vermont—all neighbors to our nation’s epicenter for democracy—are stripped of their most fundamental right to vote. Our nation cannot proclaim to be the world’s strongest democracy when we deny hundreds of thousands of people political representation simply because of their zip code.

With a majority Black and brown population, the fight for D.C. Statehood cannot be separated from the struggle for racial justice in our nation. The lack of voting representation for D.C. residents is part of the harmful heritage of racial injustice in our nation. Our government cannot continue to arbitrarily revoke the fundamental, constitutional rights of our fellow citizens living in the District. It is wrong to justify the status quo based on party politics or the historical precedent of preventing Black and brown people from voting.

As people of faith, we believe that it is every citizen’s right and responsibility to participate in the political process as an expression of their inherent dignity. Our nation was founded on the principle of self-governance, but the people of D.C. do not have control over their own laws or their own budget. Residents of the District must no longer be denied this sacred right and responsibility—it is time for Congress to act.

Our status quo maintains that these Americans are not worthy of fully participating in our democracy. This historic vote brings us closer to achieving the ideals articulated in our founding documents. We urge a quick passage of H.R. 51 in the House of Representatives to grant Washington D.C. the sovereignty, rights, and dignity of statehood. Additionally, NETWORK Lobby urges a NO vote on any MTR’s introduced on the floor that diminish the pro-democracy reforms that H.R. 51 accomplishes as currently written.

Sincerely,
Sister Quincy Howard, OP
Government Relations Advocate, NETWORK

The Seventh Anniversary of Shelby: A Reminder of the Fight to Restore Voting Rights Protections

The Seventh Anniversary of Shelby: A Reminder of the Fight to Restore Voting Rights Protections

Sr. Quincy Howard, OP and Eva Sirotic
June 25, 2020

This week marks the seven-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The Shelby decision, which was passed on June 25, 2013, gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), leading to states and localities across the country to enact restrictive voting laws, disenfranchising millions voters in the United States. For six years, civil rights organizations have been fighting back against these discriminatory laws. We need Congress to restore the VRA to its full strength to ensure that all eligible voters have equal access to the ballot and that every vote counts.

The ideal of “one person, one vote” is central to our understanding of democracy in the United States, but the reality in our country falls short. While the legal discrimination that prevented people of color from voting for hundreds of years is no longer in place, today a new combination of restrictive standards and requirements keep voters from exercising their right to vote. Whether implementing voter ID requirements, purging voter rolls, restricting early voting, or closing polling locations, state-level election laws can make it considerably harder, if not impossible for many eligible citizens to vote. Furthermore, these requirements have a disproportionate impact, often by design, on low-income and voters of color who are less likely to have flexible schedules, access to transportation, or a government photo ID.

Many of these tactics are familiar to communities of color, but ever since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 there had been an effective mechanism in place to apply federal oversight of potential voting rights violations. Specifically, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) used a formula determined by the VRA in 1965 to identify jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination and subject them to federal preclearance requirements prior to implementing any changes in voter registration or casting of ballots. In 2013, however, the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision stripped the VRA of this preclearance mechanism—deeming the formula outdated—and opened the door for states to pass more restrictive voting standards with impunity.

Since the Shelby ruling, 23 states have freely implemented more restrictive voting laws and conducted elections accordingly. The only recourse left is under Section 2 of the VRA—to challenge these laws after the fact. Meanwhile, the resulting voter disenfranchisement has already taken place and the results of potentially rigged elections stand. Accordingly, unfair elections around the nation have begun to resemble a discriminatory game of wack-a-mole: lawsuits of voter discrimination have quadrupled in the five years since the Shelby decision. Expensive and slow-moving litigation is an untenable approach to reinstating fair elections; and Section 2 offers no remedy for the impacts of disenfranchisement.

NETWORK is calling on the Senate to pass legislation that restores the Voting Rights Act and provides critical emergency election funding to prepare for this November’s election. In 2020, with COVID-19, we are still seeing the implications of voter protection inequities. Congressional failure to address the Shelby ruling in 2013 combined with a global pandemic are wreaking havoc on our elections. A series of botched primaries in the midst of a deadly virus has revealed how a racist system that fails to protect voting rights ultimately harms the entire nation.

The debacles we saw in the Wisconsin primary, and subsequently in Georgia, are warnings for the upcoming general election. While it may be hard to distinguish motives—suppression, intimidation, incapacity or indifference—it is clear that a racist system enabled these outcomes. Protections written into the Voting Rights Act—and gutted in the Shelby ruling—were designed to avoid exactly this type of disenfranchisement. H.R. 4, a bill that would restore these protections, passed the House last year but languished in the Senate for months prior to the pandemic. Today, passage of the VRAA is more urgent than ever.

The Senate also has an obligation to provide $3.6 billion in emergency funding for state and local capacity to run fair and accessible election in a pandemic. The adjustments necessary to ensure that every eligible voter is counted in COVID-19 cost money and take time. There are only four months for states and local election officials to be ready. The Senate’s failure to act now is a dereliction of duty and risks disenfranchising millions of voters in the 2020 general election.

To learn more about the legacy of racism in our election systems, watch Suppressed: The Fight to Vote. This 37-minute film documents how the election system in Georgia failed voters at multiple stages in 2018. And please join NETWORK Lobby and the United Methodist Church on June 30th for a panel discussion about these same threats to November’s general election in COVID-19. RSVP for the discussion.

Eva Sirotic is a rising third-year at the University at Virginia majoring in Global Studies. She is passionate about issues related to social justice, particularly women’s rights and racial equality. Outside of the classroom, she works for Take Back the Night, a sexual violence prevention organization and The Fralin Museum of Art in Charlottesville, VA.

Prioritizing People over Partisanship Is the Faithful Response

Prioritizing People over Partisanship Is the Faithful Response

On May 22, 2020 I published a reflection in Global Sisters Report about the vows of religious life and their significance during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the vow of obedience. As I continued to reflect in the following days, I considered how my reflection about obedience could be re-oriented toward a different narrative not of my choosing.

The unfortunate demands made by the President Trump before Memorial Day weekend pushed for houses of worship across the nation to reopen their buildings. While his ultimatum was directed at States, the pressure it puts on faith leaders and their communities to begin congregating in the middle of a pandemic is very real.

As a woman religious, I know the importance of religious services and joy of coming together in person with a community of believers. These are central in the lives of many people of faith, myself included, and it is very difficult to go without them. But we aren’t making this sacrifice without cause. We are doing this because lives are at risk if we gather again too soon, without the proper protections in place.  As Rev. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the board of the Conference of National Black Churches, said: “We are out of the buildings because our people are important.”

Our unfortunate reality offers a case study of what prophetic obedience might look like. Because of President Trump’s pressure, faith leaders are even harder-pressed to defend their authority as they discern the risks, benefits and precautions of opening houses of worship and exposing their flocks to the virus. Congregants’ personal choices about how and when to resume in-person gatherings also became more complicated and contentious.

In these days of uncertainty and ineffectual national leadership, people of faith cannot afford to relinquish our own judgement. Decisions like these cannot be made based on ideology or a particular political agenda but should be centered on love of neighbor, with a special concern for the most vulnerable.

Faith leaders can model the thoughtful, nuanced discernment that prophetic obedience calls for at this unique time. The path forward will require leaders and congregants to do the hard work of listening, exercising patience, and carefully considering the real risks.

Pastor Dave Simpson of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Frederick, Maryland put it well:

An open letter to the President:

You have declared that churches are to be reopened.
My church has never been closed.
Perhaps you are unclear about the meaning of “church.” A church is not a building. The church is the people of God called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that not even the gates of hell can prevail against the church. This virus has certainly not stopped the church from being what we have been called to be – the Body of Christ for the sake of the world. The people of God who are Good Shepherd Lutheran Church have continued to care for each other and reach out to the community and beyond.
Perhaps you are unclear about the meaning of “worship.” Worship is not only – or even especially – what happens in a church building on Sunday mornings. Worship defines us as followers of Jesus Christ. We strive to worship the God who creates and saves us with everything that we do and everything that we are. We worship our God when we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Our building may be closed, but we are still the church and we have not stopped worshiping. God has blessed us with new and enhanced ways to be church together as even technology has been sanctified (set apart for God’s use) for accomplishing the mission that has been laid before us.
Our building will be open again – when the time is right. It will be open again when we can gather in a way that does not put our members or our neighbors at unnecessary risk, especially those who are most vulnerable. Our building will open when we have a plan that manages the risk and we have the resources to put that plan into action.
When our building opens, it will be to glorify God, not to make any secular or political point or to advance any agenda, nor will it be to assert our “rights.”
Until then, we will go on being church. We will go on worshiping online and, more importantly, in our community and in the world.
We are the church.
We are, and will remain, open.

Originally published on Pastor Dave’s Facebook account.

NETWORK, Faithful Democracy Coalition Request $4 Billion for 2020 Elections

NETWORK, Faithful Democracy Coalition Request $4 Billion for 2020 Elections

As Congress begins discussions of the next coronavirus response package, NETWORK joins the Faithful Democracy coalition in urging Congress to protect voting rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. A letter signed by NETWORK and 28 other national faith-based advocacy organizations was sent to Capitol Hill today. The letter says:

“We cannot risk undermining our foundational democratic systems. The federal government must enable states and local jurisdictions to prepare for an historic election, even in the midst of this crisis. Planning and preparations must begin now to protect the integrity of the 2020 election and ensure that new protocols for voter participation are safe and accessible.…

The $400 million for elections in the CARES Act was a welcome start but is woefully insufficient. Faithful Democracy calls for $4 billion in the next response package for the Election Assistance Commission to uphold a safe and secure general election and to support states and localities still facing risks with primary elections”.

Read the full letter with signers.

Finding My Part in the Body of Christ

Finding My Part in the Body of Christ

This reflection is part of our 2020 Lent Guide: Becoming Spirit-Filled Voters.

Throughout my career, I have been called to respond to different challenges at different times. Our country is facing an enormous challenge right now — one we are all called to respond to. New policies and programs are announced every day that increase suffering and deny the dignity of families and individuals across the country. Too many of our elected representatives are out of touch with the reality of vulnerable communities and do not feel a sense of urgency to respond and meet their needs.

But, we can succeed in making change if we first know our part, and then do it!

One way I reflect on the work is by pondering Saint Paul’s writing to the Romans. In his letter (Romans 12:5 et seq.), we are called to realize that we are all joined in one body. We are called to do our part in the body with joy. This has led me to realize that I am called to think of myself, and all of us, as belonging to the body of Christ. This has also led me to know that different parts of the body have different functions to play. We are not all the same. And, a consequence of this insight is that everyone is important in the body, even if their part is different from my own.

Living out my faith has taught me to know that we, together in creation, are all one in our effort to live with integrity and embody justice.

Right now in my role at NETWORK, I’m not feet. I am not hands. I do not do direct service. Instead, I think my contribution at this moment is to be stomach acid. I help liberate energy. I stir people up. I travel the country, meeting people and groups and I help break down food (ideas, struggles, frustrations) to liberate energy. This gives those who are the hands and feet the energy and the ability to do their part.

What part in the body of Christ are you called to be?

Are you the hands, doing the work of justice?
Are you the heart, praying for change?
Are you the mouth, speaking truth to power?
Are you the ears, listening to the experience of others?

Think about what kind of work you enjoy doing, and what is needed in our current environment. Reflect on where you feel most alive and most effective in working for change. Everyone has an important part to play in the body of Christ, even though we might have different functions. And no one is left out of the body of Christ… or out of our care.

What part of the body are you?

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS is the Executive Director of NETWORK Advocates for Catholic Social Justice.

Building a New Vision for Our Democracy: The Importance of Voting Rights

Building a New Vision for Our Democracy: The Importance of Voting Rights

Senator Tom Udall
April 17, 2020

This reflection is part of our 2020 Lent Guide: Becoming Spirit-Filled Voters.

This season, before an incredibly important election, we must reflect on the state of our democracy. Democracy represents more than a system of government. It is the sacred affirmation that each voice matters equally in one nation — and that a representative government must be of, by, and for the people.

But today, the American people are losing faith in our democracy. They see the evidence with their own eyes as the wealthy purchase influence in political campaigns and drown out the voices of the people. Voting rights are under assault, foreign adversaries interfere in our elections, and so-called public servants use their offices to help themselves and their friends — instead of the people they are supposed to work for.

Our voices do count. Our voices count when we vote in each election, especially this year. And they count when we organize, march, and speak out about injustice.

But there is no doubt that our democracy is in a crisis.  Since coming to Congress in 1999, I’ve seen firsthand the corrosive influence that big money is having on our political system. The influx of unlimited contributions and secret donations into campaigns has fueled the hyper-partisanship we see across the nation, including in Congress.

Special interests try to dominate the political agenda, to the detriment of the common good. This has obscured the fundamental values that should define our work. Values like social justice. Feeding the hungry. Helping the poor. Making peace. And caring for our earth.

The money in our politics fuels a disconnect between what people in our democracy want and what Congress is giving them. The people want action on climate change. The people want universal, affordable health care. Economic justice and food security for families. Commonsense gun safety laws. And they demand that we welcome the stranger and treat immigrants as human beings.

These are priorities for the vast majority of Americans.  And there is a direct link between Congress’s inaction on these issues and barriers to the ballot box and our broken campaign finance system.

We live in a representative democracy. But Congress is not representing the people. The 1% are heard, while the other 99% are not.

In Congress, we are fighting for reforms to make our democracy work: increasing access to the ballot box, putting an end to the influence of secret money in elections, and raising the ethical bar in government.

The For the People Act (H.R.1) makes it easier to register to vote and to cast a ballot. In a society where special interests artificially widen and sustain our divisions, it has never been more important to ensure that each and every voice is heard. H.R.1 also returns our campaign finance system to the hands of the people, shining a light on secret campaign contributions and empowering small donors.

We need to put an end to the idea that money equals speech and reign in an out-of-control campaign finance system. And the only way to do that is to exercise our most fundamental and sacred democratic right — the right to vote.

Our democracy cannot be fully realized unless we, the people, vote. We deserve a representative democracy, with elected leaders who understand our concerns and are committed to fight for all voices to be heard. For our common values. And for the future of our democracy in this election and all the elections to come.

Senator Tom Udall represents New Mexico, and is a champion of restoring voting rights to marginalized groups for a more equal and just democracy. 

Still Advocating for Access to Democracy

Still Advocating for Access to Democracy

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued an emergency ruling refusing to extend the deadline for absentee voting in today’s Wisconsin election. This is further evidence of how the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing our nation, and our world, to take a hard look at what values are most sacred to us, and demonstrating where our political leaders’ responses are falling short.

Our initial attempts at social distancing had not even run their course before President Trump began pondering loosening restrictions for the sake of the economy. The implication being that economic activity is as important as protecting human lives. The public outcry quickly shut down that debate. People recognized the false choice, when weighing economic activity and the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy simply has to adjust to the reality of the pandemic. Consensus emerged, at least for now, that protecting public health is the paramount concern, leaving our government and businesses to minimize the economic fall-out as best they can.

Unfortunately, this false choice was also embraced by the majority of Supreme Court Justices yesterday in deciding that the Wisconsin elections must proceed as planned, with no extension for absentee voting, despite the clear and present danger to public health in the midst of the pandemic. Not only was this ruling disturbing for Wisconsinites who now must choose between their right to vote and their safety, but it has grave and disturbing implications for the 2020 election. We are in desperate need of strong public outcry to again reject a false choice and demand that leaders find ways to uphold our deepest values and protect human life.

The Supreme Court’s decision strikes a massive blow to voting rights that defies common sense and threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. The Justices ruled 5-4 that Wisconsin voters would need to choose whether to comply with public health mandates or to exercise their right to cast a ballot. But, it did not have to be this way.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers took a series of desperate executive actions to make emergency accommodations in the state’s election. He took steps to delay the Democratic Presidential primary and extended time to receive mail-in ballots so that Wisconsinites could maintain their right to vote in the new reality of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The Republican controlled legislature challenged each of these actions in court and the day before the election, the Supreme Court’s order reversed the extended deadline for voters to submit absentee ballots. The entire episode is a sad example of how quickly elections are being politicized in the midst of a pandemic. The outcome of this confusing and contentious fight was celebrated as a success for “law and order,” but has undermined both the public health AND the voting rights of the people of Wisconsin.

This false choice between safety and fair voting was avoidable, but the Wisconsin state legislature refused to act to protect the safety of Wisconsinites. This early case study is proof that Congress must act, and act now, to determine a coordinated approach to preparing states for the 2020 election. Without funding and direction from the federal government, we run the risk of massive voter disenfranchisement and will see increasing chaos and civil discord as states scramble to adapt on their own.

NETWORK Lobby and our faith partners are engaged in democracy reform and voting rights advocacy leading up to the 2020 election and into the future. Now, our entire focus is prioritizing the security of the 2020 election and protecting access to democracy as a crucial part of the federal government’s response to COVID 19.