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‘Sacred Right to Vote’ Panel: What Faith Leaders Said

headshots of 4 panelists, caption has description.
From left: Jim Antal, Mubarak Elamin, Carol Devine, Stephanie Kolin.

IN HIS OPENING COMMENTS at Third Act Faith’s recent ‘Sacred Right to Vote’ panel, Rev. Jim Antal connected voting to the two prongs of Third Act’s work: climate and democracy. First he said, for most of older Americans’ lives, we have taken for granted both a stable climate and a stable democracy. Second, acting on behalf of both are “the two most responsible ways for a person of faith to show their faithfulness.”

Many of us, especially in Third Act Faith, see caring for God’s creation as a sacred act, but Antal questioned why protecting voting rights is not viewed the same way. He connected the idea to a foundational theological cornerstone for Abrahamic faith traditions: because human beings are created in the image of God, every person matters and has a sacred right to vote. 

Access to the truth is also a sacred right, and is critical to a functioning democracy, but, Antal said, “if truth is compromised, corrupted, displaced or discarded, we lose our moral compass, and we are left with no idea what matters.” Just as we have normalized the increasing frequency of climate disasters, our pulpits are silent about gerrymandered districts and barriers that often make voting more difficult in predominantly black districts. 

Antal urged people of faith to talk about the threats to democracy as a moral crisis, and encouraged clergy to preach about it. We all must commit to telling the truth, not just to counter the flood of disinformation, but because “truth is the foundation of hope,” and hope, he said, “is the most important contribution people of faith can and must make in a time such as this.”

PROMPTED BY QUESTIONS FROM ANTAL, the three religious leaders joining him on the panel touched on points he had raised. Mubarak Elamin of OneAmerica Votes said that as an immigrant he could speak to the importance of democracy from both sides. Having lived under authoritarian regimes, he noted that the first thing they do is to take away people’s freedom by controlling the narrative, and controlling both their personal and public lives. He described such a situation as “the absence of democracy and what people cherish about America.” 

Panelists connected protection of democracy to the moral imperative to address oppression. As Rev. Carol Devine of Blessed Tomorrow said, “As a Christian, I’m called by Christ to care for the most vulnerable.” Congregation Beth Elohim’s Rabbi Stephanie Kolin described the power that large corporations have, especially big oil. “But on election day, Exxon doesn’t get to walk into a voting booth and pull a lever,” she said. “Voting is what makes elected officials accountable to us and our families and the most vulnerable of this earth.”

ASKED TO SPEAK ABOUT RELIGIOUS RESISTANCE TO POLITICAL ACTIONS,  Elamin said that Muslim communities with large immigrant populations are just learning about the American political system, and specifically IRS regulations that prevent religious communities from endorsing particular candidates. Before bringing politics into their spiritual space, an imam must consider such questions as, “Is the community ready for a political conversation? Is this a political conversation or a spiritual conversation? How do you tie those two?” 

The other panelists cited the political nature of both Christian and Jewish foundations. Jesus was super political, Devine pointed out, and Kolin said there is no more political document than the Torah, calling it “our most formative narrative – a story of Moses going to Pharaoh and speaking truth to power and a people raising themselves up out of oppression to become free.” That theme continues throughout the Hebrew Bible, especially the prophets.

Speaking to religious fear of politics, she said that politics comes from the word polis, the center of Greek society where the people would decide how to live together with fairness and compassion. Given those roots and the “beautifully political” nature of Jewish texts, we should not give in to current fear of political action that can lead us to turn against each other. We cannot “allow this current definition of politics to sully what is unbelievably beautiful.”

RESPONDING TO ANTAL’S FOCUS ON TRUTH AND HOPE, Devine noted that searching for truth can make us uncomfortable: “God doesn’t call us to a “rainbows and butterflies kind of hope but one that is really grounded in justice….We can’t have hope that isn’t grounded deeply in our faith; that is a truth that we can stand on,… and that comes from who we are, whose we are, and how we’re called to live.”

Elamin referred to hope as the light that guides us in working for a better world, which Kolin echoed in her comments. After describing the vision of peace and justice in Micah 2:2-4, she said:

So what do truth and hope have to do with each other? I think it has something to do with that vision and our ability and commitment and courage to imagine the future as we want it to be, the future that is inclusive….And if we don’t arrive at the place that we so deeply hoped for, then we didn’t follow a true path…Did we listen to each other? Did we dream something up together that would work for people, that would care for the vulnerable, that would break down the structures of racism and homophobia and anti-Semitism and xenophobia? Did we do the thing? Did we find the truth in humanity? And if we did, are we pointed towards a vision of greater hope for all people? And if we’re not…then we haven’t really found our shared truth.

ANTAL AND THE PANELISTS GAVE THE AUDIENCE CONCRETE STEPS religious individuals and communities can take in protecting the sacred right to vote. Antal pointed to the group Faiths United to Save Democracy, which targets religious communities to take political action in ten key states. Even those who live in other states can learn about the issues and find resources they can apply anywhere, he told us.

Other suggestions:

  • Read recent books about the threat to democracy, such as Jim Wallis’s The False White Gospel.
  • Write postcards to voters by taking part in Third Act’s postcard project with Activate America. 
  • Encourage young people to register and to vote through Third Act’s intergenerational voter registration initiative Senior to Senior. 
  • Make sure you are registered to vote and know where your polling place is.
  • Offer rides to seniors or others who need help getting to the polls.
  • Train to be an election worker through A More Perfect Union.
  • Have a conversation with somebody who’s been told that their voice doesn’t count.
  • Learn how to deep canvass and invite people to remember that their stories matter. 
  • If you are qualified to do so, challenge unfair voting laws in the courts.

Watch the video of the panel here.

As a follow-up to the panel, Third Act Faith will be offering a workshop for clergy in late August on preaching an election sermon. Watch for details to come. 

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