Faithful Democracy Wants You

by Patrick Carolan and Brian McLaren

The views of these authors do not necessarily reflect the views of the Franciscan Action Network

As faith leaders, one Catholic and one Protestant, we firmly believe it is everyone’s constitutional right to peacefully protest when serious injustices need to be challenged. That’s why one of us (Brian) went to Charlottesville, Virginia, and stood alongside other faith leaders to form a front-line of safety for protesters facing neo-Nazi and white supremacist torchbearers at the Unite the Right rally, a rally that ultimately turned deadly. Brian also faced angry extremists, including the Proud Boys, when they interrupted a peaceful protest in his home state of Florida. Similarly, Patrick fasted for 13 days as part of a 30-day hunger fast for immigration rights on the Washington DC Mall. Patrick has also been arrested on many occasions for nonviolent civil disobedience in Washington, on behalf of issues such as climate justice, voting rights, and immigration.

Faith leaders and followers of all religions have been at the forefront of justice throughout history and often provide an important presence and message at protests. Sadly, the opposite can also be true.

January 6th, 2021 was a violent armed insurrection for the purpose of overthrowing our legally elected government. Extremists threatened to kill elected leaders of both parties in an attempted coup fueled by lies emanating from President Trump and his allies, in order to hold onto power after he lost the election.

It is sad enough that elected leaders have not come together in a bipartisan call for national unity in the aftermath of January 6. It is even sadder that only a few Republicans have joined Democrats in investigating how the coup attempt happened so similar attempts can be prevented in the future. Sadder still, Congress still has not come together in support of securing voting rights, foundational to our democracy. And no less tragic, many religious leaders and people who profess a strong Christian faith are supporting those who planned the coup attempt or minimizing its significance. Some are spreading lies themselves. Some remain silent for fear of offending their donors. Meanwhile, our democracy is teetering on the edge.

Why do so many religious people trust these dishonest leaders and their conspiracy theories? How do religious people so easily betray the wisdom, justice, compassion, integrity, and solidarity inherent in our faiths and rooted in our sacred scriptures?

Faith leaders in particular would do well to remember the craven roles their predecessors have played in history. The “slave bible” was published in 1807, which removed huge portions of scripture, including the Exodus story, to protect the slave economy from biblical challenge.  Ministers justified enslavement by promoting the idea that Africans were descended from Ham who was cursed in Genesis. Shortly before the Civil War, in 1840, Bishop John England of South Carolina justified slavery to that state’s leadership by claiming that Pope Gregory XVI’s encyclical letter, In Supremo Apostolatus, was against the slave trade but not slavery itself. Bishop England then suggested that its abolition would be a violation of religious freedom. Many Christian and Catholic leaders openly supported the rise of Nazism and Hitler; some even preached he was the savior who was going to save us from the evils of socialism and communism. In July 1933, Hitler and Pope Pius XI signed a concordat (treaty) which Hitler used to enhance his respectability. He knew if church leaders stood by his side and praised him, ordinary folks would be more willing to overlook what he really was doing. Not all faith leaders overtly supported Hitler, of course; many more did so by remaining silent.

We all should remember the words of the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Likewise, the recently departed champion of justice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Though the coup on January 6th failed, the lust for insurrection is still strong in many hearts. The battlefield has expanded, from the nation’s capital to state capitols. State-by-state, new laws are being passed that make it more difficult for many to vote, marginalizing the young, the poor, and especially people of color. Gerrymandering further distorts fair representation and partisan appointees charged with overseeing free and fair elections are preparing to overturn them.

We must challenge spiritual leaders who continue to support the spread of the big lie by their complicit silence. Their silence will not result in a fair and just society that cares for the poor and marginalized, as Jesus taught. Every bishop, priest, and minister who is not part of the problem needs to become part of the solution by speaking out with conviction against current attempts to sabotage our elections and destroy our democracy. And the rest of us need to join our voices with theirs and come together to heal a divided nation as we hold accountable those who continue efforts to destroy it.

On January 5th and 6th, we are going to lift our voices and every one of you has the opportunity to reflect and be heard. A nationwide prayer vigil on the evening of January 5th will feature prayer, scripture, and individual reflection, led by the Faithful Democracy Coalition, in the lead up to January 6. Then on January 6th, the day will be spent registering voters and at sundown, hundreds of candlelight vigils will be held across the U.S. People of every race, place, party, religion and background will send a unified demand to Congress: Make voting rights and democracy protections federal law, and ensure that we voters decide our elections, not corrupt politicians and their religious wing-men.

About the Authors:

Brian McLaren is a best-selling author/speaker/activist and an Auburn Senior Fellow.

Patrick Carolan is the former executive director of the Franciscan Action Network and co-founder of the Global Catholic Climate Movement. He is a writer/speaker and a faith justice activist.

Published in: on January 3, 2022 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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