(RNS) — Last week, I sat on my couch watching a news report on long lines forming for early voting in Texas and Georgia — record turnouts despite cuts in the number of polling places and ballot drop boxes, ordered by those states’ white, Republican governors in an attempt to suppress the vote.
I tweeted, “Reminds me of the first free election in South Africa.”
Twenty minutes later, I had 1,000 likes. Within 24 hours, the likes were up to 40,000, and it had gotten 10,000 retweets, the biggest response I have had in more than a decade of tweeting.
Despite, or even because of demonstrable and systemic suppression and the growing threats of voter intimidation, a holy drama is occurring. Minority voters are standing up, and clergy are rising up and mobilizing to protect their votes.
The white Republican governors of Texas and Georgia are trying to suppress the early vote by cutting polling places. But the lines keep growing with record turnouts. Reminds me of the first free election in South Africa.
— Jim Wallis (@jimwallis) October 14, 2020
Through these scary spring and summer months, my most hopeful weekly Zoom calls have been with Black clergy and some white allies, organizing in nine key states to protect against voter suppression and intimidation — where the risk of disenfranchising people of color is highest. Thousands of pastors and volunteers in a partnership with the African American Clergy Network and Sojourners have made plans to protect the vote.
My favorite moments are always when one or another of my colleagues backs up their belief in the right to vote with a quote from the Book of Genesis.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’ … So God created humankind in (God’s) image.”
I believe these verses about the creation of humankind are the foundation of politics for people of faith. It means how we treat other human beings, including our fellow citizens, is a theological matter and not just a political one. Mistreating our fellow human beings and citizens is also not just a political problem but an offense to the image of God, an assault on imago Dei.
Protecting the image of God in the upcoming election means protecting the voting rights of Americans of color, whose votes some are trying to suppress and even intimidate — deliberately and strategically.
Black clergy, already strained by the needs of congregations disproportionately affected by COVID-19, have nonetheless taken time to reach out to election officials and participate in our calls to give them a simple message: We are watching.
Church leaders are adopting polling places in their areas, and their members will join lawyers through the Lawyers & Collars initiative at the polls, ready to solve problems, challenge unfair processes and practices, and make the presence of the faith community’s moral authority felt. Command centers of lawyers and clergy are being set up in battleground states, staffing phone banks ready to address election issues as they arise.
We have also educated thousands of people about threats against election integrity, and they’ve been prepared to act to ensure access for all voters. We have sent tool kits and other resources to people all over the country.
Clergy are already working alongside lawyers at polling places, especially in ZIP codes with higher percentages of low-income people and people of color. They will offer whatever help they can in making sure every eligible voter who shows up is able to cast their vote.
This is an altar call for the election, and many are coming forward.
Now it is up to all of you. Act in faith. Join in to ensure every single person’s vote is counted in this election season to protect the image of God.
(The Rev. Jim Wallis is the founder of Sojourners and a co-convener of lawyersandcollars.org. He is also the author, most recently, of “Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)