(RNS) — On Jan. 6 one year ago, a band of marauders — some bearing the image of Jesus on flags, alongside Nazi and white supremacist symbols — invaded the U.S. Capitol, mocking our democracy, threatening our leaders and defiling deeply honored ground.
A foundational threat to our democracy and our freedom has been insidiously taking root over several years, and the violent and perverse display at the Capitol should have awakened the nation. Yet far too many still fail to recognize the perilous position our country is in. We now know that 21 million Americans believe that violence is justified in overturning the certified 2020 election results. This is no longer a small fringe group. Violent extremists are in positions of significant and growing power.
The Jan. 6 insurrectionists failed to thwart the seating of the new president, but they nonetheless threatened serious harm to elected leaders of both parties. People died. A faction of elected officials — including the sitting president at the time — incited this attempt to sabotage free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power, the very soul of our democracy. This faction continues to work to block investigations into who organized and funded the attempted coup.
We are not powerless against the threat posed by these self-proclaimed “patriots” who continue to foment hatred and lies as they seek to subvert future elections. But quietly hoping for a just outcome is not enough. Faith voices must rise together in moral dissent. These efforts do not only undermine democracy, they fly in the face of the belief shared by our faiths, that we are, all of us, created in the image of the divine, and deserve to be treated as such.
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No person or party has the right to undermine our democracy by systematically quashing the votes of millions of people with whom they disagree. Yet that is precisely what’s happening now, all around the country. State by state, election laws are being rewritten in Republican-led states and counties that will prevent millions of people from voting; political districts are being redrawn to deny fair representation; and state and local election officials are being put in place who are willing to reject votes and overturn elections.
Lawmakers in Washington have refused to address voter protections, even as significant efforts are being made to ensure widespread voter suppression in time for the 2022 and 2024 elections. All the while, death threats continue to be made against public officials and private citizens.
This urgent threat to democracy has real life consequences for all. From higher health care and drug costs to lower wages; from ineffective health and economic responses to COVID-19 and climate change, to loopholes that allow the very rich to avoid paying their fair share while the rest of us — left, right and center — foot the bill.
There’s simply too much at stake to stay silent. Americans across race, place, faith and party must use our pulpits, prayers, and feet to keep up this pressure to ensure protections that will strengthen our political system so that it works for all.
Every one of us can participate, and it does matter that we do so.
On Jan. 6, 2022, candlelight vigils across our nation will light a clear path forward for the U.S. Senate and President Joe Biden. Every candle lit will be a voice demanding that our leaders support crucial, nonpartisan legislation:
- The Freedom to Vote Act, the most significant voting rights and anti-corruption bill in generations, which will establish national standards that protect election integrity, the freedom for every American to cast their vote, and guarantee that every vote is counted.
- The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which will make sure that any state that attempts to change voting rules to discriminate will be subject to federal review so all voters’ rights are protected.
- And the Protecting Our Democracy Act, an historic democracy-for-all package of reforms that will ensure guardrails against future abuse of presidential power, and restore the fundamental checks and balances upon which our democracy was founded.
Most Americans do still believe that free, fair and peaceful elections are the essence of our democracy, and our democracy is worth defending. Our flames will join together in outdoor vigils and across social media with that strong message to leaders. We pray that this light will also inspire hope and renewed commitment in all of us. Show up. Be heard. Because you and I are the bright flame of democracy.
The Auburn Senior Fellows include:
The Rev. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister, Middle Church
Bishop Gene Robinson, The Episcopal Church
Rabbi Sharon Brous, senior rabbi, IKAR
The Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, deputy director and chief faith officer, Faith in Action
The Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, acting general minister and president, United Church of Christ
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, author
Lisa Sharon Harper, founder and CEO, Freedom Road
The Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ
Brian D. McLaren, author, speaker, activist
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director, T’ruah
Valarie Kaur, founder, Revolutionary Love Project
The Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO, Faith in Public Life
Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Congregation Beth Elohim
The Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Roshi, founder emeritus, Transformative Change
Stosh Cotler, CEO, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action
The Rev. Peter Goodwin Heltzel, author/activist
The Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson, president, Auburn Seminary