Jim Wallis and Barbara Williams-Skinner on Voter Suppression is a Theological Issue

A voter completes a ballot in the presidential primary election at the Summit View Church of the Nazarene on March 10, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. The polling place served two precincts as voters who were scheduled to vote at a nearby senior living facility were directed to vote at the church after the facility backed out due to coronavirus concerns. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The Rev. Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His new book Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis. Barbara Williams-Skinner is president and co-founder of the Skinner Leadership Institute and co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network. 

We believe all human beings are made in the “Imago Dei,” the image and likeness of God — it’s a core tenet of ours and many other faiths. So any strategy that would negate people’s votes because of the color of their skin is not just a partisan tactic, but rather a denial of their Imago Dei, a theological, biblical and spiritual offense to God. Protecting the right to vote affirms the divine imprint and inherent value of all of God’s children.

At a 2017 interfaith gathering, the two of us took these deep discussions on how voter suppression threatens the Imago Dei within each of us and our neighbors and turned those ideas into the seeds of a campaign. The idea has grown over the years, was piloted in the 2018 election, and now is in full swing in seven pivotal states in the 2020 presidential election — the most important election in both of our lives. Let’s call it “2020 Souls to the Polls.”

In 2016 and 2018, voters faced extensive efforts that made voting more difficult, particularly voters of color and those who are poor. These voter suppression efforts happened after GOP state gains during the Obama administration and, perhaps most significantly, as a result of the Supreme Court’s 2013 gutting of a key provision of the groundbreaking Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required certain states with a history of discrimination to seek preclearance to change voting procedures.

Between those two factors — the 2013 Supreme Court decision to diminish voter protections and the Republican takeovers in many states — 23 states, including some key battlegrounds, put in place new voter restrictions in advance of the 2016 election. By the 2018 midterms, that number had risen to 33 states. These restrictions included:

  • laws that eliminated polling places or moved them to less accessible locations, often on Election Day and without notice
  • reduced polling hours
  • tightened voter-ID requirements
  • “purged” voter rolls and
  • reduced early voting and Sunday voting, which are popular among voters in black churches

Some groups also waged state-based disinformation campaigns, advertising incorrect election dates, fake addresses for polling places, and even veiled threats of voter intimidation.

In 2016, in ruling against a particularly egregious voting law in North Carolina, a federal court said certain provisions of the law “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The court added, “With race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans” and “retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.”

Those are the facts, and the facts reveal that the Republican Party is complicit in efforts to deny the image of God in black and brown people, including the black and brown body of Christ in America.

So here is the challenge we are offering: Regardless of how Christians vote by their biblical examination on the issues, all Christians must stand and speak out against voter suppression — an offense to the image of God and the democratic rights of citizenship.

Here’s some very good news: A broad coalition of Christian denominational and church leaders, led by the leaders of many black denominations, has been joined by many leaders of predominately white and multicultural churches in a new letter just sent to every member of Congress and every senator from both parties.

The letter says, in part:

“We believe that each person, and therefore each voter, is made in the image of God and that any effort to discourage or suppress their vote assaults their human dignity and undermines our democracy. The right to vote and people’s ability to exercise that right is fundamental to the health and integrity of our democracy and country. As Christian leaders who represent and lead a broad cross-section of the church across the country, we also believe that voting is a sacred right and commitment, particularly given our nation’s long struggle to extend the right to vote to every eligible citizen regardless of factors such as race and gender.”

Click here to read more.
Source: Religion News Service