Diverse Coalition of Faith Communities Speaks Up for Voting Rights in Georgia

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by Evelyn Brewer

[Editors Note: The genesis of this initiative came out of a Sunday School class at Central Congregational UCC in Atlanta. Evelyn writes the following on their behalf. Photos of group activities are at the end of this article.]

We are not an official organization, per se. Rather, we are individuals–clergy, faith leaders, and laity–from predominantly Black and predominantly White faith communities that have begun to engage around issues of social and racial justice…and how our faith moves us to act. I share this background to help people understand who is involved and why.

This began last December 2020 as a response to an Open Letter from 100+ Black Pastors to Sen. Loeffler. Their open letter–which had gone viral & appeared in a NY Times article on 12/20/2020–pointed to how her attacks against Rev. Warnock were grossly misleading, racially charged, and really amounted to an attack on The Black Church and its traditions and focus on liberation and social justice.  We–members of a Sunday School class at Central Congregational UCC–felt their letter had much merit, but we wondered why clergy and laity from predominantly White faith communities hadn’t spoken out more. We knew that many White people of faith agreed with the message in their letter but perhaps didn’t know how best to show solidarity.

We decided to write “a letter of support from a predominantly White congregation”–after all, we have been working to better understand systemic racism and could not turn away from what we were witnessing. Well, it grew beyond our own church community and we had many others ask to join us. We placed our letter in the AJC as an ad on Saturday, January 2. As we expected, many White people reached out and were so glad we did what we did. But another thing altogether happened when the organizers of the Black Pastors reached out to us and invited us to meet virtually. We began a zoom-based conversation on January 4 that left all of us deeply moved…and hopeful. The insurrection at the US Capitol two days later made us realize how important it was to be engaging in conversation…and considering what efforts would be required of us to “put our faith into action”.  When the voting rights bills flooded the statehouse–here and across the country–we got together to see if we could write a letter, together this time, asking Gov Kemp to veto any bills that undermined the sacred and constitutional right to vote.

While we all felt outrage about what these bills represented, we decided to use our letter to find common ground and call-in (rather than call-out) Gov. Kemp to follow the wisdom of his own faith to bring out our better angels, and work together to a more just, more inclusive future for Georgia. [This decision was not unanimously supported by everyone in the core group. What we finally decided was that there were already opportunities to join more petitions and protests that took a more confrontational tone. Because we felt we represented a group that demonstrated a coming together across racial and religious diversity, with a confident moral message of healing and working together for the good of all Georgians, we did opt for our letter to “call Gov. Kemp to call on our better angels” and to veto efforts to dramatically change an election system that he had heartedly defended as the “gold standard” just months ago.]

We began circulating the letter Sunday, March 14, and within days had over 460 signatures, a number that would surely have been larger if we had systematized our outreach beforehand. Nevertheless, through our network of partners that had emerged out of the letter we published in January. Our initial signers came from clergy & laity from UCC, UMC, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic, Baptists, Society of Friends, Disciples of Christ, AME and UU. Through our interfaith partners, such as Faith in Public Life and the Interfaith Children’s Movement, we added strong support from the Jewish community, as well as other faith leaders. Our Black clergy partners gathered support from other Black clergy from across Georgia, as well as white clergy and faith leaders with whom they are engaged in working toward greater justice and peace.

The response we have–and continue to receive–confirms a widespread desire on the part of many people of faith to connect so that we can be more effective in putting our faith into action…see next message that was sent to our signers:

Subject:  THANK YOU for Your Support of Protecting Voting Rights in Georgia

Letter to Gov. Kemp Signed by Diverse Group of Faith Leaders & Laity from Across Georgia was Important, Despite Outcome

Dear Friend & Supporter,

First of all, THANK YOU for being one of over 460 clergy, faith leaders, and laity to sign onto our non-partisan letter to Gov. Kemp, asking him to veto any legislation that would make it more difficult for eligible Georgians to vote by whichever method they prefer. You demonstrated your willingness to speak up when our elected officials were failing to uphold the basic moral call to be just and compassionate to all Georgians—irrespective of race, ethnicity, creed, income, or political party. By putting your faith into action, you took a vital step toward building The Beloved Community. 

We delivered the letter with all of your names attached to Gov. Kemp’s office at the Capitol on Friday, March 19th.  After a press  conference the following Monday, Gov. Kemp issued a reply and several Atlanta news outlets featured the story, including Fox5 and CBS46.  Other religious leaders and voting rights advocates also praised the letter’s strong moral message, as well as the racial and religious diversity of those who signed it. 

Nevertheless, on March 25th, behind closed doors, Gov. Kemp signed SB 202 into law, significantly overhauling Georgia’s election system. This was despite the fact that, only months before, Gov. Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and other state officials had unequivocally defended Georgia’s election system in the courts and the media, declaring it the “gold standard” among state election systems.

What does the new law mean for our coalition of faith leaders and laity?

It means that there will be a tremendous need to educate our communities about the impact the new law will have on voting in our state. Additionally, it will be important to help our communities understand the messaging that’s being used to defend this new law. Of particular concern are messages that (1) misrepresent the negative impact of this new law on Georgia’s voting system, or (2) serve to sow fear and hatred of our fellow Georgians.

What will be our next steps?

We have no intention of disappearing! Our goal over the next days and weeks will be to consider exactly how we can work with other groups and organizations to amplify the voices of a growing number of faith leaders and laity who are speaking up for voting rights—a critical component of our democracy—and holding our elected officials accountable to their duty to serve all Georgians justly and equitably.  It is likely that our interests and concerns will also encompass other issues of equity and justice, beyond voting rights alone.  In whatever steps we take, we will always strive to avoid duplicating efforts. Rather, our goal will be to magnify the work of others by helping connect new and established participants so that, together, we can help to make Georgia a better place for all God’s creation.

Whether you are an old hand or a newcomer to this work of putting your faith into action in this manner, we hope you will remain engaged and share your ideas as we work to define our efforts going forward.  Please share your ideas and comments by replying to this email. We will be in touch with you again by mid-April, following our planning sessions taking place next week.

In faith,
The Organizing Committee