Faith Commons

by Mara Richards Bim

When elementary school children in the U.S. study the founding of our country, they learn about the British Stamp Act of 1765 and the American colonists’ catchy response to it: “no taxation without representation.” The right of citizens to choose their representatives through voting is as American as apple pie. The right to vote is not only foundational to our nation’s self-understanding—it is fundamental to the liberal idea of a democratic republic.

Democracy has always been an unfinished project of creating, as Lincoln put it, “a more perfect union.” At different points in our nation’s history, whole groups of people have been disenfranchised: women, African-Americans, the poor. But the notion of a people collectively living out democratic ideals has been the guiding principle since our country’s founding.

Today, those democratic principles are under attack and we should all be concerned.

In a recent op-ed, neoconservative Robert Kagan explains the principles our country was founded on and the implications for the government the founders created:

“[A]ll human beings were created equal in their possession of certain ‘natural rights’ that government was bound to respect and to safeguard. These rights did not derive from religious belief but were ‘self-evident.’ They were not granted by the Christian God, by the crown or even by the Constitution. They were inherent in what it meant to be human.”

Our founders enshrined truly radical ideals in the establishment of our country. But not everyone wanted to live in a country where all were equal. As Kagan notes, since America’s founding there has also been an anti-liberal tradition determined to enforce social hierarchies and to undermine the secular, liberal principles of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. That group has been with us from the beginning and has taken on many forms and names. Today it is comprised of a number of factions, one of the largest being Christian nationalists.

Christian nationalism, the extremist political movement dressed up in Christian language, has been in the news constantly since the attempted coup on January 6, 2021. Since that fateful day, Christian nationalism has gone mainstream: a Supreme Court Justice flies the movement’s flag at his summer home; the Speaker of the House flies it outside his office; members of Congress proudly embrace the moniker as do some pastors of megachurches.

No doubt, some Christian nationalists trust the Kool-Aid they’re drinking. They believe that Scripture says certain types of Christians are meant to rule the U.S., which makes them especially dangerous to our democracy. But at its core Christian nationalism isn’t about Christianity—it’s about power. And most of the Christian nationalists enacting draconian legislation and attempting to suppress voting rights do so to retain their influence and remain in power.

Paul Weyrich, the granddaddy of the Christian nationalist movement, a political operative and the co-founder of both the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority, famously laid out a Christian nationalist path to political domination in the U.S.

“Many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome. Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

This is why some in power are seeking to limit voting times and places. This is why there is such a determined effort to purge legitimate voters from voting records in advance of the next election. In 2020, two-thirds (66%) of the eligible voting population came out to vote—more than any national election in 120 years. For the Christian nationalists among us, that was a scary prospect. They don’t win elections when people actually vote because the majority of America prefers democracy to dictatorship.

Ironically, it is the classically liberal, secular ideals enshrouded in our founding documents that ensure people of all faiths and of no faith are able to live with true religious freedom.

What, then, are people of faith to do? How are we to engage in and with our government?

The Christian nationalists see this as a zero-sum game. To be “Christian” and ensure “liberty,” they must dominate every facet of society from government to education, from media to “family values.” The end game of this strategy will not be liberty for all but continued and perpetual supremacy for some.

True liberty is based on public virtue. It’s about protecting not only our own voting rights but also those of our neighbors who practice different faiths or no faith at all. True liberty is only possible when government and elected officials stay out of the business of legislating religion. But in order to maintain this principle that has come to be known as “the separation of church and state,” people of faith must engage in and with our government to preserve the democratic values our country was founded on.

We cannot bury our heads in the sand. We cannot be afraid of engaging in this election. In fact, our religious traditions require us to treat others as we wish to be treated. As such, our traditions compel us to contend with those who would use this election season to disenfranchise voters, discredit the election process, and destroy the democratic principles that have guided our country since its founding.

Here are a few things we can do:

  • Make sure you are registered to vote and that your registration has not been purged! Many states are purging individual voters from their rolls for correctable errors (like a missing apartment number) or because the voter didn’t vote in the last election. Do not assume that just because you were once registered that you still are!
  • Help others to register by becoming a Volunteer Deputy Registrar in your state.
  • Volunteer with groups like March to the Polls that reach high school and college students to equip and to motivate them to vote.
  • Train to become an election worker or a poll watcher and sign up to work the upcoming elections. You must do so in the county in which you are registered to vote.
  • Train with groups like Rideshare 2 Vote and volunteer to drive voters to the polls to vote.
  • Blockwalk for candidates and issues that represent your values.
  • Don’t be shy about telling people that your faith requires you to be involved in the election in these ways. 

Each of us, regardless of our political affiliation, is bound to our neighbor in our shared commitment to democracy. We must name the egregious attempts to undermine the election for what they are—an existential threat to our fragile democracy. And we must stand united against them.