In the space of one week, I have seen an unprecedented rise of evil in this country. And in that same week, I have seen an unprecedented rise of goodness here in my corner of the nation, Kentucky. How will that affect our votes?
If the radicalized right-wing pipe bomber had had his way, we would be burying the remains of a media newsroom and thirteen prominent Democrats, including two former presidents. A radicalized anti-Semitic gunman did have his way, and eleven souls at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh have been buried this week. Another radicalized racist gunman attempted a similar massacre at a black church near Louisville, but when he found the doors locked, he made his way to a Kroger and murdered two African American elders. And in Florida, a gunman killed two and injured five at a yoga studio.
Many of those killed this week were people doing some of the most peaceful things a human being can do – engaging in prayer, worship, and mind-body meditation.
Yet the rise of hateful and inflammatory rhetoric from the one who occupies the highest office in this country has created the conditions in which no one – not even a 97-year-old great-grandmother attending synagogue – is safe.
At the same time, a new force for goodness is organizing across this country, and I witnessed three gatherings that give me hope and courage.
The Kentucky Council of Churches gathered for their annual assembly just down the street from that Jeffersontown Kroger where grocery shopping meant death to two individuals because of their skin color. The religious leaders committed themselves to addressing the theme of “a house divided,” and working to counter the narrative perpetuated by radical right-wing Christianity that undergirds political violence.
A few days later in Lexington, hundreds of people gathered for a service of solidarity with our Jewish neighbors commemorating those murdered by hatred.
The energy of love and resolve among this multi-faith, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-gender, multi-racial gathering was a potent antidote to the terror and despair hanging like a shroud around our nation.
Then on Fri., Nov. 2, a sound of holy thunder rose up from Total Grace Baptist Church in Lexington when The Rev. Dr. William Barber gathered with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
Speaking to a packed house of citizens, clergy, and government officials, Dr. Barber shared with us what Jewish leaders told him to convey after the gun massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue. They told him about one little Hebrew word: kol, which means both “voice” and “vote.”
Dr. Barber explained that because human beings are created in the image of God, any kind of voter suppression is “theological malpractice.”That malpractice happens when felons who have served their time are denied the right to vote. It happens when gerrymandering manipulates district lines to effectively de-voice a voting population. But it also happens when people of faith, of their own accord, do not vote.
In Hebrew scripture, kol also refers either to the voice of God or to natural phenomena that show the greatness of God. As Dr. Barber exhorted the crowd at Total Grace: “It’s time to take our voice and our vote to the polls and thunder!” If you want healthcare, if you want racism to end, if you want a living wage, it’s time to thunder at the polls. And if you are a person of faith, I remind you that it is your theological duty to vote on Nov. 6, and in every election.
But on Wednesday Nov. 7, the real work begins, no matter the outcome of the midterms. When 46 percent of people in Kentucky are poor or low-income, that means 2 million residents are shut out of the right to live. This includes 56 percent of children. Of the 23,022 people imprisoned in this state, black residents are incarcerated at over three times the rate of white residents. In Kentucky, over 271,400 people are uninsured. And the census tracts in this state show 33.2 percent are at risk for being unable to afford clean water.
It’s time to overwhelm the ballot box with goodness, solidarity, and love. And then, it’s time to get to work putting our minds, hands, and legs on that love.
[Visit Kentuckians for the Commonwealth voting guide to help you decide how to vote your values.]
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church (ELCA). The views expressed here are her own and do not represent the institutions she serves.