Our country is stuck. We’ve lost sight of what government should be. And even when we do agree on problems that need to be addressed, special interests too often confound even the broadest compromises and the most basic functions of government.
On Tuesday, Americans delivered control of the Senate to the Republican Party, yet few believe—on the right or left—that this election will create the change so many long to see. With each election, Americans become less confident that their elected leaders will be able to do the things that will make America a more just, equal and free society for everyone.
Through the corrosive influence of money in politics, the corrupt process of gerrymandering electoral district lines, and racist voter ID laws, our government is becoming less reflective of the people it represents and more reflective of the special interests of those with special access to our elected leaders. Our democracy is broken and nothing short of a people’s movement for deep, systemic change will fix it.
The state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against young African American and Latino men in this country is abominable. It is cruel and sadistic, and undergirding it are myriad, malevolent forces that are destroying communities of color and poor communities across the country. And it’s getting worse everyday.
Moreover, the privileges and fears attached to whiteness and cultivated in white communities fuel it and stop many from standing against it. This reality directly contradicts every deep tenet of our Christian faith, and if we do not challenge it, we are complicit in it. We are called to celebrate, not destroy, human life. We are required to liberate not imprison the oppressed and to love and nurture, not to annihilate, our young people.
As a Christian, I read Romans 13 and believe that government has the responsibility to “not [be] a terror.” Yet again and again, unarmed African Americans fall victim to excessive use of police force.
Millions of other Americans are suffering and dying in poverty, due to the egregious sin of income inequality. In the country that has produced the most wealth in human history, too many families are having to choose between putting food on the table for their children and paying the electric bill during cold winter months.
We, as people of conscience, and we, the people, through our government, have a duty to take on root causes of racism, poverty and economic injustice. In the 72nd Psalm, King Solomon prays that he may use his authority to “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” It is our duty as people of faith to take leadership in our communities to solve the problems that are keeping so many people from flourishing.
As frustrated as I am by the shortcomings of our democracy, I am hopeful that out of our disappointment will spring forth activism rooted in a faith bigger than all of us. Though hope for just legislative solutions seems dead, I remain firm in my belief in a God of resurrection. Using the fierce and grounded (and biblical) model of love and non-violence, I am hopeful that Americans of all faiths can band together to work for real change on the issues plaguing us.
Nothing less than future of our democracy is at stake.
Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, where she also holds the Johnston Family Chair in Religion and Democracy. She is Vice President of the American Academy of Religion, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and author of Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World.