THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
WEEK V / DAY III
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Scripture / Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Our History and its Legacy
African-Americans have done an amazing job of following Christ’s command to love your enemies. Nineteenth century German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck once said, “Politics and the Sermon on the Mount are incompatible.” Black people have been proving him wrong almost since arriving on these shores. Through embracing non-violence as a strategy and a tactic, the Civil Rights Movement — and its predecessors and successors — have been able to put loving one’s enemy into practice in very practical and political ways, including in the service of voting rights.
Voting is to democracy, what worship is to faith. If someone were to deny you the right to worship and live out your faith in community, they would become your enemy. White people have been denying Black people complete or easy access to the ballot since declaring them three-fifths of a person in Article 1 of the Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified following the Civil War, made formerly enslaved people full citizens and bestowed on them the right to vote (that is, men over age 21). And, a few years later, the Fifteenth Amendment made it even clearer: “the right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But it was almost a century later, in 1964, that the Twenty-Fourth Amendment was ratified, ensuring the right of citizens to vote without having to pay a poll tax. That was one of the many obstacles that were erected to prevent African-Americans from exercising their hard-won right to vote. Others included having to provide the number of beans in a jar or bubbles in a bar of soap, recite passages from state constitutions, or pass literacy tests (usually only required of those who couldn’t vote before 1866).
The passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act following Bloody Sunday and the famous march from Selma to Montgomery is a familiar chapter in the Civil Rights Movement. While direct disenfranchisement is not legal, indirect disenfranchisement has been on the rise. Recent efforts include photo ID laws that disproportionately affect minorities, senior citizens, and low-income individuals, purges of voter rolls, and state laws that prevent felons from voting, after already having served their sentence. According to the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice, 20 states have enacted measures to restrict access to voting, 14 of them last year. Many of these measures disproportionately targeted African-Americans, including a photo ID law in North Carolina that the court overturned based in part on evidence that it was enacted to restrict African-American voting.
Reflection and Response
In light of recent events and allegations around voting suppression and fraud, we need to pray for this fundamental aspect of our democracy. As the Lord instructed Peter at the beginning of the Church in Acts 10, the Good News is available to everyone. Let us pray and act to make that the case for voting in our democracy, especially to those who have been historically denied this right.
Join the late voting rights activist and church lady extraordinaire, Fannie Lou Hamer, in loving your enemies: “I feel sorry for anybody that could let hate wrap them up. Ain't no such thing as I can hate anybody and hope to see God's face.”
Research the facts in your state about efforts to expand access to voting and advocate for those efforts. Stand up to modern-day efforts to deny access to vote that impacts African-Americans.
In his timeless sermon on Loving Your Enemies, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, “The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love.”
Let us be salt and light.
Written by Max Finberg