A group of leading social justice activists, faith groups and religious leaders will host an Oct. 9 workshop to counter the growing threats of white supremacy and Christian nationalism by educating and inspiring voters.
The virtual event, “Liberate Democracy: Vote the Just Vision,” will feature a dozen speakers co-hosted by Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, Faith in Public Life and Vote Common Good.
The timing of the three-hour presentation was aimed to give voters time to translate inspiration into action just ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, said Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft, consulting community minister at Middle Church.
“No matter what the news cycle is focused on — a mass shooting, another terrible hurricane or an act of racial violence — we recognize that a month out from the midterms is a crucial time to organize,” she said.
The free program will be headlined by Raquel Willis, a writer and activist dedicated to Black transgender rights; LaTosha Brown, community organizer and co-founder of Black Voters Matter; Maria Teresa Kumar, activist and CEO of Voto Latino; Middle Church Senior Minister Jacqui Lewis; Khyati Y. Joshi, co-founder of the Institute for Teaching Diversity and Social Justice; and Doug Pagitt, author, social activist and executive director of Vote Common Good.
The workshop description lays out the dangers faced by democracy: “Many are committed to turning back the tide of change, through false claims of voter fraud, promotion of ‘replacement theory,’ insistence on unrestricted access to guns and denial of women’s rights. All of this in service of a vision of white supremacy, Christian nationalism, oligarchy, xenophobia and censorship.”
But the program also will suggest alternatives to oppressive ideologies. “Others seek progress toward an evolving liberal democracy where economic fairness, equal treatment under the law, race and gender diversity and inclusion, and a citizenry free of hatred and violence becomes the moral imperative in governance and community life.”
To unpack that vision, the workshop is segmented into different topics, beginning with a “How did we get here?” session covering the ways culture and religion shape politics.
That discussion will be followed by “Theories of Change,” which presents art and popular culture, trans liberation and early childhood education and parenting as examples of the possibility of effecting change through social action.
A section examining “What’s at Stake” in the midterms is followed by a concluding focus on practical approaches to making a difference before and on election day.
Organizers designed the program to help voters focus on key issues and actions, Hambrick Ashcraft said. “We do live in a such a high-demand culture that I think everybody is trying to look for different points of engagement.”
The goal also is to motivate voters to engage the political system within the context of faith she said. “This is designed with a sense of connecting voters to their moral values and explaining this is why we’re voting this way — because, morally, we believe we have a call to create a just democracy for all.”
“Can we be defined by love and justice and equity in the public square?”
The church is doing much the same by cooperating with a variety of activist groups in presenting the workshop, Hambrick Ashcraft said. “One of our taglines is ‘reclaiming and reframing Christianity.’ For us, this event is a way of asking what does it mean to say we are Christians in a time when Herschel Walker and Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump also say they are Christians? Can we be defined by love and justice and equity in the public square?”
Informing voters and giving them the tools to become activists themselves is another way for the church to live into its calling, she said. “One of Middle Church’s mission statements is ‘just love.’ And we believe taking our moral conscious to the voting booth is part of how we are bringing about ‘just love’ in a world that is constantly needing to be redeemed.”
The congregation’s involvement in anti-racism and pro-democracy efforts predates the weekend workshop.
The church has a longstanding and active voter reform group that has a national focus. “They meet online to look at what’s happening in different states,” she explained. “They have written over 20,000 postcards to voters in swing states.”
Middle Church also has hosted a series of Freedom Labs focused on politics and religion as they relate to anti-blackness and white supremacy and how those dynamics have placed American democracy in jeopardy.
The congregation engaged in a study of Robert P. Jones’ book, White Too Long, and Lewis has led several anti-racism workshops.
The coming event, then, “is just part of the rhythm of the congregation,” Hambrick Ashcraft said.
“We really, as Middle Church, wanted to participate in an event to highlight the urgency of this midterm election but also acknowledge that we cannot endorse candidates. Nor can we do all the ‘how do we save Congress’ conversations we want to. So, we have these activist leaders here to help lead us through that.”