Kansans of faith should defend the basic tenants of democracy from those who would undermine our institutions in order to maintain their minoritarian rule, writes Rabbi Moti Rieber. (Clay Wirestone/Kansas Reflector)
The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Rabbi Moti Rieber is executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, a statewide, multifaith issue-advocacy organization that works on a variety of social, economic and climate justice issues.
Democracy is the ideal that underlies the United States.
Much of our struggle toward greater justice has been a struggle for greater democracy, including securing equal citizenship for African Americans, voting rights for women and justice for LGBTQ folks. Our faith traditions consider it our moral duty to respect one another and build a diverse society where, as Kansas Interfaith Action’s literature puts it, “All are created in God’s image, and all have the right to equal protection under the law.”
We live in a time of growing conflict between the vision and lived reality of an increasingly multiracial and pluralistic democracy, and a counter reaction to this vision. There are, in our state and nation, those attempting to impose far-right social and political ideas on the entire population. These are a minority of the country, who instead of moderating their stances and working for compromise as democracy demands, have instead chosen to undermine the institutions of democracy in order to maintain their minoritarian rule.
Especially of concern to people of faith is the growth of Christian Nationalism — the belief that the U.S. is meant to be a Christian nation, coupled with the political efforts of extremist elements to use Christianity to take power and legislate their far-right agenda. As an interfaith justice organization, and especially for those of us who are Christian, it is our duty to oppose this twisting of Christianity’s teachings for the sake of political power, to defend the Constitution’s provision for the free exercise of any religion (or none), and to resist the establishment of any one religion by the state.
We have reached a time when the very results of elections are called into question, where election laws are changed to reflect those false claims, and where election officials trying to do difficult jobs — along with librarians, school teachers and others — are harassed or threatened for daring to speak and teach the truth. Racism and homophobia, which seemed to be on the decline, have come back with a vengeance. Sometimes it seems like the very foundations of our society are being torn apart.
Legislatures throughout the country, including in Kansas, have been participants in the undermining of democratic norms, making it harder for citizens to influence public policy through gerrymandering, voting restrictions, and manipulation of the legislative process through such mechanisms as short-notice hearings, overuse of conference committee reports, and the notorious “gut-and-go.”
The sacred texts of our many faiths hold in common a consistent encouragement to not give in to fear, but to be boldly hopeful, courageously kind and loving, and to build community with one another — both friends and strangers.
– Moti Rieber
This manufactured lack of accountability allows a political minority to force through unpopular and unwise policies that benefit a few donors or conservative think tanks while harming a majority of Kansans.
The sacred texts of our many faiths hold in common a consistent encouragement to not give in to fear, but to be boldly hopeful, courageously kind and loving, and to build community with one another — both friends and strangers. As people of faith, we believe that our role is to tie the strands of society together, rather than tear them apart. We believe the social good — the communal good — should be supported and strengthened.
And we believe that disagreements over policy should be decided fairly, democratically, and nonviolently.
As a faith-based advocacy organization, it is KIFA’s role to fight for our democracy. Therefore we are introducing a “Faithful Protection of Democracy” platform, designed to shore up those elements of democratic governance that are under particular attack at this time. This platform has three main planks: support of public education (full funding, free inquiry); the right to vote and to have that vote counted; and personal liberty and freedom of religion, especially in areas of personal autonomy. These will be spelled out further in coming weeks.
Please join us for a discussion of “Faithful Protection of Democracy” with David Pepper, former Ohio elected official and author of the important new book, “Laboratories of Autocracy;” Heather Ousley of the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education; and Mark McCormack of the ACLU of Kansas. This event, part of KIFA’s “Faith and Public Policy Forum” series, will take place via Zoom on Thursday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. Visit KansasInterfaithAction.org for information.
KIFA, as a multifaith organization, stands on the platform pointed to in Miroslav Volf’s claim that, “World religions make claims as to what is true, just, and good for all human beings, irrespective of their local cultures. They offer a diagnosis of the human predicament (for example, captivity to suffering, the problem of sin, lack of guidance) and sketch the way out of it (such as enlightenment, God’s unconditional love, submission to God).”
May God bless the work KIFA does as collectively we strive to do the work God blesses.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.
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