Over the past several weeks, I have not been shy about asking everyone with which I interact, “Do you plan to vote in the upcoming election?” Sadly, more than half respond that they do not plan to vote. When I press, the common consensus is, “My vote doesn’t matter.” One young woman told me that even though she is not planning to vote, she would “be willing to fight for the right to vote if she didn’t have it.” Her statement is perplexing. Why is the fight for a right more invigorating than exercising the right itself?
Women’s Suffrage and Black Suffrage in the United States of America was a century-long struggle. Black men theoretically gained the right to vote in 1870 with the passage of the 15th Amendment. But it was not until the Voting Rights Act was passed almost 100 years later in 1965 that Black women were, in-practice, able to exercise their right to vote. And even with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, the right for women to vote did not extend to women of color because of widespread voter suppression. Wretchedly, the power brokers of the system still work tirelessly to disenfranchise Black and Brown voters and voter suppression is rampant.
Suffrage is a weighty word. At first glance, many are inclined to equate the word with some sort of “suffering.” And indeed, the battles to secure the most common of rights in a democracy were filled with much turmoil, tragedy and suffering. But etymology of the word “suffrage” has more altruistic connotations. The word’s Latin ancestor, suffragium, and its French cousin, suffrage, both mean “to intercede” or “give assistance to.” It was not until the late 18th century that the word was pushed to mean, “the right to vote.”
This is where the pastor and theologian in me surfaces. Throughout scripture, those with a voice are compelled to speak up on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced; those with power are obliged to intercede on behalf of those who have no power; those with affluence are encouraged to effect change on behalf of those whose influence has been discounted. Suffrage, at its core, is an act of intercession.
I believe voting is intercessory because it gives voice to the voices that have been silenced by the empire; it is a means of creating equity of power and it is a sacred instrument of influence. Our right to vote is one of the most sacred rights we have as Americans. It cannot be overstated. Your vote matters. It counts. Some elections in history were determined by a handful of votes; sometimes one vote was the deciding factor.
Some will ridicule me, as a pastor, for wading into political territory. So, let me state emphatically, I advocate for the separation of church and state. History reveals that when the state and church have intercourse, their offspring is always a bastard child who wreaks havoc on certain sects of humanity. But, as a Christ-follower and theologian, I am convinced the message of Jesus was a powerfully political one.
Jesus lived in a time when religious authorities had been co-opted by an oppressive regime in which the rich grew richer on the backs of the poor and the scales of justice were tipped in favor of the powerful. In 1st century Palestine, the hopes of the people lie in ruins and the nation was divided into warring factions. But, in the words of Pastor Brian McLaren, Jesus came on the scene and unabashedly asked questions like, “How are we treating children, orphans and the widows?” “What are we doing to bring justice to the poor?” How are we caring for minorities, foreigners and immigrants?” “Are we loving our neighbors and feeding the hungry?” and “Are we throwing good parties to bring people together?” Jesus’ way of being in the world upset the unjust system the empire had built. So, make no mistake, the Roman Empire did not lynch Jesus because he was divine; they killed him because he was a threat to the system.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.” Thousands of our true neighbors have interceded on our behalf and sacrificed their lives so that you and I have the right to vote. We dare not squander those sacrifices. So, I beg you, exercise your sacred right and vote.
Rev. Ken Fuquay is pastor at M2M Charlotte: A Matters to Mission Worshiping Community. He is also president and CEO of LIFESPAN Incorporated in Charlotte, N.C.