[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop and Primate of the US-based Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, urged young people to vote at a Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) youth service last week (July 24).
Speaking at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, the Archbishop challenged UBE leaders, youth, several hundred local worshippers and visiting conference-goers to consider, “between now and next year, leading a massive voter registration and education drive and a get-out-the-vote campaign.”
Frequently interrupted by applause and shouts of “amen,” he emphasized, “This is not a partisan statement. We can’t tell people how to vote. That’s not right. But we can tell people, ‘You must vote.’
“It is a Christian obligation to vote, and more than that, it is the church’s responsibility to help get souls to the polls.”
Echoing the conference theme “Preparing the Way for Such a Time as This: Many People, One Lord,” Michael Curry invoked the prophet Isaiah’s advice to draw strength from those who have gone before to create transformation.
In a sermon laced with laughter and peppered with applause and “amens,” the Archbishop stepped in and out of the pulpit and engaged worshippers in call and response. He quoted from Isaiah 51, hymns, Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, jazz singer Billie Holiday, author Alex Haley, and national forefathers Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. He even led a rousing chorus of the classic Frank Sinatra song, “That’s Life.”
“Isaiah writes, ‘Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from whence you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you,’” he said.
Michael Curry recalled the need to persevere and work for future change, even when present hopes seem dashed “on the altar of reality.”
As the congregation laughed and applauded, he said: “I’m not being political. I’m just being biblical. I’m staying in the Bible.”
He told the youth gathering that Jesus’ call to love means loving “the neighbour you like and the neighbour you don’t like.” He said: “Democrats, you have to find a Republican neighbour and love that neighbour. Republicans, you have to find a Democrat neighbour. And Independents, you can go either way!”
“Because if it’s not about love, it’s not about God … (and) sometimes, when we stray from our true heart and from our true origins, we lose our soul.”
Soberly, he added: “I love this country. I love her enough to speak truth.”
He then painted a chilling portrait of current realities, including the child-parent separations at the U.S. border, a rise in hate crimes, attacks on places of worship and a recent political rally led by President Donald Trump.
Michael Curry said, “Something is fundamentally wrong when crowds chant about a congresswoman, a Somali American, and say to ‘send her home,’ and when the president of the United States says, ‘You need to go back home,’” to four congresswomen of colour who have been openly critical of him.
“This is not a partisan statement, this is a moral statement,” he said. “Something’s wrong. We must help America, this country we love.”
The nation’s core principles – as described in the Declaration of Independence, in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, at the Statue of Liberty and in Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too” – are quintessentially what this country is about, he added.
“When we are debating and trying to decide what to do with our borders … ask that green lady with that torch in her hand,” he said. “‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ That’s America. We must help America find its soul, help America look to its rock.”
And when getting “souls to the polls” he added: “Tell them to cast your vote, not on a partisan basis, not based on your biases, but vote your values. Vote the values of human dignity and equality. Vote the values of the rock on which this country was built. Vote.”