Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

From "I Have a Dream" to "Stop the Steal"

On December 12, in what organizers are calling “the Jericho March,” Christians are invited to gather in Washington D.C. to protest fraud and corruption in the presidential election. Organizers are asking participants to march around the U.S. Capitol seven times as the culmination of regional protests in which people of faith will march seven times daily around state capitols (in swing states, of course), following the biblical example of Joshua in bringing down the walls of Jericho. The event’s organizers urge participants to “Let the Church Roar!”
This comes fifty-seven years after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at another Washington protest steeped in Christian imagery. Do the sharp contrasts in the events tell us anything about Christianity’s changing relationship to American culture? Three broad conclusions emerge.
First, Christians have become more comfortable claiming victim status. Dr. King did not speak in terms of victimhood. He shared powerful stories of injustice without focusing on his own suffering, much less exaggerating it. After years of conservatives mocking liberals for playing the victim, President Trump is embracing the label wholeheartedly on behalf of his supporters. Consider last weekend’s rally at which the President proclaimed, in conjunction with alleged election fraud, "We're all victims. Everybody here, all these thousands of people here tonight, they're all victims. Every one of you.” Surveys show that a majority of white evangelicals believe that Christians face discrimination in the United States and are more likely to face discrimination than Muslims.
Second, facts now seem to matter less than feelings. The election conspiracy claims have been wildly unsuccessful in court – where evidence matters a great deal – but quite popular on social media, where a viral video doesn’t require more than a passionately articulated hunch. After the President’s rally last weekend, Rush Limbaugh confidently concluded that thousands of people would not have shown up to see someone who lost the election. Trump is not a loser, so he could not have lost, the reasoning seems to go. The 1963 March on Washington, by contrast, was not based on hunches or gut feelings; it followed decades of grass-roots organizing and litigation documenting specific policies and practices of racial injustice to be remedied through proposed legislation. The Christian call to justice targeted both hearts and minds.
Third, we’re no longer all in this together. In 1963, Dr. King left no ambiguity that “we cannot walk alone,” noting the many “white brothers” who “have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny,” and “that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” Dr. King protested against the perpetrators of injustice, to be sure, but his goal was not power to be wielded against “the other” – his goal was the restoration of relationships broken by segregation, the building of what he called the beloved community.
By contrast, the Jericho March organizers warn that “globalists, socialists, and communists” are set to “destroy our beautiful nation by sidestepping our laws and suppressing the will of the American people through their fraudulent and illegal activities in this election.” Several of the Jericho March speakers have called for the President’s political enemies to be jailed for attempting to steal the election. The beloved community is very tough to discern in such rhetoric.
Our country has benefited immeasurably from a rich and noble tradition of Christians protesting injustice, and I fully support the right of religious believers to protest peacefully for whatever cause they choose. I wonder, though, whether Jericho March organizers understand the messages about our faith that this particular cause is conveying to the broader world. What if Christians on both the left and the right were to join together to proclaim that:
  • Christians in other parts of the world suffer horrible persecution, and we should lift our voices on their behalf early and often.
  • Facts are essential to the fair administration of our elections, and we will respect the rule of law by trusting the independent judiciary to sort out those facts when we disagree.
  • The diversity of our nation is a blessing, and the voice of every American matters – especially those who have traditionally been excluded from our national conversations, regardless of whether they agree with us about politics.
That strikes me as a cause worth marching for.


Vischer, Rob | Permalink