It’s hard to hold all of the news that 2020 produced. In the same year that 300,000 Americans died of COVID-19 (and counting), 156 million Americans voted in the presidential election. During the same 12 months that wildfires raged in California and Australia, the Supreme Court upheld DACA. And in this massive year, some of our heroes died — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis — and others were martyred: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Most years are a give and take, but 2020 lost its balance. It mainly took lives and gave news. Every justice story had a faith angle and every faith story had a justice angle. When the editors of Sojourners look back on this historic year, these four faith and justice stories will loom the largest:
The faith vote(s) and voter protection
Preliminary exit polls have revealed that white Christians still turned out to the voting polls in droves for President Donald Trump. But Christians as a whole were by no means monolithic. Some pastors pushed for 100 percent voter turnout in their church, while others worked tirelessly to protect the vote. In Brazil, nearly 13,000 faith leaders ran for municipal elections. And in U.S. politics, faith often took center stage. Joe Biden, who will become the second Catholic president of the U.S., has promised to “restore the soul of America.” And the campaign of Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, a pro-choice Christian, could ultimately determine whether Democrats or Republicans have the majority in the Senate.
Christians fighting — and spreading — misinformation
One of the biggest threats to both our democracy and our public health in 2020 was the rapid spread of misinformation. Thanks to the wild and unfounded claims of QAnon, “anti-trafficking work itself [could] cease to be a bipartisan cause and instead become a political football,” wrote Miguel Petrosky. As Lexi McMenamin reported in October, “people turn to conspiracy theories in times of crisis to create a sense of order.” And 2020 had no shortage of crises. Religious groups are particularly susceptible to disinformation, but they are also uniquely positioned to stop it. When Trump falsely claimed victory over the presidential election, pastors stepped up to dispel his lies.
Virtual churches and superspreader churches
While some churches sought to stop the spread of misinformation, other places of worship became superspreaders for COVID-19. And evangelical worship leader Sean Feucht launched an outdoor “Let Us Worship” tour, pushing for the premature reopening of churches. Other Christians found creative ways to worship that did not put people’s lives in danger. As hospitals limited visitations, hospital chaplains rallied to provide spiritual and emotional support to both patients and front line medical workers. Across the country, virtual worship became the norm, as the pandemic broadened the definition of what “church” can mean. The nuns of St. Joseph’s retirement center, for instance, turned to songs, Zoom, and beer to grieve the lives of the seven sisters they lost to the pandemic.
Do Black Lives Matter to white Christians?
Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner explained to Sojourners that our nation is mourning two pandemics: “an invisible, deadly virus and a visible, yet equally mortal, virus and pandemic of white supremacy that is a national health crisis of our nation.” For months, cities across the country remained in a perpetual state of protest as the nation called out for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and so many other Black women and men lost to racist policing. Faith leaders joined the marches: In Seattle, protest chaplains provided practical and emotional support to protesters, and in Chicago, Rev. Otis Moss III told Sojourners that the president, who sent national guards to quell largely peaceful protests, "was infected with COVID-1619, America’s oldest untreated disease, better known as racism.” Months later, MAGA supporters displayed symptoms of that same virus as they defaced churches in D.C., burning and tearing down Black Lives Matter signs. Rev. Moya Harris, who ministers at one of those churches, expressed gratitude for the public outcry over this vandalism, but hoped that this righteous anger will last:
“My prayer is that their outrage extends beyond the destruction of replaceable property. America has fetishized Black pain and suffering. Widespread outrage spreads when violence perpetuated against Black entities is caught on video, but when the cameras are off, people go back to their regularly scheduled program, ignoring the perpetual pain of living on the margins. It is my hope that this time, the cycle is broken, and that Black Lives Matter is bigger than a sign.”
An apt prayer to carry us into 2021.