During a sunrise vigil at the U.S. Capitol this morning, three senators unexpectedly joined us. They were all women, all Republican and, it turns out, all Catholic. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are part of a new 14-senator bipartisan, women-led group engaged in their own kind of vigil: trying to end the government shutdown and prevent the nation from going into debt default.
A chuckling comment from a male colleague in the Senate perhaps expresses a hope in the midst of this incredibly dangerous political crisis: “The women are taking over.” This morning, the senators walked over to thank us for praying for them and the government at this critical moment and told us how much they felt the need for our prayers right now. The looks on their faces showed us the seriousness of their plea for prayers.
People of faith are instructed to pray for their political leaders, and their need has never been more evident in this completely dysfunctional Capitol City. For the seventh day now, faith leaders, pastors, young people, and passersby lifted up prayers for the common good across from the Capitol. Until this morning, there was no response from our elected officials or the national media pundits.
But the #FaithfulFilibuster has taken off across the country through word of mouth and social media — our prayers are trending. Every day, we read 2,000 verses in the Bible, each about how we treat the poor and vulnerable. As I began reading this morning, I held up a very waterlogged Bible — soaked by days of rain while Congress has been in session.
Young pastors have been showing up to read — one all the way from Ohio who brought a carload of her parishioners to read on Saturday only to return home the same day for church on Sunday. Furloughed workers have come to join the readings and prayer, including one young woman waiting to go back to work at the Peace Corps, whose testimony of reading through the Scripture as a woman brought tears to my eyes.
The Faithful Filibuster is now truly happening across the country. I received a letter this morning from a group of pastors in Iowa who went to their own congressman’s office to read their Bibles and hold vigil. Their message to him read in part:
“As Americans, we are at our best when we come together to work for the common good. This shutdown, and the divisive behavior that gave birth to it, is an insult to our nation. We can do better … this shutdown has shoved aside millions more neighbors, pushing them right up to the edge of financial disaster. God demands better.
… We pray that our elected representatives will remember that their neighbor is not just their party member, but the person across the aisle, as well as the furloughed national monument groundskeeper, the devastated cattle ranchers in South Dakota, the Head Start student’s parents, the toddler receiving WIC nutrition aid, the struggling small business owner, the cancer patients praying for the NIH to open, the countless others who worry and wonder, and these Christian pastors praying for you in your Des Moines Office today.”
Our gathered group of faith leaders from the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Salvation Army, Sojourners, and Bread for the World prayed for all the elected officials in the House and Senate who will make very important votes even today and tomorrow. And we prayed for four congressional leaders by name: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and House Speaker John Boehner. We also prayed for President Barack Obama.
As I write, there are many rumors, hopes, and fears about “deals” and “deal breakers” at the U.S. Capitol where our prayer vigil goes on. May this vigil continue to go viral, and may our political leaders find their way to a place where we haven’t been for some time — the common good.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.