In the shadow of Pettus Bridge

Bloody Sunday, Selma, Ala., March 7, 1965

Now Congressman John Lewis of Georgia is shown being attacked by law enforcement officers after he led a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965, a event known as “Bloody Sunday.” (photoblog.nbcnews.com)

This past weekend 50 years ago, a group of more than 600 peaceful protesters on their way to Montgomery to call for equal voting rights met the brutality of police in Selma, Ala. Just a few days previous on Feb. 26, a man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, was mortally shot by a police officer in Marion, Ala. The nation and world looked on in horror as images of violence and brutality spread across the nation on that “Bloody Sunday.”

The right to vote, to exercise the right to participate in the freedom of democracy was at stake.

The right to vote, to exercise the right to participate in the freedom of democracy was at stake. In the wake of such violence against innocent citizens, the nation galvanized for civil rights for all, leading eventually to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In the April 1, 1965, issue of Concern, Harry Kiely wrote after returning from Selma:

The Christian is called upon to understand the present struggle in a larger context than national justice or human brotherhood. We are called to witness to the fact that God’s judgment upon the demons of alienation has now manifested itself in disaster — and that we have known God’s will but have not obeyed.

We of the church are called to witness in our own time, as did our fathers of old, to the God who is intervening in history to set at liberty all [humankind]. At the risk of losing our lives, we are called to participate in this freedom. We are called to proclaim in Christ’s name the possibility of reconciliation and renewal …

Honoring the events of 50 years ago, may we witness in our own time for the continued freedom of every person, to end discriminatory voting practices, heed the will of God for all God’s people, and provide redress to impacted persons.

The 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, severely gutted voting rights protections established in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The National Commission on Voting Rights reported last year that voting discrimination is still prevalent throughout the United States and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Restrictive voter ID laws have been passed in state legislatures and certain localities have instituted prohibitive polling-stations hours that impact the ability of low-income minorities to participate fully in the democratic process.

The General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) of The United Methodist Church remains steadfast in its commitment to ending discrimination and protecting voting rights. The United Methodist Social Principles affirm “all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God” (¶162 The Social Community). GBCS supports passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act (H.R. 885) to end discriminatory voting practices and provide redress to impacted persons. As religious leaders and civil-rights organizations gather in Selma to commemorate the march, we take this time to examine the forms of discrimination that still permeate our society, to seek God’s repentance for our culpability, and to renew our efforts to transform society into a beloved community.

Letter to the Editor