There is a meme going around that depicts a row of voting machines with the caption, “Your thoughts and prayers in action.” While the medium might be relatively new to human communication, the message itself has been around for around 2,000 years. In his New Testament letter, James writes, “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (2:17, NIV).
If one digs a few layers into the etymology of the word, “suffrage,” which translates to both “the right to vote” and “a prayer (Dictionary.com),” they will come across the Latin root frangere, “to break” (Online Etymology Dictionary), which may or may not be related to the practice of the ancients casting votes on broken pieces of tile (ibid). This interpretation reminds me of an instance in the Jesus Story when, shortly before the execution of Jesus by political and religious authorities, a woman interrupts a very important meal by breaking a jar of expensive perfume and anointing Jesus’ head with it. The fragrance fills the room and, while the disciples balk at what they believe to be an extravagant waste of money, Jesus says that she is preparing him for burial and that her actions will be remembered throughout the world (Mark 14). Infused in the broken fragments of this woman’s offering is both her grief and her hope. In the book of Revelation, the prayers of the saints are offered to God as an aroma (8:3-4). This woman’s extravagant act is both a prayer of lament and an invested proclamation in the hope of the gospel that “proclaims good news to the poor” and loosens the chains of the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19).
In the last two years, the consciousness of this country has been awakened to some of the realities of living as BIPOC in America. Some white folks have begun the work of anti-racism in their own lives and communities. Some have become more open and public allies. Still, others have doubled down on White and Christian Nationalist beliefs, contorting and removing narratives that challenge the insecurity of their identity.
As voting lines are gerrymandered to dilute the BIPOC vote, politicians declare themselves to be proud Nationalists, and voting laws are passed that compromise the safety of constituents, many are realizing that we are still a long way from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “mountaintop.” We are not as far away from Jim Crow as we should be. Black students are still under-resourced, Black women still receive substandard maternal care, Black children are disproportionately represented in the foster care system, and Black men still receive harsher sentencing in the criminal justice system.
“How long O Lord.”
The concept of suffrage is rooted in this idea of intercession, of joining the broken pieces of our voices together. If one aligns themselves with the life and teachings of Jesus, then they must recognize that voting is an act of civil intercession, that it is infused with value, with the mutuality of our neighbor’s lament, and with our invested proclamation in the hope of the gospel.
By Naphtali Renshaw
Dictionary.com. Suffrage. n.d. <https://www.dictionary.com/browse/suffrage>.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® . Biblica, Inc., 973, 1978, 1984, 2011 .
NPR OPB. “Read Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in its entirety.” 14 January 2022. NPR OPB. Talk of the Nation. <https://www.npr.org/2010/01/18/122701268/i-have-a-dream-speech-in-its-entirety>.
Online Etymology Dictionary. Suffrage. n.d. <https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=suffrage>.
Stallings, Ericka. “The Article That Could Help Save Black Women’s Lives.” October 2018. Oprah.com. September 2021. <https://www.oprah.com/health_wellness/the-article-that-could-help-save-black-womens-lives#ixzz5VRnkBHiz>.
Strauss, Valerie. “The way out of the black poverty cycle.” 31 May 2013. The Washington Post. September 2022. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2013/05/31/the-way-out-of-the-black-poverty-cycle/>.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV®. Text Edition: 2016. . Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers., 2001.
Williams, Cheri, Kimberly Offutt. “Black Children Are Overrepresented in the Foster Care System: What Should We Do About It?” Children’s Bureau Express 21.6 (2020). <https://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/article/2020/august-september/black-children-are-overrepresented-in-the-foster-care-system-what-should-we-do-about-it/e538c0031b92c150517620efe54bcb65>.