By Derek Scalia, St. James' Deacon in Training
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham, and to his descendants forever.”
- Luke 1: 46-55
Just over 52 years ago, while singing and praying the Magnificat- Jonathan Daniels answered the call to travel to Selma and work on the Voting Rights Campaign. The Magnificat is Mary's prayer of justice, hope and trust in God’s way - a way guided by righteousness and truth. It is not surprising that Jonathan found this passage speaking to his heart. Now 52 years later, we face new challenges with access of the ballot and voting. As we reflect on Mary’s song of hope and justice, can her words inspire us to act anew?
At the first and most obvious glance at the Magnificat, there is no mention of voting. However, at its core it is a call to bring in those that have been marginalized - a focus on lifting up those that have been forgotten, or deliberately pushed out. It is a promise that God sees and is with all that feel they have been left behind. It is no wonder that Mary’s song has inspired countless people to answer the call to work for justice. And it is also no wonder that voting, which bestows value and agency upon every person, has often been a central issue of justice in our country.
“He has brought down the powerful… lifted the lowly… He has filled the hungry with good things.”
To me, Mary’s song is a song of restoring balance. We live in a time of great inequality. A time that the powerful gain more power, and many are further marginalized. Mary’s song says to the marginalized - come in, you are welcome. It says to those with plenty - enough. For people like Jonathan, the cause of the Voting Rights Campaign could not have been more obvious in restoring this balance of equality and justice for all.
In a democracy, voting is a sacred right. It allows each of us to be seen and heard. Voting laws ought to ensure that all are welcome into this sacred rite. As Episcopalians, we worship together at God’s table. All are accepted to participate, if they are willing to receive. As we worship, so we believe. We affirm in our worship that all are welcome, all deserve, and all are seen. Our table is open to all, and we believe our public square should be open to all, too.
Unfortunately, there are measures being proposed within our state legislature to restrict the inclusive philosophy of our voting rights. These bills are proposed and promoted as measures to preserve and protect the integrity of the ballot, but there is very little evidence of real voter fraud. Instead of preserving and protecting the electoral system, these measures further marginalize the vulnerable and reduce access to voting. Some of the proposed laws would restrict the definition of residency, eliminate same day voter registration and/or tighten registration deadlines. There are also measures to create stricter voter ID laws. All of these proposals include hefty fines and penalties, making voting feel both restricted and exclusive.
Two weeks ago I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the same bridge that Jonathan Daniels and countless others had crossed as they worked for justice and voting rights. This Saturday, April 1, I will march to the New Hampshire State House along with hundreds of others for Voting Rights. I invite you to join me as we speak truth to power. May we find hope in Mary’s song, that all shall be seen and given voice. Voting rights laws are moral documents that outline who is seen and heard before the state. May we hear God’s calling to be with all God's people, and to ensure that all are seen.