WASHINGTON — As a politically divided nation prepares to inaugurate a new president in the wake of a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a group of Christian leaders is hoping to ease tensions through prayer during three days of ecumenical, nonpartisan programming.
Using the slogan and social media tag #PeaceWithJustice, the effort aims to project spiritual unity and counter people’s feelings of helplessness with action, during a time of high alert with thousands of troops securing the capital following the Jan. 6 violence, which has led to about 120 arrests so far.
The name of the gathering — held virtually due to the pandemic — is in part a nod to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation that “true peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Details of the initiative were shared with The Associated Press in advance of its launch on the weekend when the country commemorates his birthday.
Leaders of the effort are incorporating the King holiday into their work, asking participants to use their Sunday messages to focus on “redoubling efforts to work together to address systemic racism and restore trust and integrity to our democratic system and institutions.”
Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian social justice group Sojourners and a lead organizer of the event, said he hoped to see the faithful “move beyond the emotions of anger and fear” and toward the moral truth of communal reconciliation.
“Prayer is action, in my view,” Wallis said.
After Monday’s federal holiday, the event continues Tuesday with a multidenominational Zoom prayer service. On Wednesday, when President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated, participants plan a daylong chorus of testimony and other statements on Twitter in the hopes of restoring a sense of harmony to a transition of power that has been marred by violence.
Organizers have dubbed the 12-hour social media push a “thunderclap.”
“Defending democracy for all Americans — no exceptions” is imperative for all people of faith, the group says on its website.
Prominent participants include Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder, National Commander of the Salvation Army; and Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network.
Williams-Skinner said she hopes it will become a model for further collaboration by people of faith across denominational boundaries.
“I hope that this is the beginning of a strong ecumenical coalition to fight against the evil of racism and all kinds of systemic injustices going forward, and to connect those to public policies that will come out of this administration and this Congress,” she said.
Kim said that while many member churches in his group are planning their own programs during inauguration week, the nonpartisan event appealed to him because “we need, in this moment, something that transcends partisan politics.”
He also acknowledged the presence of Christian symbols and overtly Christian identification among some of those who breached the Capitol in a bid to overturn the presidential election for President Donald Trump, saying that the potential convergence of Christian and nationalist identities “does grieve my heart.”
Looking ahead, he sounded a note of humility.
“In this moment of great division, for whatever parts the church has played,” Kim said, “we ought to repent and in any ways the church can contribute, we ought to pursue.”
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
Elana Schor, The Associated Press