Senator Raphael Warnock Wants You To See Voting Rights As A Moral Issue : Consider This from NPR As Democrats are making a push for voting rights legislation in Congress, more faith leaders want Americans to approach it as a moral – even spiritual – issue, including pastor and Democrat, Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia.

Warnock explains why he thinks ending the legislative filibuster in the Senate may be a necessary step, a move that President Joe Biden also endorsed while speaking in Warnock's home state on Tuesday.

And Warnock describes his spiritual motivation for this voting rights push. He says democracy is the "political enactment of a spiritual idea."

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

Senator Raphael Warnock Wants You To See Voting Rights As A Moral Issue

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

During the January 6 insurrection, there was this moment that was caught on video.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank you, Heavenly Father, for gracing us with this opportunity.

CHANG: Once a group of rioters had overtaken the Senate chamber, they gathered together and started praying.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: For this opportunity to stand up for our God-given unalienable rights.

CHANG: Some rioters also held Christian flags and signs as they stormed the Capitol. And it was images like this that the Reverend Jim Wallis could not shake.

JIM WALLIS: It was very revealing in a very powerful and painful way.

CHANG: Wallis is chair of the Faith and Justice Center at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. And he told NPR that while much is said about these insurrectionists being motivated by the big lie of a stolen election, he saw an even bigger lie on display.

WALLIS: And the bigger lie in whose name this was done was racism in the ideology of white Christian nationalism. We were made in God's image and likeness. And to commit racism like that is really an assault on the image of God. It's a theological issue more than a political one. It's a theological offense to God. It's a sacrilege really.

CHANG: And now his attention is focused on new laws that are making it harder for communities of color to vote in multiple Republican-led states. He says those policies are motivated by the same racist ideology.

WALLIS: To practice voter suppression and deny the vote to even one person because of the color of their skin is again throwing away the image of God.

CHANG: And because of that, Wallis has a challenge for his fellow evangelicals.

WALLIS: I want to suggest that all our churches should preach voting rights not just as a political issue but as a faith issue - a test of our faith, a test of whether we believe or not in the image of God.

CHANG: And there's one pastor, now also a U.S. senator, who has been preaching this for a very long time.

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: I have often said that democracy in a real sense is the political enactment of a spiritual idea.

CHANG: CONSIDER THIS - as Democrats are making a push for voting rights in Congress, more faith leaders want Americans to approach voting rights as a moral, even spiritual issue. Coming up, my conversation with Georgia Democratic Senator and pastor Raphael Warnock.

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CHANG: From NPR, I'm Ailsa Chang. It's Tuesday, January 11.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. As the Democratic push for new voting rights legislation in Congress is hitting expected opposition from the GOP, President Biden and Vice President Harris tried to give it a boost with a trip to Atlanta.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Today we call on Congress to get done what history will judge. Pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

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BIDEN: Pass it now.

CHANG: Recent efforts have focused on the Freedom to Vote Act, which would set new minimum standards for early and mail-in voting and on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore major elements of the landmark Voting Rights Act that had been weakened by Supreme Court rulings.

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BIDEN: I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I'm tired of being quiet.

CHANG: Biden says he supports changing the legislative filibuster rule in the Senate to make it possible to pass these voting rights bills.

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BIDEN: Let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.

CHANG: Some voting rights activist groups in Georgia oppose this presidential visit because they wanted to see comprehensive voting rights legislation that can actually pass Congress with or without a filibuster change. Meanwhile, Biden stressed that Georgia is at the center of this issue.

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BIDEN: You've changed the state by bringing more people legally to the polls.

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BIDEN: That's how you won the historic elections for Senator Raphael Warnock and Senator Jon Ossoff.

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BIDEN: You did it. You did it the right way, the democratic way. And what's been the reaction of Republicans in Georgia? Chose the wrong way, the undemocratic way. To them, too many people voting in a democracy is a problem.

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CHANG: Another Democrat calling for a carve-out to the filibuster when it comes to voting rights legislation is Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock. Voting rights has been a central focus of his lately. And when I spoke with him last week, he explained that this focus is, in part, spiritually motivated.

So I want to start with the fact that you, of course, are a pastor. You preach from the very same pulpit where Martin Luther King Jr. once did at Ebenezer Baptist Church. And you have framed voting rights as a moral issue, not merely a political one. Can you just explain how you see voting rights as an issue of morality?

WARNOCK: There is no question that voting rights is a moral issue. I have often said that democracy in a real sense is the political enactment of a spiritual idea, this notion that each of us is a child of God and therefore we ought to have a vote and a voice in the direction of our country and our destiny within it. And so when we defend voting rights, this is much larger than a political exercise for me. It's really about the dignity of everybody's humanity and our ability to build a future that embraces all of us.

CHANG: Well, the question I guess is, is morality separable from politics? And I want to get to the political reality inside Congress. There are now two bills under consideration, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom To Vote Act. And between the two bills, there are a lot of provisions on voting, like when and how voters are allowed to register or cast a ballot. And then there are also provisions on what happens after ballots are cast, like preventing groundless audits, partisan removal of election officials, things like that. Which of those two sets of priorities do you think is more important in this moment?

WARNOCK: Oh, both of them are important. And you can't really talk about one without talking about the other. The first set of priorities, as you list them, are about addressing the issue of voter suppression. We've got to make sure that everybody gets to vote. On the other side of the process, we've got to deal with these very active, unabashed efforts right now in many of these terrible provisions in Georgia and other states to subvert the outcome. And so you can't be either/or. It has to be both/and. It doesn't matter...

CHANG: That said...

WARNOCK: It doesn't matter if I address voter subversion if people can't get to the ballot box in the first place - if you're able to purge me and I don't know you've purged me. Subversion and suppression are inextricably linked, which is why the bill addresses both of these things.

CHANG: Point taken. That said, we need to see where there's bipartisan support, right? And many conservatives are looking at the Electoral Count Act, which former President Trump tried to exploit to stay in office. And there are some Republicans right now who are seeing some room for change there, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. So let me ask you, if there is bipartisan support for in some ways revising, rewriting the Electoral Count Act, why not focus on that right now? Because there does seem to be a path forward.

WARNOCK: They are not serious, and this is a diversion in order to prevent us from ensuring that every eligible American has the right to vote. First of all, the electoral count only deals with the presidential election. We're not just talking about the presidential election. We're talking about the United States Senate and the House and other elections. These 440 voter suppression proposals that we're seeing all across the country, we've got to deal with what's in front of us. And it's the effort by some to make it hard for people to vote and to set up a situation...

CHANG: Well, what's in front of you...

WARNOCK: ...When they can rig the count once those votes are cast.

CHANG: I understand, but what's in front of you now is no sign that Senate Democrats will get enough Republican support on their voting rights legislation. If there is a carveout, an exception, to get rid of the filibuster for passing voting rights legislation now, what happens if Democrats lose control of the Senate and Republicans use the chance to get rid of the filibuster to pass their own priorities and undo the work of Democrats?

WARNOCK: I think that we make a terrible mistake when we discuss this issue as if these are ordinary political times. These are not. We're talking about voting rights in a post-January 6 world where there is an all-out assault on our democracy, where we have seen sadly a willingness by some to literally burn down the system for short-term political gain. And we will have fallen way short of our responsibility as stewards of the trust given us by the folks who voted for us this time if we don't defend their vote. If Republicans are serious about a bipartisan way of getting this done, they would not have blocked our efforts on three occasions to have a bipartisan debate. So we're not dealing with a responsible governing party on the other side. But the American people can't wait. The Senate rules have been changed before...

CHANG: Well, let me ask you...

WARNOCK: ...And they need to be changed again.

CHANG: Well, if you and your colleagues frame passing this voting rights legislation as a matter of saving democracy, what happens if you don't get it done?

WARNOCK: Well, we - look, right now, I'm focused on getting it done, and I'm going to stay focused on getting it done. I've spent my whole career as a pastor, as an activist, standing for the best within us, fighting not only for voting rights but trying to expand Medicaid in the state of Georgia, trying to make sure that every young person has access to a good, quality education. And the reason why I'm so passionate about voting rights is because when we lose a democracy, we lose the fight against climate change. We lose the fight to make sure that we have health care. This is the most important thing that we can do this Congress. And no matter what else we do, if we fail to get this done, we will have failed in the trust that the people have given to us. And I intend to do everything I can to make sure we pass this moral test.

CHANG: That was Senator Raphael Warnock, Democrat from Georgia.

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CHANG: You're listening to CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ailsa Chang.

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