Southern faith leaders gather at Mayflower Hotel in DC to rally new federal voting laws

Voting rally in Washington, D.C. Flickr/ Ted Eytan

A trio of gospel singers from Marietta's Turner Chapel helped start an event that was part political rally, part worship service at the historic Mayflower Hotel.

Above them was a banner urging Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore a federal review of new election regulations enacted by states. The For the People Act, a distinct bill, was also on the minds of church leaders who journeyed from Georgia to Washington, D.C., to advocate for new federal voting legislation.

The worship service, the clergy, and a small number of parishioners and local activists set out on a multi-day tour on Tuesday night, seeking to persuade members of the United States Senate to alter their minds about implementing new voting laws.

They staged another rally at the hotel on Wednesday morning before going down Black Lives Matter Plaza to the White House and praying for God to alter hearts and minds.

Pastors speaking out against federal voting laws

May is one of four pastors who started working together on voting rights after speaking out against Georgia's new election legislation, passed by the state's Republican-led General Assembly. Pastor Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest, the Rev. Timothy McDonald of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, and Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal church supervise over 500 Georgia churches all part of the group.

The pastors believe their work is nonpartisan and about something broader than who wins or loses any specific election, despite their opposition to Georgia's election law and support for the two bills in Washington, which accord with Democrats' positions.

Bryant said he became interested in pressing for the federal laws after seeing unprecedented turnout in Georgia's Senate runoff elections in January. Bryant claimed that young voters were more involved than ever before and that the new state rule was intended to curb their newly acquired voting strength.

He described the group's aim as one of strengthening American democracy during Tuesday night's service.

Bryant stated, "We are here because we do not want to tear the country apart; rather, we want to build it up."

The four pastors also hired lobbyists to assist them in setting up meetings with senators from both parties at the Capitol. They met with Cedric Richmond, a senior assistant to Biden, at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. Pastors think Biden should use his bully pulpit to advocate for voting rights more forcefully.

They also organized workshops to teach members of their congregations and others how to communicate with elected authorities. Each event was live-streamed for those who couldn't make it for those who couldn't attend.

The ceremony was attended by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, who encouraged the clergy and audience members not to lose faith.

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