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A National Day Of Mourning Honoring COVID-19 Victims Holds New Meaning

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, amid the grief and anger that's engulfed the nation over the past week, there's also the reality that we're still in the middle of a global health crisis - the coronavirus, COVID-19. Just days ago, we saw the death toll from COVID-19 surpass 100,000 in the U.S. alone.

To mourn that immense loss of life as a country, faith leaders from across traditions have come together and called for a National Day of Mourning and Lament to be observed tomorrow. It's a day that likely takes on additional meaning now as so many continue to protest the death of George Floyd and other people of color recently killed in ways that are seen as unjust. Joining us now to tell us more is the Reverend Jim Wallis, one of the faith leaders behind the call for tomorrow's National Day of Mourning. And he is with us now.

Reverend Wallis, thank you so much for talking with us.

JIM WALLIS: Thank you, Michel - blessing to be with you as always.

MARTIN: As I just said, you called for this national day of mourning tomorrow with the pandemic in mind. But does this moment take on additional meaning, as I suggested earlier? Does this signify something in addition now?

WALLIS: It does. This is a moment - another moment, an endless number of moments like this - and a moment with a video. And we have to understand what that moment means. And so this video shows a white knee on a black neck. And that white knee is not just a moment, an incident. This white knee is a system. And I want white parents and particularly white Christian parents on this Sunday to understand that every black parent I know - every black parent I know - in that video sees the face and the neck of their black sons and daughters under that white cop's knee, and they see themselves under that white knee. And this white knee is a system, a culture. White supremacy is the virus, the pandemic underneath this pandemic. It's a virus. It's a disease. It's a sickness that's killing people. And it's an idol (ph), biblically, theologically - it's a sin. And so we are in a war with this virus of white supremacy.

MARTIN: What do you envision for tomorrow? Because Because in the original kind of convening tomorrow, in part it was meant to acknowledge the fact that many people have been unable to gather in order to mourn those who have been lost. And I know that you've been working with faith leaders across the country. You've also been working with mayors in cities across the country. But now we are in a moment when many people are being discouraged again from gathering for reasons that are both similar and so different. So what do you envision tomorrow?

WALLIS: Well, you're right. Many clergy, imams, rabbis and priests and pastors have pointed out to us that most of these hundred thousand people have died mostly alone, without the usual loved ones gathered around them. And the pain of that is overwhelming. And so tomorrow, we will take our faith to the streets, and in this case, the virtual streets of this nation, where mayors and interfaith clergy will acknowledge this moment. And to pray for the nation does not mean just praying for those who are sick or who have died of COVID. It means to pray for the healing of a nation that this virus has revealed is broken, a broken nation. The fissures, the structures, the systems that have been revealed by COVID, those must be healed. And until white people and white Christians say this is intolerable, it is no longer acceptable. And we will stop it in the debate, Michel, the debate over weapons - what are our weapons? No, not breaking windows and - all of that's a part of rage. I understand. But our weapons are truth, telling the truth. And this is a moment to tell the truth. And I want to throw out here, while this is a nonpartisan moment tomorrow, mayors - Republican, Democrat - are all calling for mourning and lamenting and remembering to pray for this nation that our votes, Our votes are weapons too. And the votes of every American must be readied for this moment.

MARTIN: But let me ask you about that. I mean, you said that - and you've said in your call for tomorrow's National Day of Mourning and Lament, you've said that the vocation of remembering and honoring the dead transcends politics and unites us across lines of religion. Perhaps technically so, but I'm looking at the lists of people who are specifically supporting this effort. I don't see any of the big sort of evangelical megapastors who've been particularly identified, for example, with the Trump administration. You know, why is that? I mean, presumably, are they not also mourning a hundred thousand people dead to COVID-19 as well as the loss of life in unjust ways? I mean, why is that?

WALLIS: Why is that is the question. I don't see them either. But I want to point out that Walter Kim, who's the new president the National Association of Evangelicals, the NAE, he signed this. He's in this. He is part of this. He did a video about this. He is calling all his National Association of Evangelical churches to participate today and tomorrow. But why aren't the Trump evangelicals there? That's a good question. They should be asked why they are not there to mourn and weep and to lament the deaths of all these who have died and to pray for the healing of the nation where all these discrepancies and disparities have been revealed.

MARTIN: What exactly are you hoping will happen tomorrow? What is it that people are to do, especially people who are still observing social distancing guidelines?

WALLIS: Yeah. Well, this will be done virtually all over the country in city after. I still hear another city, another state, another city is joining all over the country. Mayors are coming together with interfaith clergy in their cities across this nation to mourn and lament and name and honor and and remember those who have passed among this hundred thousand, which is, as you know, whole cities, multiple stadiums, 400 airliners, 25 empty National Cathedrals, an enormous number - twice the Vietnam wall. That can't go unmarked and unpassed (ph) and unrecognized. So we will recognize all those names, as is our vocation, the mayors with their Muslim, Jewish, Christian clergy alongside them in virtual ceremonies and calls all over this nation tomorrow in all these cities. And we'll be praying for the healing of the nation, which includes those who are still sick, and certainly all those who've died and their families, they've died alone. But we'll pray for the healing of the nation and the divisions and injustice that this COVID virus has revealed. We're going to be praying for all of that tomorrow.

MARTIN: That was the Reverend Jim Wallis. He is the president of Sojourners. That's a Christian group and publication with a specific focus on social justice. You can find out more about tomorrow's National Day of Mourning and Lament by going to their website, which is sojo.net net or the website for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Reverend Wallis, thanks so much for joining us.

WALLIS: Great to be with you, Michel, always is. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.