This Monday I was blessed to join some friends in the Moral Monday protest .
In some ways it was very much like a family reunion to me, as I bumped shoulders with friends and old neighbors who I have gotten to know through my work as a pastor whose church, Diversity in Faith: A Christian Church For All People, has been a part of many of the civil rights work in Fayetteville, NC, especially for GLBT people, the homeless, and those with disabilities. I saw many faces that were a joy to see again and got a chance to swap some war stories, while catching up with some people very near and dear to my heart.
This was the first Moral Monday I went to and have to admit I was not arrested. Many are arrested, but simply by showing up you show your support. For those that cannot show up, contacting your representatives in Raleigh, NC, is another great way to support this movement. I felt it was important to join the crowd, dressed in my clerical garbs, as a sign that the association of churches in which I pastor and work as a regional coordinator, the Progressive Christian Alliance, stands on the side of justice and equality for all.
For those who don’t know about the movement, this a movement in the spirit of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s which focuses on confronting some policies coming out of Raleigh, NC, that threaten not just minorities (which they do) but the average middle class citizen. The movement began through the work of the NAACP but has grown to be a broad coalition of citizens from all walks of life.
What are they protesting?
Well, among other things, here are a few issues:
- The end of the Racial Justice Act in NC, a law that was aimed at protecting those on trial for execution whose proceedings show signs of racial bias. By repealing that law, our state legislators and governor are saying they think it is alright to kill someone simply because of the color of their skin.
- Massive cuts to the education system, which provides funding for teachers, schools, and our children’s education.
- The attempt to require voter IDs to vote. On its own to many this sounds innocuous. But when you look at our history in the south and what is going on now this becomes alarming. Historically in the south, restrictions upon who could vote were used to keep the poor and to keep racial minorities from going to the polls. This law could easily do this, causing a particular problem for people with disabilities and the poor, especially in rural areas. This law has to be seen in its context: coming on the heels of ending the Racial Justice Act and recently re-drawing the lines for voting districts so they privilege certain groups over others.
- The decision to cut unemployment for the many struggling and out of work early. Essentially this is like finding out your child is sick, and when trying to figure out how to pay for a doctor, choosing to shoot them instead. We don’t know need to be kicking people when they are already down.
When I was talking about these causes for the protests, I had one friend say to me “Well, I’m not a minority. They aren’t the only ones hurting right now”. On one level, I suppose I can understand that – in that, yes, all of us are hurting. But all of us can be hurt by what is going on in Raleigh.
On another level, though, I have to push back against this. I remember the words of Martin Niemöller. He was a Protestant minister who was one of the few pastors who spoke up against Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror in Germany. Hitler was able to decimate so many lives in large part because people said it wasn’t their concern. Niemöller rightly described the end result of such an attitude in this poem:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
To put this into the words of the great southern preacher, Martin Luther King:
“We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”
This morning, during my morning devotionals, I prayed through Psalm 112. I meditate on and pray in response to a psalm every morning. This one struck me as appropriate:
Praise the Lord!
Those who honor the Lord,
who adore God’s commandments, are truly happy!
2 Their descendants will be strong throughout the land.
The offspring of those who do right will be blessed;
3 wealth and riches will be in their houses.
Their righteousness stands forever.
4 They shine in the dark for others who do right.
They are merciful, compassionate, and righteous.
5 Those who lend generously are good people—
as are those who conduct their affairs with justice.
6 Yes, these sorts of people will never be shaken;
the righteous will be remembered forever!
7 They won’t be frightened at bad news.
Their hearts are steady, trusting in the Lord.
8 Their hearts are firm; they aren’t afraid.
In the end, they will witness their enemies’ defeat.
9 They give freely to those in need.
Their righteousness stands forever.
Their strength increases gloriously.
10 The wicked see all this and fume;
they grind their teeth, but disappear to nothing.
What the wicked want to see happen comes to nothing!
We are invited to pray God to lift up those who are generous to the poor, downtrodden, and oppressed. We are invited in this psalm to recognize in our prayers that form of life is righteousness before God. We are also invited to pray against the deeds of those who oppress the poor, the outcast, and the downtrodden, recognizing their life built on getting ahead in a cut-throat way at the expense of others ultimately will not pan out. God has built into the universe a sense of right and wrong, which Christians call “justice” or “the law of God” but which my Hindu and Buddhist brothers and sisters call karma. Ultimately that means though oppression last for a moment, ultimately justice and freedom are coming.
This spiritual reality at the heart of the universe is what led Desmond Tutu and those African patriots who fought against the unjust apartheid system in South Africa that privileged whites at the expense of black Africans to say “Do you know what? We are being nice to you. We are inviting you to join the winning side. Come and join the winning side because you have already lost”.
My hope and prayer is that those who are promoting laws that trample on the rights of the poor, minorities, and even now the working middle class in North Carolina will hear in the Moral Monday protests that same invitation. The heartbeat of the universe beats toward justice. Join us as we work to join its rhythm, dancing the dance of justice.
And I’m not just whistling Dixie here!
Your progressive redneck preacher,