More on morality and the Moral March

Moral MarchThe following essay was submitted to NC Policy Watch by the Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, a national organization based in Washington, DC that is dedicated to “advancing faith in the public square as a powerful force for justice, compassion and the common good.”

Attacks on Moral March miss their mark
By Rev. Jennifer Butler

The recent criticisms leveled by newspaper columnist J. Peder Zane and others against Rev. William Barber II for using religious and moral language to inspire political change displayed a disregard for history and even contempt for the role of faith in public life.

As we commemorate the 54th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in that sought to end legal segregation, let’s never forget that the Civil Rights movement was a religiously inspired, prophetic movement led by pastors and diverse people of faith. The late Franklin McCain, one of the Greensboro Four, said the question that inspired him and three other students at the Agricultural and Technical College (AT&T) of North Carolina in Greensboro was this: “At what point does a moral man act against injustice?”

Religious leaders have been central to movements that drive political change. The struggle to end the evil of slavery, create fair labor practices and secure equal rights for all citizens were profound moral causes. We are stronger as a country because determined people of faith challenged political and social threats to human dignity. The unfinished task of living up to the ideals of our democracy and stirring the conscience of Americans continues today.

Rev Barber is raising important and often uncomfortable questions about educational disparities, voting rights and economic injustice that impact not only North Carolinians, but the entire nation. Here are some telling signs of the times. CEOs often earn as much in a single day as their workers make in an entire year. Minimum wage jobs don’t pay enough to keep many hardworking Americas out of poverty. Half of all workers are not allowed to take a sick day without being docked pay or potentially losing their job. Congress is slashing food nutrition programs for struggling families even as corporations are coddled with tax breaks. These are moral scandals. Faith leaders will continue to speak truth to power.

The separation of church and state is meant to protect both religion and democracy. Because our government does not enforce an official religion, America has a diverse religious marketplace. Speaking from deeply held beliefs about the issues that affect us all is a healthy sign of pluralism and strength, not confining moralism. Those who argue that religious leaders should be silent in public debates have not only failed to learn the lessons of the past, they deprive us of powerful voices that can help forge a more just future.

For more information on the organization Faith in Public Life, visit the website by clicking here.

One Comment

  1. Dubious

    February 18, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you for this. Carter Wrenn on “Talking about Politics” essentially referred to Rev. Barber as a pied piper and painted him as a cartoonish character frantically waving his arms in the like a modern day Don Quixote. Well, we should take heed. Here is an excerpt from Wrenn’s article: There’s a pretty fair chance before he’s done the Reverend will do a fair amount of harm. But not to Republicans. To the people marching down the street beside him. Because they’re the poor souls he’s most likely to fool with his roaring self-righteousness. And there’s proof more folks than just Republicans have figured that out: No one saw Jim Hunt or Roy Cooper or Kay Hagen marching down Fayetteville Street beside Reverend Barber. (unquote). I think Wrenn has it all backwards. He and other conservatives fail to understand the depth of the discomfiture in the state, the width of the ails of the poor and those who would speak for them, and the magnitude of the importance of taking care of the least of these. While Pope is entertaining people in high places at the Carolina Country Club, he is simultaneously centralizing and downsizes services to children with developmental disabilities in the poorest areas of the state. Food stamps are endangered, unemployment benefits are curtailed for thousands. Yes, this is a moral issue, and when do moral issues not invade the purview of religion? I am disappointed that the conservative Christians among us do not see this hypocrisy for exactly what it is, rethink their priorities, and understand that at least as Christianity is concerned, they will be the camel trying to fit through the eye of the needle. But if fear of retribution in the afterlife is not enough, then the fiddler will certainly be paid here on earth as the wages of poverty, unemployment, disabled children growing into needy adults, and a host of other ailments further invade out society.