The Reverend Dr. William Barber was in my neighborhood last night.
For those who would like an introduction: Dr. Barber is the pastor of a North Carolina church and former head of the state NAACP. In 2014 he founded Repairers of the Breach, to respond to North Carolina’s suppression of voting rights and funding cuts to education and health care, holding “Moral Monday” rallies outside the statehouse. A 2018 MacArthur Grant recipient, he is reviving Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People Campaign.
In my neighborhood, he began with a reading of the opening of the Declaration: that the purpose of government is to secure our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that whenever a government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
He then recited the preamble to the Constitution: We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty establish this government.
The Reverend spent the rest of the hour talking about the ways in which our governments – federal and state – have become destructive to these ends. Among the particulars: that 160 million of us live in poverty or without wealth; that our lands are permitted to be poisoned in pursuit of private profit; that millions lack proper education and health care, and are improperly housed, clothed and fed; and that state governments, countenanced by the Supreme Court, have undermined our right to vote.
He reminded us that when officeholders take the oath, they rush around looking for a holy book upon which to place their hand. But then they forget the directives contained there within.
This is a moment of moral impeachment. We have had them throughout our history, dating to our embrace of slavery 400 years ago, and the creation of a myth that the size of our brains is determined by the color of our skin. That attempt to divide, for the benefit of the Planter Class, continues today. We blame one another rather than those who have abused their power and wealth at the expense of us, the people.
(I insert: The promotion of an ideology of poverty as a moral failure – rather than as a certain result of the system those in power have created – has been a means of keeping the poor in that state for more than a century.)
We may be woke, but that is not enough. We must rise up.
There will be a march in Washington on June 20, 2020. For the first time since I moved away to Portland, I feel inspired to return.
Rather than defending secular pluralism as the guarantor of religious freedom, some of the nation’s most powerful religious institutions today preposterously claim persecution.
We clearly need more religious leaders, like Dr. Barber who are willing to call out not the government, but their fellow faith leaders, whose moral abdication has allowed the faithless GOP to destroy American’s trust in the promised institutions of a pluralist society (the press, the vote, government based in evidence and reasoned debate) which expressly guarantee religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
As a cusp boomer/GenX, nothing has loomed as politically filthy and anti-American as the abortion issue, which has been the GOP’s primary weapon for the last fifty years. Have the churches defended Roe or denigrated it?
The foundational American promise of religious and civil liberty is located in unfettered exercise of personal conscience. Despite that, mainline christianity has allowed the abortion issue to be clouded and made dubious with atrocious exploitation and perversion of public sentiment at the hands of the GOP.
This is one of the most glaringly unambiguous consequences in American political history.
If American churches cannot arrive at an unequivocal position in support of the fundamental right of a woman to control her body, then there simply can be no American prospect.
What are his suggestions?
He said he was trying to create not an organization but an organism, I would suggest: to bear witness, protest, canvass, lobby, and grow leaders.