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Where are the Clergy?

Our two fathers would have much to say to today’s presidential and Senate candidates who are pandering for middle class votes?  As if tens of millions of economically struggling families, like the ones in which we were raised, did not even exist.  In the face of such widespread hardship and contrasting wealth and political influence of the 1%, our fathers would have also asked, “Where are the clergy?

The father of one of us was a World War I veteran with seven children.  At one point during the depression, he could not even put food on the table.  Despair and shame drove him to his bedroom, and behind closed doors this strong-jawed father broke down and cried.  Comforted by his wife, together they penciled a note to the neighborhood grocer, who kindly allowed them to buy food they had requested on credit, which momentarily eased their plight.

The father of the other taught his 10-year-old son that he was his “brother’s keeper.”  The son had shut the door on a stranger who followed him home from the store.  In “stern clear tones,” the son much later poetically recalled his father saying, “Open the door and welcome to our home.  You’re hungry and cold; well sit by the stove.  Biscuits and beef.   Raisin pie that is sweet.  . . . One’s heart never shuts to those we can feed; no matter what we have there is some Thing to share.  The most important of course is that we care.”

Both of our fathers would have strongly opposed a Republican- controlled Congress’s approval of Paul Ryan’s budget, which would reduce the federal deficit on the backs of poverty-stricken and middle class citizens, while giving even greater tax cuts to the wealthiest and most politically connected.  Ryan’s budget, which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called “marvelous,” would also increase  enormous defense spending even more, accommodating Romney’s delusional world view of “preserv[ing] a military that is so strong no nation would ever dare to test it.” (“Transcript: Mitt Romney’s Acceptance Speech,” NPR, Aug. 30, 22012)  A world view that threatens to start another, Iraq-like weapons of mass destruction-hyped, criminal war in the Middle East– against an assumed nuclear weapon-threatening Iran.   A predatory world view that is the opposite of one of two great commandments Jesus taught: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 39)   We learned from our fathers, and our mothers, that peace and security are found in the universal humanness of The Golden Rule not in “American exceptionalism’s” imperialistic rule of force.

Both of our fathers would have rejected Mitt Romney’s militaristic world view that favors the rich at the expense of the 99%.  They would have protested cutting food stamps for the neediest families, slashing Medicaid for older citizens, creating a Medicare voucher system that would not cover retired people’s health care costs, slicing Pell grant loans for low-income college students, reducing health care benefits for veterans and other citizens, and sacrificing educational, environmental health and safety programs.

Both of our fathers would have praised the Nuns who, early on, got on a bus and traveled the land, sounding the alarm against budgetary political wolfs in sheep’s clothing.  They would have welcomed the reported message of Sister Simone Campbell, the leader of the Nun’s group, who declared, “The truth is . . . there’s a shift of money to the top—tax cuts for the wealthy,”  And her  battle cry: “Question austerity!”

While a few mainstream religious leaders got on the Nuns’ bus, both of our fathers would have wondered, “Where are all the other clergy across the religious spectrum, and why are they not on the bus?”  The clergy sponsor numerous forums on training their members, building their congregations, working together ecumenically, and on providing effective spiritual care for troubled people.  But when it comes to dealing with the economic and political forces that often trouble people the most, many mainstream clergy and congregations are nowhere to be found.  They are chaplains of the status quo, who eagerly provide Invocations and Benedictions for the rituals of those in power, but do not speak truth to the political, corporate, legal and religious leaders who abuse their power.

Where are the followers of the prophet of Galilee who said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.  . . . Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me?” (Matthew 25: 35-40)  Where are the followers of the professed “Prince of Peace,” who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God?” (Matthew 5:9)

Where are those religious leaders who would speak truth to power?  Like the prophet Isaiah who declared, “Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statues, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey!   What will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come from far away?” (10: 1-3)

Both of our fathers would have strongly condemned Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney calling 47% of the American people moochers, whom he “will never be able to convince . . .  that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  Our fathers would have seen through his attempt—four weeks and drops in the polls later—to white-out what he truthfully said in private by publically saying, on Fox News, “I said something that’s just completely wrong.”  (“Romney: ’47 percent’ remarks ‘completely wrong,’” By Walt Cronkite, CBS News, Oct. 4, 2012))  What was “completely wrong?”  Was Romney confessing a sinful, demonizing, classist attitude toward nearly half of our country’s citizens and promising to change?  Or, was what he said to his wealthy supporters “completely wrong” because it was so revealing?

Mitt Romney tried to further finesse his disdain for people like our fathers and almost half of our nation’s families with, “I care about the 100%.”  Tell that to the citizens of Massachusetts where he was governor:  only 36% support his presidential candidacy (“2012 Massachusetts President: Romney vs. Obama ,” huffingtonpost.com),  and for good reason.  (See Alberts, Romney and The Other, Counterpunch, July 27-29, 2012)

The Republican presidential candidate, aided by Fox News, lives in a “post-truth” Etch-a-Sketch world, which would have had our fathers’ scratching their heads in disbelief.  (See “Lie to me, please: Truth was the real loser of first presidential debate,” By Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, The Washington Post, Oct. 4, 2012).  Our fathers taught us that the media’s role should not be to provide a platform for political candidates to paint over the truth, but a forum to get at the truth.  For example, where was Fox News’ follow through, beginning with, “What do you mean you were ‘completely wrong,’ Governor Romney?”

Our fathers would have expected an outpouring of anger from religious leaders in response to an exploitative budget, inspired by a classist mentality that tries to dehumanize 47% of our nation’s citizens– and then tries to deny it.  Sadly, the overriding concern of many mainstream Christian leaders and congregations is not what would Jesus and the prophets do, but what should they do as Republicans and Democrats.  Their deafening silence affirms and encourages those who try to rob people of their dignity and inalienable rights— people struggling to feed, clothe and house their loved ones.  People who are rich in their love for their families, their neighbors and their communities.

Our fathers would have asked the clergy especially, “Which side are you on, the indifferent or those who care?”

Or how did you get that way

Sunday on Seneca St. a trip to

The store followed home

By a man to the door

Quickly inside and slam

In his face

Only to learn was not an

Act of good grace

My father’s stern clear tones

‘Open the door and

Welcome to our home’

You’re hungry and cold

Well sit by the stove

Biscuits and beef

Raisin pie that is sweet

Are warmed while the

Tea from the stove provides

The body with heat

I saw the child knew a

Family was near

Sorry my approach caused him fear

Been a long cold trek walking

These dark and icy streets

Thanks to your kindness I can

Be on my way with a

Full stomach and toasty feet

Whatever you have was the

Lesson for me

You always share with those

In misery

 

We never close doors to

Those in need one’s heart

Never shuts to those we can

Feed no matter what we have there is some

Thing to share

The most important of course is

That we care.  (mhk)

Mel King is a long-time Boston community activist, organizer, educator, author and political leader, who, in 1983, was the first Black candidate to make it to the finals in Boston’s mayoral campaign.  He is author of Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development, South End Press, 1981, co-author with James Jennings of From Access to Power: Black Politics in Boston, Schenkman Books, 1986, and author of Streets, a Poem Book published by Hugs Press, Boston, 2006.  His e-mail address is mhking@mit.edu.

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy.  Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care.  His recently published book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, is available on Amazon.com   His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.  

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