Laws and executive orders that flow from Washington and state capitals are almost always political, generating heated debates between Democrat and Republican. Political action committees, unions and non-governmental organizations often join in the fray, addressing government policies– also on essentially political grounds.
Frequently lost in the political battles are the moral issues that get raised only incidentally by politicians or NGOs. By and large, the voice of faith communities is silent.
With his best-selling The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear, the Rev. William Barber has shown that the evils in government policies can be effectively opposed on moral grounds. His hugely successful “Moral Monday” protests in North Carolina have inspired the deeply moral anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice local movements that are now underway in several states.
That faith community leaders are driving such a movement reflects a spiritual value that all major religions have in common: love of neighbor.
Yet most Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations have yet to recognize their collective potential to resist malevolent government policies based on white nationalism, racism or anti-Islamic sentiments.
The most immoral and hurtful policies today concern immigration and racial discrimination. Federal policies that deny refugees their right to asylum, separate children from their parents, remove immigrants from their families or hold children in makeshift desert prisons cry out for justice. By the same token, federal or state policies that impair the civil rights of African-Americans through mass incarceration, housing discrimination and police brutality can be attacked on moral grounds.
So what can a faith community do?
Religious leaders can make a difference by educating and motivating their congregations and by collaborating with other organizations that seek justice. Here are some examples:
Educate. Most local religious groups tend to look inward. They promote goodness within their particular community, but they rarely look outward. State or federal government policies, even those that strike at basic spiritual values, are usually seen as off limits for religious action.
Members of congregations often fail to see the link between their spiritual beliefs and what is being done in their name politically. Thus the first action step would be for pastors, rabbis and imams to expose malevolent policies that oppress our ”neighbor,” whether foreigner or person of color. The policies that most warrant immediate exposure are the immigration and racial abuses cited above.
Religious leaders can educate their congregations through sermons, discussion groups and social justice committees. They also can offer films and visitor presentations to show how evil policies harm real people and families. For example, the Nauset Interfaith Association on the Lower Cape Cod is sponsoring a series of discussions this fall on Dr. Marin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The discussions in various faith groups will expose continuing government policies that are based on racism.
Motivate. Churches, synagogues and mosques can encourage their members to contact their representatives in Congress and in state governments to protest policies that violate moral principles, particularly the one that says: “love thy neighbor.” For example, they can alert members to local vigils and rallies in support of safe communities.
Collaborate. Fr. Ken Campbell of the Nauset Interfaith has succeeded in bringing together virtually every faith community on Cape Cod for a Thanksgiving prayer service at a different house of worship each year. It is a moving ceremony with prayers in different languages by religious leaders in their native garb. Fr. Ken also hosts an annual prayer breakfast on the occasion of Martin Luther King Day.
The Nauset Interfaith Association has shown how effective interfaith activity can be in uniting people of different religious beliefs around a common spirituality. The same model could be used to bring collaborative moral pressure to bear on political representatives.
Like Rev. Barber’s efforts in North Carolina and beyond, collaboration among faith communities and with non-governmental organizations that share common justice goals can start a moral crusade against immigration and refugee abuses.
Now is the time to begin!