The Moral Monday Movement

The Moral Monday Movement
August 25, 2013
Pastor Steve Halsted

Today, we lift up and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic March on Washington, and King’s magnificent moral message – his “I Have a Dream” speech. That march and that speech on August 28, 1963, were filled with a moral power that changed the world.  It touched the conscience of our nation and triggered legislative changes in civil rights, racial equality and voter rights that reverberated around the world.

Let us also not forget that 1963 marked the Centennial, or 100th anniversary, of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln to free African-Americans from slavery.  But in 1963, 100 years later, segregation and Jim Crow laws continued to exclude and limit African-Americans from the full freedoms and full rights of other U.S. citizens.

The march on Washington, with an integrated crowd of over 200,000 demonstrators, and the speech by Rev. Dr. King, were a plea for freedom and justice to be extended to all U.S. citizens.  I’d like to point out that his speech was really a sermon, based upon Biblical moral principles found in sources like the Exodus story; whereby Jews were delivered by God from slavery in Egypt; and the teachings of Jesus, like those found in Matthew 25, with His call to help and care for the marginalized, the oppressed, and the poor.  As Jesus said, “Whatever you did unto the least of these, you did unto me.”

Mrs. Coretta Scott King, at the time of her husband’s historic speech on August 28, 1963, commented, “At that moment, it seemed as if the Kingdom of God appeared.  But it only lasted for a moment.”

Now we move ahead to August 2013 – fifty years later – and we are still facing similar struggles over civil rights and voting rights, right here in North Carolina.  And a new African-American leader, the Reverend William Barber, has emerged with a strategy referred to as “Moral Monday,” meant to be a movement, not a moment.

Perhaps the words of the Prophet Jeremiah should be referenced toward the life and calling of Rev. Barber, who was born just two days after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  Hear Jeremiah’s words again:  “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’”

In an article in the July 24 edition of Indy Week, Rev. Barber says he never had a moment of being called to the civil rights struggle.  Instead, he likes to say he was “involuntarily drafted.”

Many of you here today know more firsthand about the “Moral Monday” movement than I do, since it has been unfolding here in North Carolina over the summer while I was away on sabbatical.  But its issues and principles arise out of “HKonJ” (Historic Thousands on Jones Street) organized by Rev. Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP since 2006.  In 2012, we as a congregation voted to join “HKonJ” as a coalition partner in conjunction with our Economic Justice Covenant.

The “Moral Monday” movement is an outgrowth of all this, and it has gained national attention in the wake of recent legislation coming from our General Assembly which has been very controversial.  I learned about some of this legislation while on Cape Cod as I read an email article by the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder and chief editor of Sojourners Magazine, headquartered in Washington, D.C., devoted to issues of Christian Social Justice.  Reverend Wallis wrote a column on July 11, 2013, to address the impact that North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” was having and to endorse its cause, saying…

 “I often talk about faith as something that is personal, but never private.  Each of us must take responsibility for the beliefs we hold and must personally wrestle with life’s most fundamental questions.  But once we have decided to follow Jesus, we cannot help but live our personal beliefs in public ways.  The demands of the gospel refuse us the option of a purely inward spirituality…In a culture driven by self-interest, God calls us to care about the common good and about how our public policies affect the most vulnerable.  In a world where money and power bring influence, Jesus asks us to give attention to the poor, the weak, and the marginalized.”

Rev. Wallis cites the text from Matthew 25 as the core of his faith.  He goes on to criticize our Governor and both chambers of the State Legislature for “pushing a rigid budget agenda that has cut benefits to more than 70,000 people without jobs, restricted access to health care for low-income people, and attacked voting rights.  The legislature is working on a tax cut for the wealthy and corporations while increasing the burden on struggling families.”

Rev. Wallis praises Rev. Barber for preaching an inclusive message, quoting Rev. Barber who said, “We had to stand up as a coalition – not liberal vs. conservative (that’s too small, too limited, too tired) or Republican vs. Democrat.  We had to [give] a moral challenge because these policies they were passing, in rapid-fire, were constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically insane.”

The new legislation policies of the North Carolina General Assembly affect many issues ranging from economics and unemployment, to health care, the environment, public education, women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, even HB 522, the so called “Sharia Law” bill, which offends many of our Muslim citizens.

All these issues are worthy of our attention, but that lies beyond the scope of one sermon.  So I briefly want to touch on only the last two I have mentioned – voting rights and Sharia law.

The expansion of voting rights, to broaden the scope of democratic decision making, lies at the core identity of our church’s congregational polity, which our forebears in the UCC pioneered.  The Congregational Reformation was all about breaking away from the dictates of the King, who ruled the Church of England and all his subjects, exploiting them constantly.  Our Pilgrim and Puritan forebears called themselves “separatists” as they dissented from the King’s authority and gave church members the right to vote to choose their own ministers and leaders and make their own Congregational decisions by majority rule.  We, therefore, should be alarmed and raise our protest when we see our state government restricting voting rights!

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican, critiques North Carolina’s new voting law (HB 589).  As reported in the News and Observer, Powell states, “I want to see policies that encourage every American to vote, not make it more difficult to vote.”  Powell also took issue with the supporters of this bill who claim it will stop rampant voter fraud.  His comment was clear and to the point:  “You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud.  How can it be widespread and undetected?”

Powell spoke out at the North Carolina CEO Forum in Raleigh, on Thursday, August 22, after being introduced by Governor McCrory, who signed the bill.  Public Policy Polling’s Monthly NC poll finds Governor McCrory’s approval rating at a new low – only 30% of North Carolina voters approve of the governor’s job performance, while 51% disapprove.  The General Assembly has an even lower approval rating – 24%.

Other interesting findings:  49% of voters polled have a favorable opinion of “Moral Monday” protestors, while only 35% are unfavorable.  And 50% think the General Assembly is causing North Carolina national embarrassment, compared to 34% who do not.

I believe that these polling results tell a story which shows that the voting public wants to take the “moral high ground,” but their elected officials are betraying them!  Perhaps there is even a Biblical parallel here, as we remember that Jesus was betrayed by the governing bodies of his day – the Romans and Ruling Chamber of Sanhedrin.

The second issue, involving what the News and Observer called the “Sharia Law” bill (now called HB 522), was brought to my attention Thursday night, August 22, at a meeting of the Triangle Interfaith Alliance’s Board of Directors.  My fellow board member, a Muslim gentleman named Manzoor Cheema, an independent journalist and film maker, was quite upset and offended by this law.  He and others at the Board meeting, along with the bill’s many critics, feel the bill sends a message of intolerance and bigotry to followers of Islam in North Carolina.  The News and Observer newspaper article cited the American Bar Association, which said in a resolution that the passage of such bills will have a “wide-spread negative impact on business, adversely affecting…economic development in the states in which such a law is passed…”

Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill feels that this phenomena of “anti-foreign-law” legislation comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of Sharia law and a “bigoted” perception of Muslims.

Today, as we reflect on our religious faith and how it intersects in the public domain, and as we reflect on the challenges we face in ministering to the “common good” and “the least of these,” I am heartened by the words found in Matthew 7, where Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.”  The “Moral Monday” movement has been doing these things, and intends to keep the pressure on – asking to be a moral voice for progressive justice;  seeking to build a wider and wider coalition of concerned citizens, and people of faith;  and knocking on the doors of our elected officials in the General Assembly when they are in session, and following them to their home constituents’ doors when they are out of session.

“Moral Monday” is a “Moral Movement” in which the members of CUCC can make a significant contribution, as we have already begun to do.  Among our contributions, I want to lift up two that I feel we are well suited for:

  • Work on organizing voter registration drives.
  • Work on mobilizing the Interfaith Community by working with the Triangle Interfaith Alliance to articulate and promote mutual interests in justice issues, thus broadening the coalition for the “Moral Monday” movement.

If we ask, seek, and knock, Jesus guarantees it will be given!  Amen