I had a faith renewal experience during this election cycle. I realize that sounds hard to believe. But what happened is, a Rabbi friend of mine invited me to Milwaukee recently, for a “Moral Revival.” I have to admit, the title left me chagrined – I haven’t been to a revival since I left Texas. But as it turned out, it was a “Moral Revival of Values” and the speaker was Rev. Dr. William Barber (who preached at the DNC, seriously… a sermon, at a political convention). Dr. Barber somehow touched on the heart of my faith. First we were inspired by a vision of the common good that God promises in scripture – wellbeing for the poor, healing for the sick, an end to unjust incarceration, and justice (all Jesus’ concerns… a person might be quoting his first sermon in Luke 4.)
We sang songs from the civil rights movements. We heard stories from the suffering community in Milwaukee – a place with the worst incarceration rate in the country for Black men, a place with deep inequity in the education system between suburban white folk and black and brown neighbors in the city. In Wisconsin we know a lot about the “school to prison pipeline”… if a kid can’t read by the second or third grade, they start building another prison cell here. In Wisconsin our prisons have lead in the water, and our (working) prisoners don’t get paid enough to buy a bottle of clean water/week. In Wisconsin the white/black incomes ($50,000/$25,000) parallel the white/black graduation gap (50%). We’re mostly “midwest nice” but it’s a racist place.
My Rabbi friend quoted the Hebrew Bible on these themes. A Muslim woman leader quoted the Quran on these same themes. It moved me to hear these primary concerns of Jesus reflected by our sisters from the Abrahamic religions.
And then Dr. Barber, who is an African American preacher, asked us why… if these are God’s concerns… there are no prophets in the faith community who are calling our communities and our politicians to account for what they talk about and work on.
Why are we Christians letting ourselves be divided:
-into Evangelical, and Pentecostal, and Mainline,
-Conservative/Liberal and Progressive?
-Why are we Christians letting ourselves be divided from Muslims, Jews, and other people of faith? When they suffer for their faith, why aren’t we suffering?
He concluded we have a heart problem – meaning, we lack compassion for the folks suffering these real injuries. He picked up the theme of our heart problem in Ezekiel, when his community was crumbling and no prophet was found, God promised “a new heart… and a new spirit [saying] I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Dr Barber is the leader, in South Carolina, of a coalition of 93 social justice and faith based organizations who come together on “Moral Mondays” for actions around these simple concerns – care for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the unjustly incarcerated, the environment, immigrant neighbors, racial gaps, etc. He persuaded me that “why” is because we don’t have enough compassion.
I went home, and the next day heard on NPR a story about the working class white folks who support one candidate, at least in part because of the losses in their lives. And I feel broken-hearted today, that we would allow ourselves to be so divided as to lose our compassion for them. Jesus certainly wouldn’t. Remember he frequently “looked with compassion” when he challenged folks he encountered? I look at the news from my hometown Madison, a college town, and a white football fan came to the game wearing alternately a mask of President Obama (and Secretary Clinton) with a noose around his neck held by another white football fan wearing a Trump mask. In all the horrible black/white controversy that followed, no white leaders have seriously confronted this. Very few white leaders have simply grieved what students at our local university must be thinking and feeling as they process the horrible heritage of lynching and the current reality of white silence in the face of such racism, or male silence in the face of such sexism. “We have a heart problem,” said Dr. Barber. The wise Quaker writer Parker Palmer said something very like this, in his recent book, “Healing the Heart of Democracy.”
We have a serious heart problem. We need more love…. for our entire community, and particularly for the poor. So I’m going to vote, today. I hope you will to, if you haven’t already. I’m going to work the polls, and treat voters (and maybe some protestors) with respect and compassion. But I’m also going to start praying that God takes away the hearts of stone among people following Jesus, and gives us his heart, his eyes, and his commitment to challenging unjust people and systems.
I guess the Moral Revival of Values is working.
(You can learn more about Dr. Barber’s multi-state project here: http://www.moralrevival.org)