At the most critical and divisive moments in our nation’s history, progressive religious leaders have come together to cry out for moral revival and direct action for racial and economic justice.
A moral imperative enthused religious abolitionists before the Civil War. Black and white church people and leaders were at the very heart of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. And people of deep faith who are concerned about all God’s children have inspired national movements in behalf of women and workers and gays and lesbians and every kind of marginalized or exploited person in our nation.
Another such national moment has arrived, and it’s stirring to life in Minnesota this fall. We, as leaders of the national Call to Action for a Moral Agenda, presented a Higher Ground Moral Declaration to Gov. Mark Dayton on Sept. 12. And on Monday Oct. 10, congregations supporting our movement will gather for an all-day huddle, followed by a gathering at Plymouth Congregational Church.
Our state and our country — beset in this election by loathsome and blatant appeals to racism and xenophobia and sexism — once again desperately need to marshal “the better angels of our nature” that President Abraham Lincoln summoned in his first inaugural address.
In that spirit, we loudly and boldly challenge the notion that the so-called “Religious Right” speaks for most of the deeply religious people in this state and nation.
Our moral revival challenges the narrow moralistic position that the preeminent issues today are about prayer in public schools, abortion, and hostility to homosexuality. Instead, we believe that our much larger moral concerns are the stubborn racial divides and economic inequalities that are rending our nation asunder.
We draw our strength from the timeless imperatives in all faiths to love and care for one another. We embrace the Christian teaching, fundamental in all human spirituality, that we will be judged by how our society treats “the least” among us — the poor, those on the margins, women, children, workers, the immigrants and strangers in our midst.
Just as important, we uphold the U.S. Constitution and those lofty principles in the Preamble that require us to create a more perfect union, establish justice, and promote the general welfare. And we zealously embrace the amendments to that Constitution that have expanded freedom and equality to people who were excluded at the founding of our nation.
Our movement’s Higher Ground Moral Declaration is not just about high principles, important as these are. We get specific about policy questions that we will ask of all candidates, and on which we will evaluate them. For example:
Do you endorse full funding and support for early education programs, and reducing costs for college and post-secondary education? Do you support policies that provide affordable housing to anyone who needs it? Do you believe in a robust public investment in infrastructure that will create jobs and build racial equity in our workforce? Do you support targeted worker training programs and economic development programs for poor and minority communities? Do you support the “Fight for $15” and a living minimum wage? Do you believe in the right of workers to collectively bargain, including public employees? Do you support the expansion of Medicaid and universal health care, and the right of women to choose their own healthcare options? Do you support ending race- and partisan-based gerrymandering of voting districts?
All of us in this Moral Revival will do everything in our power to ensure that candidates who respond affirmatively to these questions prevail this November. But our movement will continue regardless. Dr. King famously said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. We share that unshakeable faith and know that we and our better angels will prevail, eventually, in improving the lives here on earth of all God’s children.
The Rev. Dr. William Barber II is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C. Rob Eller-Isaacs is co-minister of Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul. Carla J. Bailey is senior minister at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.