Progressive Faith Communities Take Back the Discussion on Morals

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For far too long, the political and theocratic Right have hijacked the social dialogue by taking as their own the “F” words – “Faith,” “Family,” “Freedom,” and the “Flag” – in addition to the term “Values.” This set of buzz words served as the litmus test by which the Right would have us decide who is truly worthy of our votes.
Within this discourse we find coded racist and classist dog whistles. For example, when politicians employ terms such as “poor,” “welfare,” “welfare state,” “European-style socialism,” “inner city,” “food stamps,” “entitlements,” and “bad neighborhoods,” they tap into many people’s anxieties and past racist teachings of people of color. In addition, the buzz phrase, “personal responsibility” now has become a catch phrase to justify cutting benefits from those who have fallen on hard times and need assistance.
Over the past couple of decades, I have examined what may actually be left of the Left, and how we can take back the discourse and reclaim these “F” words with progressive definitions. I have been particularly encouraged by a number of faith-based movements bringing people together to highlight issues of compassion and justice.

On Tuesday, September 9, I read a press release circulated by the organization Faith in Public Life out of Washington, D.C. announcing its nationwide mobilization plans for the 2014 elections crafted by national progressive and moderate faith leaders. The press release read in part:

“Ten years after conservative ‘values voters’ propelled President George W. Bush to reelection, progressive and moderate religious leaders will unveil plans to engage voters on common-good policies, rather than divisive culture war issues.Across the country, clergy and faith-based organizations will launch campaigns, ranging from massive voter registration drives to cross country bus tours, to mobilize supporters and hold politicians accountable on issues including immigration reform, voting rights and healthcare.”

Faith in Public Life serves as a think tank and organizational structure linking faith communities in strategizing effective ways to form coalitions and advance issues of social justice in the public square and to transform issues of equality and equity into legislative policy. Just a few of the many organizations joining this progressive faith coalition include the Moral Mondays movement and Nuns on the Bus.
In response to a number of draconian measures taken by the North Carolina legislature to roll back progressive gains previously enacted, the Moral Mondays movement has come together on Mondays in the state to conduct non-violent protest demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience. Organized partially by faith leaders, including William Barber, head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, Moral Monday actions have opposed the legislature’s restrictions on voting rights of repealing same-day voter registration, reducing early voting days, and taking away tax credits from parents whose dependent students register to vote at their campus addresses. Previously, the legislature designed its redistricting equation to overwhelmingly favor Republican candidates. Demonstrators also protested the repeal of the state’s Racial Justice Act of 2009, which had given prison inmates on death row the ability to challenge their sentences on the basis of racial bias. The visibility and success of Moral Mondays have spread initially to Georgia and South Carolina, and have since extended across the country.

Credit: Creative Commons/tvnewsbadge

Nuns on the Bus, a project of NETWORK Education Program and founded in 1971 by Catholic sisters, advocates for social justice issues, registers voters, and lobbies legislators on Capitol Hill. Nuns on the Bus has conducted a number of bus tours: the first traveling between Iowa through the Midwest, and terminating in Washington, D.C. in summer 2012 to protest the Republican budget plan devised by conservative Republican Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. Its next tour in May through June 2013 focused on pushing for a compassionate and equitable comprehensive immigration reform policy traveling to Ellis and Angel Islands – sites of immigration entry.
Progressive individuals, organizations, and faith communities are now coming together to push for a living wage and reduce the enormous gaps in wealth distribution, to register voters and turn back voter suppression policies, work towards equitable and caring comprehensive immigration policies, and advance policies providing quality and affordable education and health care for all. In essence, the coalition is taking back the words associated with the Right as they call on this country to live up to its promise of freedom and justice for all.