Monday, June 5, 2017

No copay for the leper

I listened to the New York Radio Hour on Michigan Radio yesterday evening on my way home from attending my niece’s high school graduation. Host David Remnick held a conversation with Rev. William Barber of Greenleaf Christian Church of Goldsboro, NC. William Barber had been the president of the NC chapter of the NAACP and the driving force behind the Moral Mondays demonstrations at the NC legislature. His people called attention to a wide variety of progressive causes.

The title of this episode is “Politics Needs Religion.” I think a more accurate title would be “Politics Needs Morality.” Barber wants to bring morality back to modern politics, though definitely not the Christian morality espoused by the right. He isn’t much impressed by modern Democrats, either. I transcribed some excerpts:

Differences between the white and black churches:
I’m an evangelical. The black church has been traditionally evangelical. The term was hijacked! Because in the Bible, theologically, there is no such thing as an evangelical that does not begin with a critique of systems of economic injustice. And when Jesus, the ultimate evangelical – that brown skinned Palestinian Jew that was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, the ghetto, the poor place – his first sermon said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news” – that’s “evangel,” that’s what that means – “to the poor.” If your attention is not on dealing with the issues that hurt the poor, the brokenhearted, the sick, the left out, the least of these, the stranger, and all of those made to feel unacceptable, you don’t have white, right-wing evangelical, you have heresy, theological malpractice. It doesn’t fit orthodox Christianity.

They came up with this weird theology. If you’re good, you go to heaven. If you’re bad, you go to hell. If you’re good, you’re wealthy. If you’re bad, you’re in poverty. [A prosperity gospel is] not consistent with orthodox theology, it’s not consistent with the theology of the Bible. … If your theology says whoever is good is wealthy then you would fawn over a wealthy businessman, because of his purse-strings, despite his moral behavior. Because maybe the religion you’re promoting isn’t about moral behavior. Maybe it’s about paid puppets of the empire. Because any time a religion seems to say the only moral issues are prayer in school, where you stand on abortion, being against a woman’s right to choose, private property, and making sure you can prove that Jesus was a founding member of the NRA, that is not Christianity.

Think about it. This is how you can see it: They’re so loud on things like abortion and prayer in the school and so wrong and so quiet on things like health care and living wages and acceptance of all people and treating the poor.

There are 3500 scriptures in the bible about love and justice and mercy and how you treat the stranger and how you help the least of these. And it’s not talking about private charity either, its talking about how we shape society, its talking about the nations. Jesus said what I will say to the nations when I’m hungry, not to the individual, to the nations. That’s governments.

There may be three scriptures about homosexuality. None of them trump the scripture that says you got to love your neighbor as yourself. So how do you claim to be a conservative if you dismiss 3500 texts but then build a whole theology around three scriptures that most of them you misinterpret. That’s not conservative. Conservative means to hold onto the essence of.
I see the white evangelicals taking the basic messages of the Bible and subverting them to support ranking (yes, a familiar theme with me). I agree with Barber that what they preach isn’t what Jesus taught. I’m pleased he says it so well and so forcefully.

Abortion and other social issues:
Let’s get the folk out of the room for a minute, we love them, but who want to come in here and talk about a woman’s right to choose and they claim they want the baby to be here, but then they don’t want to give the woman health care to get the baby here, or health care after the baby gets here, they don’t want to pay the parents a living wage so they can take care, so you really don’t have any credibility to talk about abortion because all your policies abort people’ possibilities, dreams and hopes. So you don’t need to be in this conversation.

I’m not pro abortion. It’s not pro or con. I can say I believe in life, I want persons to have children, but there are so many situations where that may not be possible. There are situations where people have to choose. And even if they choose to have an abortion I choose to love, I choose to care for them.

What I want is to get the conversation to higher ground. And the higher ground is how do we stop aborting the hopes of the poor. How do we stop destroying health care. You think about, just a few weeks ago, the hypocrisy of having clergy in the Rose Garden with the president clapping for him signing the executive order about so-called religious leaders and not chastising him on his position to deny millions of people health care – and they claim to be Christian clergy.

This is a simple country-boy analogy. If I’m not mistaken, the one thing Jesus did was set up free health clinics. Everywhere you look in the Bible Jesus is healing people. He never charged a leper a copay.

You going to applaud someone? Something else is going on underneath that that’s ugly, that’s cynical, that doesn’t make sense, that’s not good for the health of our culture, and is a denial of the basics of our faith. The word salvation means healing.
About cutting taxes
The tax cut was always about disabling the government from being able to make the playing field more level and fixing the problems the government created in the first place.
He’s been touring the country training people in moral articulation and moral analysis.
People able to say, wait a minute, some of these issues are not about left versus right, they’re about right versus wrong. Health care is about right versus wrong. Living wages is right versus wrong. Dealing with systemic racism is about right versus wrong. We need to stand up, not as partisans, but as people of conscience.
We need a poor people campaign. During the last election cycle…
We had 26 presidential debates, I think, maybe 27. Think about it. Not one debate, not one full debate on voting rights. … Not one full debate on the world economy. Not one full debate on public education. None. We were talking about text-messages, emails, innuendos, and the strange conversation that you will not hear anywhere else in the world. … That says to us we don’t have just a partisan problem. We have a deep moral malady. Something is wrong in the spirit of the country. And we knew we needed to have this poor people’s campaign.
About the Democratic Party
We have to challenge the Democrats, especially right now. I’m very concerned when I hear Democrats talking only about the middle class. They think that’s all that went wrong in this past election. One of the things we have to do is recover our moral foundation.

When some of these extremists say they want to read the Constitution I get happy. I say, Please! Let’s read the Constitution. Or when they say we want to talk about what’s in the Bible. Please! Please! Let’s have that conversation! Because if we have it, then it will expose the holes and the hypocrisy and may even cause you to repent. And come join us. In love.

I think progressives make a mistake when we don’t know and remember the power of moral underpinning.
This does not have to be a Christian movement. Morals transcend religions. Progress is more than working on the white middle class. It has to deal with the issue of race.
It’s when we come together. When we’re willing to put our minds to work and our bodies on the line. What if we didn’t focus on Trump. Because Trump is a symptom. What if we went up to McConnell’s office and Ryan’s office, and every state capitol, and what if we said this is not the end of a movement, but the launch of a movement. … We want you to know we’re all in this together and we stand on our deepest moral principles, and not just curse the darkness but point people to the light. What if we used something like that to shock the very heart of this nation. I want to see what would happen if we finished that leg of the poor people’s campaign. I want to see what would happen if we would come together.
Study what your opponent is doing:
If, however, in order to win they had to lie almost every other ten minutes; they had to find a way to put pornographic sums of money into the electoral pot; they had to spend years pushing voter suppression; they had to use fear against Muslims, against immigrants; they had to be helped by the media that played too long with Trump and gave him too much free press; and then they had to go all the way over to Russia and get help … If somebody cheats you, they don’t cheat you because you’re weak. People only cheat you when they can’t beat you in a fair fight. Then that says we are stronger than we realize

It’s our time to stand up and be the moral dissenters, the moral defibrillators, the moral dreamers and to make it through this moment, and use it to change the course of history, to change America, and in some ways if we work together, we’ll change the world.

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