‘There comes a time when speaking is not sufficient’

Jul. 26, 2014 @ 06:44 PM

We are both pastors and active in community service, and the Moral Monday gatherings have become an integral part of our ministries. We have participated in almost every one and traveling to Raleigh each Monday has been an opportunity to make a statement for social justice.  Moral Mondays have provided a way for us as people of faith to make our voice heard in the cause of justice for individuals whose voices have gone unheard by the political decision-makers in this state.

We have each worked for years in our ministries to build resources in Durham for people in poverty – to stock food pantries, drive meals to the elderly, fund shelters, prepare teens for work, and support jobs programs.  In the course of that, during the past two decades we have also found it necessary at times to write, call or visit legislators to protect people struggling in poverty from bad laws that would make their lives harder, or to support actions that would create more opportunity for them and their children.  Over several years, we saw the state rise to the call of justice by expanding voting access, reviewing capital crime convictions for racial bias, and growing the trust fund for affordable housing.

But what has occurred in this legislative term over the past 18 months is a dramatic departure for the state we love. North Carolina has been transformed almost overnight into a state wherein the government is at odds with the well-being of its citizens. In just 50 days the N.C. General Assembly produced a litany of laws which were not only hazardous and toxic, but actually put the state in a downward spiral.

The majority refused to undertake a cost-saving (and life-saving) step of expanding Medicaid out of ideological distrust of the federal government’s leadership on health care reform, with some legislators publicly saying that they don’t want Washington telling them what to do. The list begins there, but continues with cuts to unemployment benefits that reduce them to among the stingiest in the nation, ending the Racial-Justice Act that had already been implemented and discovered racial bias in convictions, raising obstacles to ballot access for the poor and students, failure to raise teacher pay and reducing teacher assistants in classrooms.  The governor rewards political operatives with high-paying jobs and excessive contracts, while pleading poverty when it comes to adequate teacher pay and medical services for the working poor.

As ministers of the gospel, we find it disheartening to consider the fact that the main responsibilities of public authorities are to protect and heal the weak, raise up the impoverished, provide justice for the vulnerable and see that all the people have a share in prosperity (Psalm 72:1-7, 12-14), while our state government is declining on all those counts.  The legislature should be advancing forward opportunity and resources for all the people together.  Our own constitution charges the state to provide access to good education for all citizens, and to serve “the good of the whole” (not just the top 1 percent with tax cuts). Those currently elected are doing none of the above.

Moral Monday has become a rallying cry for people throughout the state. It is extremely powerful to see men and women from the coast to the mountains to the central section of the state come time and time again to gather at the state’s capital to register their protest. Almost every racial and social group in the state is represented: blacks and whites and Hispanics, middle class and poor, religious and non-religious, professional and blue-collar. It is a reflection of all the diversity and flavor among the children in God’s family. But it is also indicative of the fact that this movement speaks to a wide range of individuals and interests.

We were arrested in the first waves of Moral Monday last year, and it was imperative for us to do so. It became a pivotal moment in our lives and ministries. The personal commitment to do something in the form of civil disobedience was a major step, but a witness which we have never regretted. There comes a time when speaking is not sufficient for the moment -- when something more dramatic is necessary. That is what Moral Monday signifies for us.

Rev. Jimmie Hawkins has been pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church since 1996.

Rev. Spencer Bradford has been pastor of Durham Mennonite Church since 2006.