Faith leaders gather to launch effort, affirm call to serve the poor
by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), added her voice today to the many faith leaders present for the launch of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in Washington, D.C. Owing its name to the Poor People’s Campaign instituted 50 years ago today by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the call seeks to unite “tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.”
Speaking at the United Methodist Building, home to many denominational justice and advocacy offices, Anderson and leaders from other Christian denominations, the Unitarian-Universalist Association and the Union for Reform Judaism, pledged their denominations’ support for the campaign, calling recent legislation — including the Republican tax reform bill — an affront to poor and working-class Americans.
“At our 222nd General Assembly (2016) the PC(USA) made a number of social justice commitments to include measures to dismantle racism, to address climate change and to engage with a new civil rights movement,” she said, noting the overture from the Presbytery of the Cascades that “called on choosing to be a church committed to the gospel of Matthew 25.”
Anderson said the overture “called our denomination to recommit ourselves at all levels of our church to locate ourselves with the poor, to advocate with all of our voice for the poor and to seek opportunities to take risks for and with the poor.”
Therefore, she affirmed, “we will stand on the right side of faith, on the right side of morality, on the right side of history and affirm our participation in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.”
Campaign organizers are urging poor and disenfranchised people, clergy and moral leaders to engage in direct action at statehouses and the U.S. Capitol next spring as part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Organizers said they will draw on the unfinished work of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, reigniting the effort led by civil rights organizations, labor, tenant unions, farm workers, Native American elders and grassroots organizers to foster a moral revolution of values.
Expected to be a multi-year effort, The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival will intensify starting Mother’s Day 2018, with six weeks of direct action and civil disobedience across at least 25 states and the District of Columbia, leading up to a mass mobilization at the U.S. Capitol June 21. Each week will focus on a different injustice, beginning with child poverty, and will include specific policy goals and a voter education program to advance a moral agenda at the state and federal levels.
“Even before the election of Donald Trump, the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the country’s distorted national morality were tearing apart the social fabric in America,” said the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, the campaign’s co-chair. “But with extremists who stand against voting rights, living wages, health care and immigration reform gaining even more influence today in Washington and in statehouses across the country, the need for this campaign is more urgent than ever.”
The Rev. Dr. William Barber II, campaign co-chair, added, “We must transform the moral narrative in this country. We went through the most expensive presidential campaign in U.S. history in 2016 without a single serious discussion of poverty and systemic racism. Now we are witnessing an emboldened attack on the poor and an exacerbation of systemic racism, ecological devastation and the war economy that demands a response. Black, white, brown red, yellow, young, old, male, female, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and those not of religion but with deep moral convictions must build a long-term, agenda-based movement rooted in non-violent direct action and voter mobilization. This is not about saving any party, but about saving the soul of America.”
One component of the Campaign is an audit of the progress of poor people in America. The preliminary report, The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America 50 Years After the Poor People’s Campaign Challenged Systemic Racism, Poverty, the War Economy/Militarism, Ecological Devastation and Our National Morality, is available for download.
The report details the acceleration of economic inequality; the emergence of new policies like voter suppression laws and mass incarceration that further entrench systemic racism in America; the growing imbalance in federal discretionary spending on the military relative to social programs; and the intensification of racial and income disparities in access to clean air and water and exposure to environmental hazards.
“The data reveal just how deeply entwined are the problems of racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation,” said Sarah Anderson, editor of the preliminary IPS report. “To combat any one of these problems, we need to break down issue silos and unite Americans behind a broad agenda for transformative change.”
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is co-organized by Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization founded by the Rev. Barber; the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary; and scores of local and national grassroots groups across the country.
Anderson’s complete statement:
“At our 222nd General Assembly (2016) the PC(USA) made a number of social justice commitments to include measures to dismantle racism, to address climate change and to engage with a new civil rights movement.
We also, at that Assembly, reaffirmed our commitment to alleviating poverty when we approved an overture that came from the Presbytery of the Cascades. This is a presbytery that covers portions of Washington State, Oregon and California that are all deeply impacted by poverty. [The overture] called on choosing to be a church committed to the gospel of Matthew 25, this overture called our denomination to recommit ourselves at all levels of our church to locate ourselves with the poor, to advocate with all of our voice for the poor and to seek opportunities to take risks for and with the poor.
And as recent actions from Congress seem poised to further burden the poor, it is deeply imperative that we commit to using our social, political, material and spiritual capital to eradicate poverty everywhere it exists.
We resist vapid platitudes and incipit pietism, and we stand firmly against the heresy that poverty is somehow the will of God or the fault of the poor. We remember the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who reminded us there is no deficit in human resources, the deficit is in human will.
And we remember the words of our savior who cautioned that whatever we do to his siblings — the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned — we do to him. Therefore, we will stand on the right side of faith, on the right side of morality, on the right side of history and affirm our participation in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.”
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Categories: Advocacy & Social Justice, Ecumenical & Interfaith, Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian News Service
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