Rev. William Barber on Religious/Political Inclusiveness
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Aug 13, 2014 at 10:49:40 PM EST
A few weeks ago, I posted about the extraordinary oration of Rev. William Barber at Netroots Nation. (A transcript of the speech is now available.) I said at the time I would have more to say about it, and I do.  Here is a little more. (More to come.)

Barber says that it is important to look to religious progressives to help to counter the Religious Right. And I couldn't agree more.

For many years I have been struck by how too many non-religious figures come across when talking about what they think Christianity or any other religious faith is supposed to be about:  Concern trollish. Disingenuous. Unpersausive. So what.   Similarly, when political insiders try to present religious figures as progressive or even moderate -- when they are not, it is both offensive and politically counter productive. (Democrats and liberals who should have known better sought to do this in recent years with among others, Rick Warren and Samuel Rodriguez.)  (Dispatches from the Religious Left:  The Future of Faith and Politics in America was in part, a response to that.)

Let's listen to Barber:

So what you need to challenge the Religious Right is not somebody to go on MSNBC or CNN and say I don't have anything to do with that and I just don't like...  but that you need somebody who is a person of faith to challenge the hypocrisy of faith and say to the Religious Right: you really want a moral debate?  Bring it on, baby.  Bring it on.  Bring it here!  [applause]

Barber compellingly details what a moral agenda looks like, using moral language, and in open defiance of partisan messaging and election year posturing. He is not only bi-partisan he is transpartisan in articulating a moral vision that is not just a shopping list of highly particularized issues, but presented as a comprehensive vision of a just society, how various issues interconnected, and an integrated and just way of getting there.  

Part of finding a constructive, dynamic, hopeful way forward is recognizing that the smug disdain for others' beliefs anti-religionism pits progressives against one another, and hold back the conversations we most need to have.  Such conversations are taking place, and are moving forward dynamically in the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina. His speech is powerful evidence of the meaning and consequences of long term organizing.  

So in North Carolina we're black We're white. We're Latino. We're Native American. We're Democrat[s]. We're Republican. We're Independent, We're people of all faith, people not of faith who believe in a moral universe We're natives. We're immigrants. We're business leaders and workers and unemployed.  We're doctors and the uninsured. We're gay. We're straight. We're students and we're parents and we're retirees. And we all stand together to lift up and defend the most sacred moral principles of our faith, our constitutional values, and who we are.  That's what a fusion coalition does. [Emphasis added -- FC]

Now I realize that there are some who disagree with what comes next. What comes right after the above appeal to unity.  And I respect that.  But I request that whatever disagreement you may hold, that you also respect those of us who see it differently.  Who see it more like Rev. Barber.  Who see that there are unnecessary divisions among us that are exploited by the religious and political Right.  We all have far more in common with one another than our differences over matters of faith. Let's try to find good ways forward rather than allowing the Right to pit us against one another.

Barber says that we can challenge the Religious right more effectively -- but "we don't do it by castigating religion."  

" ...we must challenge the position, and the hypocrisy, especially in the South, of the Religious Right.

And we don't do it by castigating religion.  When you want to challenge the religious right, you need to find a good conserv-- religious conservative like me.

Oh, I know that language messed y'all up.

There are a lot of political progressives who are also religious conservatives in their way. Happens all the time. But it is important to listen to Barber on the point.

But let me tell you why I am a religious conservative.  You see in the Bible I read -- I read this book I carry with me called the poverty and justice Bible and it has all the scriptures marked in it that deal with justice and uplift of the poor and helping women and children.

And in that Bible it's 2000 scriptures that are marked.

Now I have looked at the Religious Right's agenda about being against people who are homosexual, and being against -- being for prayer in the school and being against abortion, and I can find about five scriptures that may speak to those issues, and four of them they misinterpret.

And none of them ever trump this ethical demand: that you love your neighbor as yourself. [applause]

And that you do justice and you love mercy!

Because I want to know how you claim to be a conservative when conserve -- ative means "to hold onto the essence of." So how are you a conservative if you talk the least about what God talks about the most and the most about what God talks about the least?

But not only that... we must have a movement that brings together a diverse coalition that is rooted in hope and not fear.

We all tend to make words -- like conservative -- become boundaries; lines drawn in the sand; vast constellations of doctrines wrapped up in a word or a phrase over which we struggle. But life and politics, and indeed faith, for most of us are really not about such rigidities. Word are not ends but means to ends as we try to make sense of life and politics and certainly matters of faith.  We can do better in how we go forward together towards a more just society. And Rev. Barber calls on us to do just that.

We need the kind of language that's not left or right or conservative or liberal, but moral, fusion language that says look: it's extreme and immoral to suppress the right to vote. it's extreme and immoral to deny medicaid for millions of poor people especially people who have been elected to office and then get insurance because simply they've been elected.

It's extreme and immoral to raise taxes on the working poor by cutting earned income taxes and to raise taxes on the poor and middle class in order to cut taxes for the wealthy.

It's extreme and immoral to use power to cut off poor people's water in Detroit [applause and cheering]

That's immoral!  What we need to cut off is that kind of abusive power!

The whole speech is like this.  

...a new movement is happening right here in your face.

We said to them -- make no mistake.  This is no mere hyperventilation or partisan pouting. No, this is a fight for the future and the soul of our state, and it doesn't matter what you call us.  What matters is what we answer to.

But we also learned another power of moral fusion progressive movement in the 21st century.

And that is they can deride us. They can deflect from the issue. But they can't debate us.  They can't debate us when we make our case on moral and constitutional grounds. They call us whiners. Tillis called us -- who's running for the Senate -- he called us whiners and losers and leftists. And some of them called us Socialists.

But we say to them if we are leftists in fighting for justice and fairness and all people, then the Bible and Constitution are the Magna Carta of leftist documents.

Oh they're mad with us.

We need more of this kind of exhortation to unity and social and political transformation. Calls to seek to achieve the kind of society that is so worth striving for that we know deep in our bones that it is worth the struggle. And we get up and get started.  We also need more and better efforts at powerful forms of organizing. It is possible. And Rev. Barber's Moral Mondays movement is showing us how it is done.


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