United Church of Christ

Commentary: Shutting Down Did Not Shut Us Up

Just weeks ago we experienced a three-day government shutdown. The U.S. government ran out of money and, in the absence of an approved budget, effectively forfeited its ability to fund itself. A short-term funding measure turned the lights back on, but we are rapidly heading towards our next self-imposed funding deadline. At which point, another showdown looms. In the background of all these manufactured crises, major pieces of legislation are awaiting Congress’s attention. Disaster funding, money for community health centers, and the fates of thousands of young immigrants all hang in the balance. This political gamesmanship has (as it always has) the most deleterious effect on the most needful among us.

The reckless and callous actions of our national leadership serve as a reminder of the dangers that fester when leadership is disconnected from those they are charged to serve.

The prophet Isaiah warns in Isaiah 10:1-3 (CEB) -

“Doom to those who pronounce wicked decrees,
and keep writing harmful laws to deprive the needy of their rights
and to rob the poor among my people of justice;
to make widows their loot; to steal from orphans!
What will you do on the day of punishment when disaster comes from far away?
To whom will you flee for help; where will you stash your wealth?”

But if we are honest with ourselves, we know the shut down didn’t begin on January 20th.

The shut down began the moment we refused to see the painful impact of separating migrant families who have contributed to the success and stability of this country. It began when we threatened the security of 800,000 Dreamers, people who are a part of our families who are a part of America now. When I see the contributions of those who come in search of the dream I do not see undocumented immigrants. I see undocumented citizens.

The shut down began when we closed our minds to innovative ways to shelter more than half a million unhoused people in this nation. Our government shuts down when we spend millions of dollars on political campaigns and partisan platforms that never even mention the poor. We shut down when we fail to acknowledge the generational wealth of the few, borne on the enslaved labor of the many, in a nation where it is possible to work two full time minimum wage jobs and still not be able to afford shelter.

We shut down when pride infects our hearts and we no longer see “the other” as ourselves. What faces us now, as Dr. William Barber states, is not simply an issue of race, or gender, or class, or sexuality. What faces us now is a heart issue. A heart that has become so calloused that we no longer care for the other, even when the “other” is merely across the Senate aisle.

The shut down began when we abdicated our global authority by seeking to bully rather than lead and when consumerism became more important to us than care of creation.

The shut down began when greed became our guiding light.

Our government shut down long ago. But we who believe ...will not stop crying aloud.

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon is the Executive Minister for Justice and Local Ministries.

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