A group of interfaith clergy in Maine comes together as one voice, speaking out in strong opposition to the tax reform bill that will go up for a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon. Members of Moral Movement Maine have marched on Sen. Susan Collins office, staged sit-ins that have twice resulted in arrests and released a video outlining their concerns on social media and to the press.
"We decided, why couldn't we read a statement by clergy, as a message of light in the time of darkness, during Advent, during Hanukah?"
That comment from the Rev. Tamara Torres McGovern, the director of Intergenerational Engagement at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, and the visionary behind the video statement of faith.
"We came together around a moral mandate, created a Facebook page, came up with a message and went to Sen. Susan Collins office a few weeks ago (Thursday, Dec. 7) to express our hope that she would vote against the proposed bill. Thirty clergy members marched to or occupied her office to deliver our statement of faith, written by Rev. James Gertmenian, a UCC minister. Nine of us refused to leave Collins office until she promised a 'no' vote and got arrested in the process."
Collins wasn't in Maine at the time, but spoke to the group by phone. Torres McGovern noted that the senator, considered one of the more moderate voices in the Republican Party, would be a key vote on the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which reforms the tax code, slashes the corporate tax rate to 21 percent, and reduces tax breaks for individuals and families.
"That means Maine can play a role in this important issue, as a state that all eyes have been on. It was clear that Collins and her staff didn't want to arrest this group, but we weren't going to leave without a 'no' vote. The faith leaders listened to what she said, but I don't think she heard what we said."
The video, released on Sunday, Dec. 17, leaves no question of their position. Christians, (UCC'ers, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics) Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Quakers and Unitarian Universalists, all spoke out against the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. (* Read full transcript below)
"The group of clergy involved in the video was a real mix," said Torres McGovern. "Those of us in the 40 and younger set, meshing with some who have retired, coming together with ideas – it was a really lovely mixing of traditional ways of organizing with some newer ways of getting the word out, particularly pushing the social media part."
A documentary filmmaker donated her time and talents, helping the faith leaders pull together an effective way of delivering their message.
"This bill is not a partisan issue; it is a moral issue," said the Rev. Cindy Maddox, senior pastor of the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ, South Portland, and one of six UCC'ers in the video. "I don't know that our efforts will result in defeat of the bill, but I do know that we are called to speak up, regardless of the outcome."
A majority of the people in this country echo the clergy's position. A CNN poll out Tuesday, Dec. 19, shows that the tax bill vote approaches, the opposition grows, with 55 percent now against the measure on a fast track to become law. After the House vote Tuesday afternoon, the Senate is expected to take it up later that evening or on Wednesday morning. The bill will likely be signed by President Trump before Christmas.
Pulled together quickly, with no resources, the video is being circulated on the Moral Movement Maine Facebook page and found on other social media sites. It was also distributed as a video release Sunday afternoon.
On Monday Dec. 18, more protests and prayers took place at Collins' office in Lewiston, Maine, resulting in five additional arrests after faith leaders refused to leave when staffers indicated Collins was going to vote yes on the tax bill.
"I am so grateful and proud to see our Maine Conference clergy leading in this inter-faith effort for justice," said the Rev. Deborah Blood, the Maine Conference UCC conference minister. "Our clergy are already leaders in the work of peace and justice, love and compassion throughout the State of Maine. With this witness, and recent actions of direct protest, our UCC commitments are made even more strongly manifest. We are seeing steadily increased involvement by our clergy and lay people in efforts to create a just, sustainable, spiritually grounded reality for all people. We are being Love Manifest here in Maine, as the UCC is across the U.S. and the world – spreading the vision - United in Christ's Love, a Just World for All!"
We are people of faith who, from the heart of our many traditions, embrace this common vision:
• A culture of compassion for those who are most vulnerable
• A culture of justice for those who have been held down or held back
• A culture of inclusion for those who have been pushed to the margins
• And a culture of reverence for the Earth which is our home
We acknowledge, with sorrow and repentance, that our nation is abandoning this vision through laws that favor the wealthy over the poor, that deny fairness to those without power, that exclude many from the political process, and that show contempt for the fragile Creation on which our survival depends.
Thus, we have gathered, from our various faith and spiritual traditions, to oppose, with all our strength, the tax bill currently before the US Congress. This bill grants massive tax cuts to the very wealthiest people and to powerful corporations while leaving behind the vast majority of Americans. Rather than affirming the American Dream, it punishes those who are courageously striving to rise up from poverty and build a future for their families. Nonpartisan estimates conclude that it will cause 13 million Americans to lose their health insurance; moreover it will increase taxes on millions of working-class families by the year 2021. We are alarmed that the child tax credit, even as amended, disproportionately benefits the wealthy while excluding many people of color and families of limited means. And by increasing the budget deficit by more than $1.5 trillion, the bill also sets the stage for unconscionable cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps, which are lifelines for low-income Americans, seniors and the middle class. We believe that this massive redistribution of wealth from the many to the few threatens our democracy, deprives our children of the bread of hope, and mocks the Divine who invests every human being with infinite worth. Our faiths call us to seek justice: a tax system that helps struggling families and ensures that everyone pays their fair share. And so, in the name of God, we call upon Congress to reject this immoral legislation. Along with millions of Americans, we pray that our elected officials will do the right thing for their constituents at this pivotal moment by defeating this harmful legislation. And we call on YOU, our fellow Americans, to join with us; to show up every day on the front line of democracy, to rise up for the people and the values we all hold dear.