Written by Anthony Moujaes
One of the United Church of Christ's nationally recognized justice leaders is teaming up with the founder of the "Moral Monday" movement and a prominent New York minister for a 15-state tour to promote moral values and challenge conservative voices.
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, acting executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, wants to help the Rev. William Barber and the Rev. James Forbes champion the sacred values of love, justice, and mercy in the public square at a time when they are needed most.
"Way too much of our national discourse has been poisoned by hateful language and policies," said Barber, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor who formed the Moral Monday movement that rallied thousands to weekly protests in 2013 at North Carolina's statehouse. "The extremists see nothing wrong with insulting the poor, the sick, our children, immigrants, communities of color, voting rights, women, LGBTQ people, the environment and religious minorities with their language and their policies. True faith and true evangelicalism place love, justice, and compassion at the center of our public life."
Aimed at strengthening local and state-based progressive religious and community infrastructures, Barber and Forbes, senior minister emeritus of New York's Riverside Church, will collaborate with social justice leaders at seminars around the country. The tour, called "The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values," kicks off April 3 at The Riverside Church and features training for interfaith clergy in "prophetic moral analysis, moral articulation, and moral activism" and revival services. The first worship service is April 4 in Raleigh, N.C., on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's sermon at Riverside Church in 1967 and his assassination in Memphis the following year.
Blackmon and Sister Simone Campbell, who in 2012 started the "Nuns on the Bus" tours across the country to protest budget cuts that affected the poor, will join Barber and Forbes in select locations. In addition to the events in New York and North Carolina, other stops on the tour include Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia through January 2017.
The tour will also include direct actions in state capitals on three Mondays in September, organizers said, along with events this summer in Cleveland and Philadelphia after the Republican and Democratic national conventions.
"In this pivotal election year, already been marked by divisive rhetoric that cultivates fear and distrust while leading us away from meaningful conversation about real solutions to the challenges that face us in the world, it is critical find ways to reshape the current public discourse," said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries office in Washington, D.C. "Too much is at stake to allow the core values of our faith — the call to work for the common good and hear the voices of the vulnerable — to be drowned out by simplistic rhetoric. It's time to reset our moral compass and seek ways forward that will build community and bridge divides."
"In working toward a spiritual and political renewal of the nation, our multi-state tour is focused on a revolution of moral values," Forbes said. "By morality, we mean governing for the good of the whole, not for the good of a destructive few."
The Moral Mondays' protests began in 2013 in North Carolina as objections to legislative issues around redistricting, labor laws, women's rights, LGBT equality and the environment. At the weekly gatherings, hundreds of people were willing to publicly protest and risk arrest, with scores of UCC members and ministers taking part.
"The Revival will help bring an end to oppressive governmental policies that threaten public education, impoverish millions, block access to health care, and erect new barriers to voting and political participation, threatening the fabric of American democracy," Barber said.
More about the tour is available on the UCC website.