It's fitting that justice is the theme for the annual gathering of the Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ, since hundreds in that faith community can be counted in the crowds of North Carolina citizens who rally weekly on ‘Moral Mondays' to express disapproval with the direction of the state legislature. The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of UCC Justice and Witness ministries, will carry a message of strength and hope to the group in Elon, N.C., assembling for the meeting June 20-21.
"We are committed to supporting the courageous witness of our brothers and sisters in North Carolina as they offer a bold, public voice in the midst of this grave injustice," Jaramillo said. "It is a privilege to be in solidarity with them in spirit every Monday. I am humbled and blessed to be able to be among this cloud of witnesses in person at the Southern Conference Annual Gathering."
The bold, public voice from UCC members and ministers in North Carolina is heard loudly on "Moral Mondays," organized acts of civil disobedience in Raleigh in response to numerous proposed policies on a range of issues from the state legislature. UCC folks have traveled from churches around the state to rally with other people of faith since Moral Mondays began on April 29, and have been willing to be arrested in a public display of solidarity in speaking out for change.
That willingness is a voice from the public that "it is time to be heard [by the state government]," Jaramillo said, while also lifted the voice of the UCC General Synod and a 2005 resolution that "encourages education, public witness and public policy advocacy to raise awareness and change policies that do not support mutual responsibility for the common good."
Rick Edens, who is president of the Eastern North Carolina Association, said that in considering the theme for the conference gathering, they wanted speakers to reflect on and connect justice to the Moral Monday protests. Jaramillo is joined at the gathering by speakers the Rev. William Barber and Gene Nichol.
The Rev. William Barber, a Disciples of Christ minister and director of the state's NAACP chapter, has been the organizer behind Moral Mondays, according to several UCC members and pastors in the Raleigh and Chapel Hill area. Nichol is a former dean of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.
"The whole thrust is around justice activity," Edens said. "Barber has been a powerful voice in why this is a moral calling, and the NAACP has done an excellent job preparing people, explaining the process from what to do and what to expect."
"William Barber is well-known to us and we're aware of his work for a number of years," said the Rev. Jill Edens, pastor at United Church of Chapel Hill, and one of the 84 Moral Monday protestors arrested on June 17.
Moral Mondays are likely to continue for as long as the legislature is in session, so the conference will also consider a proposal at the meeting brought by 15 local congregations calling for its members to "individually and collectively advocate for justice," and to "bear witness to the justice of God by forwarding this resolution to elected and governing officials of North Carolina and Virginia."
Read the full text of the resolution on the Southern Conference online, and stay up to date of the conference's actions at Moral Mondays on the UCC-SOC Facebook Page.