Written by Anthony Moujaes
Sandy Sorensen, front left, and Rev. Marvin Silver, front right, participate in the Moral March. Photos via NRCAT.
In the month of January when a new Congress convenes, a new president is sworn in and Cabinet members are confirmed, voices from the United Church of Christ are joining others devoted to justice to demonstrate their love of neighbor — regardless of race, religion or gender — attempting to build a just world for all.
Civil rights leaders and clergy are hosting an interfaith "Moral Monday March against Trump's cabinet of bigotry" in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Jan. 9, a day before the U.S. Senate begins hearings to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) as attorney general. The appointment deeply troubles Sandy Sorensen, as well as other faith leaders, because of Sessions' history of making racially-charged comments — which cost him a seat as a federal judge in 1986.
"As people of faith, we hear a clear call echoed throughout Scripture to work for the just and fair treatment of all people, especially the most vulnerable among us," said Sorensen, director of the UCC office in Washington, D.C. "The just and fair treatment of all people under the law is the responsibility that Sen. Sessions is being asked to carry out as Attorney General, and his record raises grave concerns about his ability to bear that responsibility."
"The United States Attorney General is often referred to as 'the Peoples Lawyer,' responsible for ensuring the fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans," Sorensen added. "It is a position with broad powers to impact civil and human rights in a number of significant areas." Sorensen and other local UCC clergy, including the Rev. Marvin Silver, minister of the Potomac Association UCC, and the Rev. Jean Alexander, retired UCC minister and member of First Church in Washington, are participating in the action on Monday.
The Moral March, the first of many justice-related actions this month, is taking place at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, organized by the Rev. William Barber, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister who founded the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina. During those rallies, tens of thousands of people gathered weekly at the state capitol to oppose the legislature's actions.
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, acting executive of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, has criss-crossed the nation with Barber and other religious leaders in a "moral revival" tour across 22 states that calls for principles of love, justice and mercy for all. The most recent stop, in the nation's capital on New Years Day, where Barber called for an agenda that is anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice and pro-labor.
"Because the 115th Congress has convened with a political agenda that does not have at its core the well-being of all of God's creation, and the proposed Cabinet appointments of the president-elect promise more of the same, those who are committed to peace and justice for all must remain diligent in our resolve to speak and act on behalf of the poor, the targeted, and the disenfranchised," Blackmon said.
Blackmon and Barber were among a dozen religious leaders who sent an open letter to Donald Trump, asking to meet with him before his inauguration on Jan. 20, expressing concern with some of his cabinet selections — Sessions in particular.
"We are calling on people of conscience to protest the nomination of Jeff Sessions because his record shows consistent support for ideological extremism, racist and classist policies, and the writing of discrimination into law," Barber said. "We call on Mr. Trump to withdraw Jeff Sessions' name from nomination. We call on Jeff Sessions to withdraw his own name, too. If neither do, Congress must refuse to confirm this nomination. A person who consistently promotes hateful, race-based ideology both in word and in deed cannot be given the power of the U.S. Attorney General's office."
This isn't the first instance in which the UCC has weighed in on notable and significant nominations for Cabinet positions — an action Sorensen said is done judiciously and with great discernment. The church spoke out against Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court at the 1991 General Synod in Norfolk, Va., and also against nomination of John Ashcroft (attorney general from 2001-2005) 15 years ago.
"This is not something done without serious consideration and reflection, but in instances when our core faith values and principles are so clearly and fundamentally at stake," said Sorensen. "This is particularly the case in the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of the United States."
Sorensen and Blackmon believe that Sessions' record in the last three decades calls into question his capacity as attorney general to administer justice in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, violence against women, hate crimes, immigration and the protection of religious expression for all. They also urge the Senate to take its role of examining presidential nominees seriously and probe Sessions' history.
"We participate in this Moral Monday witness to call for the U.S. Senate to practice due diligence and carry out its constitutional responsibility to carefully and thoughtfully review each nominee before it," Sorensen said. "The American people deserve nothing less."
Said Blackmon, "Our participation in this Moral March is not contingent upon political affiliation, but rather is rooted in what we believe to be at the heart of the Gospel: the care of the poor, the protection of the vulnerable, and the inclusion of all humankind. Unless and until these moral principles became the guiding force of the incoming administration, the United Church of Christ will continue to show up and stand for justice for all."