Should Religious Beliefs Shape Public Policy?
Since late April of this year, a group of civic minded citizens have shown up every Monday at the North Carolina general assembly. This inter-generational, multi-ethnic group gathers to protest a legislative agenda they see as harming children, women, the poor, the economy, and the environment.
They do so in the name of fairness, justice and God.
Started by Rev. William Barber II, a minister at the Disciples of Christ church and state president of the NAACP in North Carolina, Moral Monday protests harkens back to the civil rights era of the 1960s led by a famous reverend named Martin Luther King, Jr. Like Dr. King, Rev. Barber believes that peaceful non-violent protests, including arrests, are the way to social change.
Since their first protest, Moral Mondays have grown from a few hundred to several thousand, coming from all over the state to express their outrage with where their state is headed. The more than 700 arrested to date believe that the loss of liberty is sometimes the only way to be heard.
The movement sees a deep correlation between the founding documents of the state, the country and the basic principles of all major faiths. The philosophy finds its roots in the North Carolina state constitution’s focus on equal protection and public education as both a “constitutional and moral value,” as well as the US constitution’s promotion of the general welfare and common good of the people, including the establishment of justice.
Rev. Barber notes that “that every major faith says that love and justice should be at the center of public policy.”
But should religious beliefs be involved at all?
For the past several decades, the loudest voices using faith to justify – or condemn – public policy in the U.S. have been from the religious right. The message has been of oppression and denying help to the most vulnerable.
Whether it’s cutting unemployment benefits, aid to the hungry, or assaults on women’s health, their beliefs have taken a less than charitable path.
Religious progressives have been slowly trying to make their voices heard above those who have used the pulpit to promote hate and disharmony. The religious right in America has primarily identified as Christian, co-opting the religion to promote conservative policies. Those on the left of the political spectrum, aptly identifying as, well, the Christian Left, feel the priorities of these evangelical politicians have their priorities wrong.
And they have the Bible to prove it.
Like all progressives, the Christian Left feel that public policy should focus on “social justice, renunciation of power, humility, and forgiveness,” as mandated by the gospel. While the Christian Right supports conservative efforts to end programs like social security and the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), the Christian Left focuses on Jesus’ desire to take care of the poor and healing the sick, making it more Christian-like to support economic and health policies that would do just that.
Even with highly contentious subjects such as abortion (Genesis 2:7, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and it was then that the man became a living being”) and homosexuality (didn’t concern Jesus, apparently), progressive Christians meet their counterparts verse to verse with messages of love and inclusion to counter those of oppression and disunion.
Moral Mondays is a multi-faith movement seeking to push back against conservative policies that have hurt the most vulnerable. Rev. Barber feels that North Carolina is the perfect testing ground for this kind of uprising. He says if conservatives “believe they can get away with this in a progressive, southern state, then it pours water on the aspirations of the rest of the southern states.”
Not to mention, the entire nation.
Supporters of the movement are quick to point out that this is not a political movement, but one of social justice that is motivated by a moral obligation to “protect the poor, respect the stranger, care for widows and children and love our neighbors.”
It’s just coincidental that their beliefs make good policy.