I was not raised a Christian and most likely will not identify as such in my life. I do, however, have a deep appreciation for the monotheisms and the key prophets and voices from each, particularly as they discuss social justice issues. Karen Armstrong’s work on the monotheisms in general and Christianity in particular, along with the work of Bishop John Shelby Spong and some of the writings of Jim Wallis have helped me understand more clearly the deeply rooted social justice nature of Jesus’s teachings and Christianity as a whole. As I listen to and read reports about the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina, I am again moved by the power of Christianity as a transformative force toward social justice. And while there has developed a fairly wide range of issues being protested each Monday since March, the general theme (what Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP and primary organizer of Moral Mondays, calls “a new Southern Strategy”) expressed by these multi-racial, multi-class, multi-denominational protestors seems to be a call for a state government that cares for its most vulnerable citizens and that safeguards the rights of those most marginalized.
The interfaith character of these protests suggests that across all denominations there is a shared message of ending poverty and helping those who are in need. To me this is incredibly heartening. Since the late 1970s the gap between the “have’s” and the “have not’s” has increased to absurd proportions and if history is any guide, this trend is a sure-fire recipe for internal collapse. A society cannot stay cohesive and healthy when so few control so much at the expense of so many. I was in Rome five years ago and while talking to an archaeologist who also worked as a tour guide (she said archeologists are a dime a dozen in Rome and so they all had to have one to two other jobs) I asked her why Rome fell. I had learned in school it was the “barbarians” nibbling at the Roman borders combined with internal political and religious strife that caused the fall of the Roman empire. She shook her head and said, “No, Rome fell because the gap between those who had and those who didn’t became too large and the needs of the many were eclipsed by the myopic avarice of the few. And, when the largest component of society is so weakened, and the smallest component is so bloated and out of touch, any society (indeed every society) will fall by its own hand.” Mind you she did not say money or wealth was bad, she was saying that blinding hubris combined with absurd excess leads to an imbalanced society that has no choice but to self-destruct.
And so the Moral Mondays, to me, are more than just North Carolinians protesting a handful of policies, they are more than just some people of faith speaking out against a perceived injustice, to me they are a calling of conscious that has been heard again and again in this and other countries when the basic needs of people are not being met, and more specifically when the needs of the many are eclipsed by the needs of the elite few. Again, I’m not a Christian (nor a North Carolinian for that matter), but I can completely get behind a movement that is rooted in deep principles of faith and willing to lay it all on the line to end class oppression and racial oppression in North Carolina (and in our society as whole). And as I have said, while a bevy of other groups have joined in and tagged on to the overall agenda, it has not escaped anyone that a very large number of North Carolinian people of faith have come together to say enough.
This country has a long history of class and race oppression. When the British began colonizing this portion of North America they brought with them two essential frameworks for their possession and use of power against “others”; the first was Christian hegemony whereby if you were not Christian you were not seen as “civilized” or truly “human”; the second was a long-standing class hierarchy so entrenched that it was simply understood that one was born, lived in, and died in their divinely ordered class. There was no “boostraps” myth and no Horatio Alger stories flooding the popular imagination yet. Instead, class was intractable, essentialized in the body, and meant to express one’s humanity and value in the world. Once the British realized these two frameworks of power were insufficient to control the various peoples in the North American colonies, they had to create another framework to buttress their colonial power: race. The creation of race, to first separate those who would oppose the British and later to explain away the contradiction of the birth of a democracy and the institutions of genocide and slavery, was and still is a powerful dividing line in US society. The result of this weaving together of race, class and Christian hegemony was the propping up of the power of white, Christian, land-holding men. And, whenever this was threatened one of the most convenient strategies was to pit poor and working class white men against poor and working class people of color (by the dominant power structure “playing its race card”) thereby using racial allegiance as a way to stamp out white working class frustration about their economic conditions. And whenever an alliance between poor and working class people of all races was able to overcome this pitting of people against each other, Christian hegemony was used to divide the “humans” from the “savages” and once again establish the power in the hands of the white, land-holding, Christian men.
Reverend Barber knows this history well, I’m sure, and so his and other religions leaders’ intention to not allow these age-old wedges to be driven into this movement is very powerful. Proactively reaching across lines of race and class and denomination is an extremely wise approach and will hopefully lead to a North Carolina that is not only committed to economic and racial justice, but whose Christianity is one that cares for the poor and vulnerable and opposes countless cuts to state government that hurt the poor and benefit the wealthy. I am in support of the separation of church and state and so would not want a Christian doctrine as the moral compass for this society. But, values of love, compassion, humility, wisdom, and caring for the most vulnerable and marginalized through the lens of equality and equity instead of charity and paternalism (sic) is a society I would be proud to claim and be an active citizen in. If a loving, humble, reflective and socially just Christianity is the lens through which some of my fellow citizens work to bring about such a society, wonderful.
In no small way it would literally be a miracle if the movement created by Moral Mondays could reclaim the loving, just and progressive territory Christianity can rightfully claim. As a non-Christian looking from the outside in it has always been difficult for me to understand how a religion rooted in love could have such a long list of people, groups, and ways of being in the world it hated. The Buddha rightly said 2500 years ago that hatred can never be stopped by hatred; it is only with love that hatred can cease. It seems to me that Christianity is rife with opportunities for this love to be expressed and I truly welcome the voices of the many people of faith in North Carolina and may the echo of their commitment for social justice carry across this entire country.