As I start to write today’s post, the country is hours away from defaulting on the nation’s debt. There is talk of a deal to end the shutdown and prevent the default, but it’s still not certain that this will take place. It is rather unbelievable that our elected leaders could act so irresponsibly.
Yesterday religious leaders, including an NCC colleague, stood in front of the Capitol to remind lawmakers that reopening the government is “a moral imperative.” Sometimes as a society, we don’t think about budgets and other economic issues in terms of morality. But in reality, it does come down to this. As the NCC press release stated, what the shutdown means is “seniors seeing ‘Meals on Wheels’ cut, pregnant women and infants losing vital nutrition support, workers locked out of their jobs as bills pile up, veterans facing benefit cuts, and communities put in peril by the suspension of crucial environmental protection efforts.” The theological foundation for this view is, as my colleague reiterated today, “God’s concern for justice and protecting the poor and vulnerable people.”
This story gives a hint at what motivates me in my work. Religious communities have a responsibility to bring a moral voice to the choices we make as a society, so as to (hopefully) influence society to take the higher road. Whether the choice has to do with budget priorities, the decision to go to war, how to handle prisoners in the “war on terror,” or zoning issues for houses of worship, there is a moral aspect to the choices we make. If I can be a conveyor of this message, then I have done a good day’s work.
For example, the US is of course right to be tough on terrorism. But despite the fact that most of the terrorist acts we see today seem to come out of the extremist faction of the Muslim community, our country has been pretty good at not equating terrorism with Islam. Still, there are moments when Islamophobia gets the better of some of us. The Gainesville Qur’an burning episode; the anti-Muslim subway ad campaign; the opposition to the mosque near Ground Zero: these and others are examples of Islamophobia for which, whether in partnership with interfaith coalitions (e.g., Shoulder-to-Shoulder) or on our own, I have had the responsibility to present the NCC position. The message? To rightfully be tough on terror does not allow us to wrongfully compromise the right to religious freedom.
Likewise, to be tough on terrorism does not allow us to sanction torture or deny the civil rights of prisoners. On these issues, I was a founding board member, on behalf of the NCC, of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and I helped draft our position on Guantanamo and the USA Patriot Act. All of this work is based on theological and moral principles held by the Christian and other religious communities, and to state this with clarity on behalf of US churches has been a privilege.
And yet it is another theological reason that makes this work most gratifying. I mentioned in an earlier post that the NCC exists, as an ecumenical organization, primarily to foster Christian unity. It is a fact that the Christian community is divided; the many churches that exist testify to this fact. This means that the Christian message is ultimately divided. We may share common convictions, but a fractured community means a fractured proclamation of those convictions. Therefore, to be able to work each and every day to bring about, in even the smallest way possible, a measure of unity so that the message to the “outside world” is stronger and clearer, is what motivates me to get to work in the morning.
Tomorrow, we will look at connections with the academic community. (By the way, as I finish this post, it looks like the government shutdown is over and the default will be avoided.)