Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon A Knock at Midnight:
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will.
April 21-24, I attended for the first time the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington D.C.; I came back energized and encouraged by the gathering of so many Christians who are committed to advocating for social justice:
“Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community, and its recognized partners and allies, grounded in biblical witness and our shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Our goal, through worship, theological reflection and opportunities for learning and witness, is to strengthen our Christian voice and to mobilize for advocacy on a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues.”
This year, the main topic of the conference was the federal budget and the consequences the current allocation of money will have on many social and educational programs. The message that was brought to congressmen and women at the end of the conference was clear:
“As people of faith, we call on Congress to make budget decisions that advance the common good. Rather than increasing Pentagon spending, we urge Congress to preserve robust funding for programs that help provide support to people living in poverty and other vulnerable persons in America and abroad, address systemic racism, and exercise responsible care for the earth.”
The idea that the federal budget is a “moral document” is being discussed in many circles these days and this year more than ever it seems. But what does it mean, really, to call a federal budget a moral document? Whose morality is it supposed to reflect? The American people as a whole? Congress? The President? Me?
As much as I agree that cutting programs and funding that support the most vulnerable in our society is unjust and somewhat immoral, I am struggling with naming a federal budget a moral document; I find it tricky.
I have always used the word “moral” with caution. In my experience, anyone who describes his/her (or someone else’s) choices, decisions, and actions as moral, seems to create a clear “right & wrong,” “us vs. them” perspective and inevitably situate himself/herself on the side of what is right. There is little room for the in-between, the gray and blurry zone where we are not too sure of what is really right and what is really wrong. And in politics, honestly, everyone claims to make moral choices and decisions! Who doesn’t?
Tamika Mallory, the first keynote speaker at the conference, reminded us that one can only make a “moral” choice by looking at the issue and what is at stake through the lens of the most vulnerable among us. This means we need to first recognize our privileges and then listen to the most vulnerable without explaining away their realities, their lives.
So, the question for me is: when was the last time I truly listen to the most vulnerable? The person who depends on solidarity and community to make it? The individual who needs our support? And what are the spaces that the Christian community can open in order to listen, simply listen?
“Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak…” (James 1:19)