The leader spoke these words: “We have heard the prophet’s call to repair the breach, and we know our Constitution’s goal of a more perfect union.”
We replied in unison: “We reach back to our sacred texts that affirm life, love, and justice. This is what the Lord says: ‘Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong to the foreigner, the fatherless, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood.’”
It was Monday, September 12, and I stood on the steps to the statehouse in Frankfort, Kentucky, with another sixty or seventy religious leaders. Among us were Catholic priests, Anglican priests, rabbis, imams, and ministers from Protestant and Unitarian Universalist denominations. It was Kentucky’s first Moral Monday, and it made a difference by allowing all of us present to feel the deep connection between and among religious traditions that believe justice must become a dream made real.
One after another, religious leaders stepped up to the microphone and led us through a litany, a “Moral Declaration Litany,” that included proclamations from texts held sacred by the traditions, the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, the Christian New Testament, the Qu’ran, and the Bhagavad Gita. And from the U.S. Constitution, a secular document held sacred by many citizens.
Leader: We believe this to be true: All people have inherent rights, and no one can take them away.
People: We have the right to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness.
Leader: We believe that the power of our government derives from us, the people.
People: For the purpose of providing for the general welfare and protecting our human rights.
Leader: We believe in the values of democracy we were taught, so we cannot accept our democracy’s feeble state.
People: We cannot accept voter suppression and intimidation that target people of color and the poor.
Leader: We cannot accept demagoguery and fear-mongering that demonize and divide.
People: We cannot accept that 45 million are poor in the richest country in history, or that 1 in 5 children are food insecure.
The litany continued, addressing other moral shortcomings in our country, including
- the suppression of workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively;
- wages inadequate for purchasing the necessities of life;
- segregation and inequality in our public schools;
- the lack of health insurance for 29 million Americans;
- inaction in the face of climate change;
- the fact that our country holds 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners;
- attacks on immigrants, religious minorities, people of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered folks, the disabled, and the poor;
- and endless wars that spend lives and resources to destroy lives and resources.
After the litany was read, ten speakers read aloud an address to candidates for President, the Senate and Governors, a ten-page Higher Ground Moral Declaration, quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the prophets Isaiah, the Qu’ran, and the Gospel of Luke, declaring that silence is betrayal and a revival of moral principles is necessary. We confessed that we are called upon to stand up for justice and to tell the truth.
For each of the ten issues we see as moral imperatives, a speaker cited a religious text and the words of the U.S. Constitution appropriate to the topic, then detailed the specific policies and practices we see as contrary to the spirit and intent of those texts. At the close of each statement, a declaration was made: “We believe that this is a moral issue. Do you? If not, please explain why.”
What did we accomplish in our hour standing in the 93 degree heat? We understand now that we are not alone, each church a silo, each voice a cry in the wilderness, but that we are brothers and sisters united by a moral calling and a fierce desire to see that moral vision become a reality. We understand in a personal and experiential way that Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and UU can work together to support a cause larger than our own denomination’s survival and health. And we understand better the presence of the Spirit that unites us.
What could have we done better? Publicize, publicize, publicize. We needed a bigger audience for our message and to ensure that the media covered the event. Outside of the Frankfort newspaper, I saw very little coverage.
But, Kentucky religious leaders will meet again on 4 October 2016 in Louisville at 6:30 pm to continue promoting “The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values.” Events are also scheduled for Indianapolis IN, Richmond VA, Charleston SC, Ferguson MO, Milwaukee WI, and Minneapolis MN. You can expect that I will keep you updated. I pray that we will all find a way to be engaged in these perilous times.
See you in church,