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Clergy arrested during Moral Monday protests

Clergy arrested during Moral Monday protests

Just before the second of twelve Moral Monday protests, Fr. Randall Keeney of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, called Bishop Michael Curry and announced his plans of civil disobedience, with a good chance of police arresting him.  Keeney explained why he chose to protest in Moral Monday and allow police to arrest him in the video below.

Various clergy and laity protested the North Carolina legislature, in Raleigh, concerning the social injustice passed in various legislations.

On July 29, the movement marked its 13th week with a march to the state capitol and an interfaith social-justice rally.

The NAACP of North Carolina launched the Moral Monday rallies earlier this year and the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and United Church of Christ minister, led them.  Soon believers and non-believers joined the protests, which Curry called “revival-like”.  The number of protesters was said to reach over 2000 people on July 19, including Episcopalians, Rev. Lisa Fischbeck of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate told the Episcopal News Service (ENS).  Fischbeck said there were at least a 1000 people every time she attended.

“We are in the middle of a movement that is only just beginning, and it’s a church movement,” said Curry.  The interfaith protests, which draw believers and nonbelievers alike, are “revival-like,” Curry said. “There’s singing and there’s praying and there’s preaching, and Jesus gets talked about a lot. … The Hebrew prophets are quoted regularly.”

Concerning the number of people, Fischbeck stated, “You begin to realize that numbers do make a difference.  As numbers increase, that makes a statement. That’s been part of my motivation, is just to go and take a stand, because I don’t know what else I can do at this point.”

People started protesting because they believed the series of laws passed hurt the most needy and vulnerable within the state.  Curry told ENS, “There was a legislative agenda that was being enacted in the General Assembly that was disproportionately impacting the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable, and potentially disenfranchising even some voters.  So what could have been seen as simply politics as usual became much more a matter of public morality.”  He stated that North Carolina’s legislature refuses to expand Medicaid and cut unemployment, as well as cut the number of teacher’s aides in classrooms.

Curry continues:

From Jesus’ teachings, he said, “It is abundantly clear that a Christian moral witness must always focus on how to help and support the vulnerable, the weak and the poor. It’s the classic biblical language of the widows and the orphans, and the action of our legislature was going to harm the widows and orphans.

“It was going to harm them by taking public money away from the public schools and redirecting some of that money to vouchers … It was going to harm them by ending the Racial Justice Act, which allowed decisions that could lead to capital punishment for people to be revisited for racial bias. … They’ve now done this by disenfranchising many voters by one of the most stringent voter ID laws in the country.”

“This is cruel. This is inhumane,” Curry said. “This is not a liberal thing or even a conservative thing. This is a human thing. The state of North Carolina is harming and hurting its citizens by law, and that’s wrong, and the church cannot sit idly by, and people of good will and decency cannot sit by and be silent. And that is the root of Moral Monday.”

“What’s even more problematic,” he said, “aside from the specifics of the legislation, the people who have been leading these legislative changes have for the most part refused to even be in conversation about them. … There’s been no room for debate or thoughtful discussion, which is key to an effective democracy.”

On June 8, 2013, Curry, as well as other religious leaders, signed a letter supporting the movement.  This letter began with ““As you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." — Matthew 25:4.”

An excerpt from the letter, which explains why they protest recent bills that removed 500, 000 people from Medicaid, 170,000 people from unemployment, and other bills, which they allege affect the poor adversely:

“The Rev. Dr. Rodney Sadler of Union Seminary (Charlotte) recently summarized the effect of pending and enacted legislation especially on the poor, the aging and children.

"As you read this letter, the North Carolina General Assembly is passing bills that will remove 500,000 people from the Medicaid roles leaving them without health insurance; that will remove 170,000 people from unemployment when unemployment rates remain at historically high levels; that threaten to replace the graduated state income tax with a consumption tax that will adversely impact the poorest North Carolinians who will face increased prices on basic goods; that will force college students to return to their often distant homes to vote or cost their parents their $2,500 dependency deduction…. These and many other bills will adversely impact those who can least afford it and therefore demand a fervent response from people of faith! "

“Our concern about the legislative actions cited by Rev. Dr. Sadler is not an act of political partisanship. Rather it is a matter of faith with respect to our understanding of the biblical teachings and imperatives to protect the poor, respect the stranger, care for widows and children and love our neighbors (Isaiah 10:1-2, Hebrews 13:2, James 1:27, Matthew 22:39, Galatians 5:14). We recognize and respect other Christian brothers and sisters who may seek to apply these biblical teachings in different ways and through different means.

Earlier in July, clergy gathered with lay people, at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, to discuss the protests and informed them, “there will be arrests”, but they hoped to change recent legislation and help reduce “the burden on lower- and middle-class people”, according to Rev. Lawrence Womack, of St. Anne’s.  He added that the conversations were a “mixed bag” of starting well and then taking a few steps back.

“It’s definitely going to be very important to stay vigilant and to continue to work on keeping the pressure up in terms of the public piece, but also to really push to have these conversations and to build some relationships,” he said.

Womack stated that 500 people were arrested during the Moral Monday protests.

“People who are going to be arrested have to go through an information session ahead of time,” said Fischbeck. Each week, protesters gather at a mall adjacent to the legislative building for a rally from 5-6 p.m. focused on a particular theme, such as women or voting rights, she explained. Then those who volunteered to be arrested enter the building and are arrested after they refuse to leave.

People would enter, pray, share stories on how the legislation affected them, and sing, before the police came in and arrested them.  The police would give all of them a ten minute warning to leave the premises or be arrested for trespassing, disobeying an officer, and carrying signs into the building.  After refusing to leave, police handcuffed them, took them to the basement of the state house for processing, and then bus them to the county corrections center.

Womack, one of the ministers arrested, stated that there were so many protestors arrested that the police could not fit them all in one cell, so they placed the protestors in the general room, where, according to him, they had “some really wonderful theological discussions about what this would mean.”  Various ministers stated how they would preach on the event and what it meant the following Sunday and, according to Womack, his congregation and others have supported him during the protests, adding that his congregation “have been on the very cutting from its founding with issues of social justice and activism.”

“The leadership to a person and the vast majority of the congregation were very supportive of my actions,” he said. “It was a sort of outward and visible sign of what we claim as being members of our particular church.”

During rallies, people have approached Womack and thanked him for participating, saying, “We need clergy to be here.”

Fischbeck agreed with Womack, stated that when they asked the group, if they were not of any faith, if they were protesting because it was the right thing to do, and received cheers from at least 80% of the group.

“One could argue that this is an evangelical moment,” she said. “The church is showing Christianity is not about all the negative things that the media sometimes portrays, but that Christianity also cares for the poor and is in the public square.”

Whether protestors end up coming to church or not, it’s important for them to see the church’s witness, she said. “Here is something very positive that is being done in the name of Jesus, in the name of God, in the name of faith.”

Deacon Jane Holmes stated that she believed the protests are the right thing to do, “because I’m a 72-year-old woman, and there are younger people who have children at home.  They can’t get arrested, but I can.  So I did.”  Curry commented, ‘Now that’s a profile in courage.”  Following Holmes arrest, the Charlotte Observer reported that she lost her privileges to serve as jail chaplain, which Curry called “ridiculous”.

Holmes told the Charlotte Observer that she felt the removal of privileges was a “slap in the face” and that she loves doing what she does.

Asked why Holmes is barred as a jail chaplain, a spokesperson for Sheriff Chipp Bailey said in a statement: “The sheriff absolutely supports a person’s right to peacefully protest their convictions. However, he will not allow a person who is an employee or volunteer representing the sheriff or his office to willfully disobey a legal directive given by a law enforcement officer and get arrested.

“It is disrespectful to the badge and authority of law enforcement officers across the state. He and citizens hold Sheriff’s Office employees to a higher standard and expect all to obey the law.”

Said Holmes: “What I did had absolutely nothing to do with the Mecklenburg County jail.”

Six years ago, she and her husband moved to North Carolina because they heard the state was progressive and stood up for “love, justice, freedom, and equality for all God’s children.”

She no longer feels so sure about that.

“The more I thought about it, I thought this governor is trying to push North Carolina back into the ’60s and that’s not right,” Holmes said. “As Christians, we are supposed to be supporting one another. We’re supposed to be protecting the poor, also respecting the stranger … and loving our neighbors.”

According to ENS, police did their jobs and were respectful to protestors.  Some even whispered into some protestors’ ears and thanked them for what they did, but some exchanges were negative.

“The legislature has clearly taken notice, and usually the Democratic legislators are out there,” Fischbeck said. But one Republican legislator dubbed the rallies “Moron Mondays,” she said, and “the governor has gotten a lot of grief for saying it was clearly outside agitators. That made a lot of people carry signs saying things like, ‘I’m a sixth-generation North Carolina schoolteacher.’”

Said Curry, “This is a movement, it really is. It’s not just a fad.”

The gatherings have gained momentum, and the crowds are multiracial, multiethnic, interreligious and intergenerational, he said. “I haven’t seen anything quite like this.”

“The people who are coming out for Moral Monday are not really coming out for their own self-interest,” he added. “By and large, these are pretty much middle-class people, professionals who would get a deal from the tax breaks. They’re not personally themselves, for the most part, losing unemployment benefits or eligible for Medicaid. … They’re standing and speaking for those who don’t have lobbyists in this legislature and who don’t have another voice to speak for them, and that’s a religious and faith witness at its best. Because we’re not protecting our turf; we’re protecting common ground for us all.”

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori commented about the protests during a sermon on July 21 at St. James Episcopal Church in Roanoke, Virginia.

“God gives us abundance, but we’re only going to know the sweetness of that basket of fruit if it’s shared,” she said. “Anybody who tries to hoard it might be able to enjoy one piece, but not the whole pile. That person is going to spend his energy protecting what he has from somebody who might come and ask for a piece.

“Our neighbors in North Carolina are wrestling with that reality right now. The legislature is passing bill after bill trying to turn back the clock on the fruit of several decades of justice-making that had helped to create a more enlightened society – education for as many as possible, just working conditions, care for those who can’t care for themselves. At the moment the folks in the statehouse are undoing piece after piece of that just community. The fruit is being squashed and thrown in the rubbish bin, in a fit of pique. The most surprising element is that most of the legislature is unwilling to engage in dialogue.

“Some of our fellow Episcopalians, together with other people of faith, are doing something about that famine of hearing the word of the Lord. They’re going up to the statehouse on Mondays to preach about God’s basket of summer fruit and the justice of the Lord. Some people are hearing that the word of the Lord is about justice, not hoarding.”

According to the News Observer, some of the legislation passed faces legal challenges, because it violates the Constitution and Federal regulations.  The author of the article stated, “The General Assembly session that ended last week saw Republicans trample the Constitution and federal regulations like, well, a herd of elephants.”

Fischbeck believes the movement will move forward with voter registrations and Curry stated that they would stay involved, but does not know which direction the movement will go next.

“I am committed to being a part of any effort that will seek a better North Carolina, where all children have access to good, quality education, where the poor are cared for, where all have equal access to the right and privilege to vote, where our laws are humane and decent and serve the common good,” he said. “The common good must become our rallying cry again, and not just individual self-interest.”

“This is just the beginning, and I’m committed to that, and I think a whole lot of other people are, too,” he concluded. “And we’re going to join hands ecumenically, interfaith, Democrats and Republicans and Independents and anybody who wants to seek the common good for real. We’re going to work together.”

About Mriana

Mriana is a humanist and the author of "A Source of Misery", who grew up in the Church of God, Anderson Indiana. After she became an adult, she joined the Episcopal Church, but later left the Church and became a humanist. She has two grown sons and raises cats. Mriana raised her sons in the Episcopal Church, but in their teen years, they left the Church and she soon followed. One of her sons became a "Tao Buddhist" and the other a None, creating his own world view. She enjoys writing, reading, science, philosophy, psychology, and other subjects. Mriana is also an animal lover, who cares for their welfare as living beings, who are part of the earth. She is a huge Star Trek fan in a little body.
  • Deborah_B

    Whether it's the Nuns on the Bus or the Episcopal Church, the Christian left and its work for social justice is doing more to promote the positive aspects of Christianity than most of the talking heads of the religious right. Good for them in their efforts to unite, rather than divide and hate on others.

    • I agree. I find what the religious left is doing very inspiring and gives me hope about the human race, esp in light of the disparaging Religious Reich. I think, if we are to win this fight for civil rights, equality, and women's rights, it will lie in the hands of the Religious left standing up against the Religious Reich. Non-religious liberals cannot expect to win these battles without the help of the religious liberals. We need them, despite what some atheists may say.

    • extral

      …and, i also agree, it shouldn't be about what we accept to believe but that we all embrace the common ideal of a better future for all

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