“Poverty Amid Pandemic: The Moral Response to Covid 19”

Progressive Christian Social Action

Poverty Amid Pandemic: The Moral Response to Covid 19

The Rev. Dr. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign

This post is the transcript of The Moral Response to Covid 19, an address given by The Rev. Dr. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign on April 9, 2020.  His address begins about 8 minute into this video, but the whole video is well worth watching.

“We’re in a moment where hope for our many holy traditions will return to where they began in the first place. I know of Christianity and Islam and Judaism, that these holy traditions began in the midst of oppression. They began in the midst of times when there were bad, narcissistic leaders sitting on the throne who were implementing all kinds of unholy acts against humanity/ These holy traditions were called into being, I believe, by God, to give us moments to remind us of who we are and whose we are and what responsibility we have because of that.

“This is not just about personal sanctification–that’s why we do these things in community—every one of the traditions, whether it’s the season of Ramadan or Christianity or Judaism–we do these things in community, and they help save us from idolatry, save us from participating in humankind’s inhumanity towards one another, they call us to another place.

“In these White House briefings, we are seeing not just misinformation but public idolatry and political self-worship in the midst of holy seasons. But perhaps these holy seasons prevent us from being bewitched, if you will, and remind us that there is a power greater than the powers that we see on TV, and that power calls us to be about love and justice rather than truth, lies, and injustice.

“[This is true of all of these traditions]: whether it’s Passover, which remind us of those poor Hebrew people who were under oppression and slavery, or whether it’s Ramadan, when through fasting we put ourselves in the position of those who don’t have and don’t eat, or whether it’s the holy season of Easter that reminds us that Jesus during Holy Week was very clear, that when he went into the Temple, he overturned the politics of greed. He healed everybody, gave them universal health care.  He was challenging the hypocracy of claiming to be religious on the one hand but engaged in policy injustice on the other. And in his almost last sermon he talked about how every nation, not just every individual but every nation, is going to be judged and it’s going to be by how you treat the least of these.

“And even in the crucifixion, he wasn’t just crucified for personal salvation, but he was crucified as a revolutionary. He was crucified for loving,  crucified for telling the truth, crucified for caring for the prisoner, crucified for not bowing down to narcissism, But that crucifixion also brought other people alive and pointed to a resurrection, which promises us that even if we have to suffer for right, ultimately that suffering is worth it, so that even in the midst of it, we may be sanctified by the call to revolution.

“War and economic turndown, we still chose not to see, and we chose not to hear the cries of the poor.  But maybe in this moment, when all our lives are at stake to some degree, when one touch can infect a president or a prince or a pauper, a sanitation worker or a  secretary of state–it really doesn’t matter. Maybe in this moment we can hear, maybe in this moment we can see.

“And if everybody can’t see and hear. maybe those of us who have sometimes committed the sin of taking our faith inside our temples or inside our mosques or inside our congregations alone will be in halls of Congress again.

“And we will decide because we are people sanctified by the holy traditions and the Holy God, we will raise holy ruckus until the poor and the least of these are cared for. Maybe this season we will see it is time to repent of any apathy we’ve had. Maybe it’s time to realize that there are things we must fight for–we can never settle for less.”

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The Wood is Dry

Progressive Christian Social Action

The Wood is Dry

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children…  For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:31

This morning the tears finally came. Friends, the wood is dry.  People are getting sick and dying from the pandemic, which is just getting started. In some places, like New York, the hospitals are beginning to get overrun.  Healthcare workers are overwhelmed and risking exposure every day, often without enough supplies, respirators, or protective equipment. Schools and businesses are closing, and people are being laid off faster than during the Great Depression. We are beginning to see shortages of food. Racial violence and domestic violence are increasing. Economic insecurity, anxiety, fear, and tensions are on the rise.

Yesterday, a two-trillion-dollar stimulus bill was signed into law. It will take some of the economic pressure off at least some of the people but will provide many times more money to bail out the industries that keep the current economic system going. This system is called a free-market economy, but everyone knows that the government always (so far) can find enough money to wage war or to bail out the banks or to subsidize favorite industries that “pay to play” in order to elect and lobby the very leaders who make the decisions about policies that end up siphoning even more of society’s wealth up to the top. This is an example of the Shock Doctrine at its worst—taking advantage of a crisis to install policies that transfer wealth to the already wealthy. While the bill offers money for medical necessities in for dealing with Covid 19, loans to small businesses, and grants and expanded unemployment insurance to people are suffering, it also offers much more in bailouts for big corporations. The Trump Administration’s Treasury Department will be able to leverage the $500 billion dollars many times over, to the tune of $4.5 trillion or more, far more than the amount given to the people in this hour of extreme need. It has even been called a “corporate coup.” (See article below)

I not only grieve for what our people are facing now. I am also furious that our lawmakers don’t take this opportunity to create a system that is not based on the God of money, a system with the purpose of caring for people and protecting our earth.

This grief and fury must have been what Jesus felt at times, when he challenged the religious and political leaders who supported from and benefited from the unjust Roman system of domination and occupation at the expense of the people.  They targeted him as a subversive and put him to death because the popular movement he led pointed to a new way of living, demonstrated an inclusive and egalitarian community based on compassion, and challenged the status quo. Jesus could see that if the Domination System targeted him at that time, when the Spirit of God was so active and apparent among him and his followers, it would continue to do so long after he was gone.

In Luke 23:26-31, we read that as Jesus made his way toward his crucifixion a great multitude of people “bewailed and lamented him.”  But he turned and addressed them saying: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’  For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

The wood is dry.  But I’m encouraged because I see green shoots all around: in the people who reach out to each other in this time of pandemic, in health care workers and others who risk themselves and give their all for the common good, in those who care for the children, deliver food to elders, facilitate online connection, and try to raise people’s spirits, and in those who continue to strive for social, economic, and environmental justice and systemic change.

The seeds of resurrection are already planted.  With prayer, dedication to each other, and courage, we rise.

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Lent and COVID 19

Progressive Christian Social Action

Lent and Covid 19

This Lenten season is unlike any other I have lived through, with the threat of serious illness and death all around, businesses shuttered, people losing their jobs, the stock market crashing, social isolation, and responsibilities that people don’t know how they can meet. So many of us are staying home in order to “flatten the curve” to keep the virus from spreading so quickly that it overwhelms the health care system, while health care workers and others courageously carry on for our well-being, risking exposure every day.

This is the context of Lent this year.  The story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, his forty days in the wilderness, his betrayal by the Powers that be, and his journey to the cross resonate for those of us who see these events from his life long ago as an ongoing dynamic that continues in the world today. As theologian Dorothee Solle said, “In the midst of reality stands the cross.”

So far, I have it easier than many. I’m staying home. I’m experiencing a sense of spaciousness and appreciating the gift of time—more time for prayer (which we so badly need) and for other spiritual practices that foster a deeper relationship with God. I am also finding ways to contribute to family, community, and world from where I am, via telephone, by becoming more versed in Zoom, by catching up with work on our nonprofit, and by working to create a mutual aid group among our neighbors. There is plenty to keep me occupied.

But as always, this pandemic will disproportionately impact those who are most vulnerable. Yes, elders (like me) are most vulnerable to dying of the virus, but others are seriously impacted even now, and will be as the weeks go on.  I think of the children whose lives have been changed so completely, who are cut off from school and friends; parents who work but have to stay home to care for their children; families who don’t have health insurance, people who are sick, disabled, or without permanent shelter, people who are already confined and socially isolated, elders without support. Surely emergency laws to protect our vulnerable neighbors should be a priority, not just during this pandemic, but always.

Countering these impacts will require us to not only to reach out in compassion to individuals, but also to work for justice. This means advocating for policies that protect the well-being of the most vulnerable and working to transform the current system, which is not designed for people or planet but for multiplying wealth for the people at the top. Although the actors have changed, the Domination System goes on, and the ruling Powers even today are often blind to what compassion and justice require. “None of the rulers of this [or any] age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:8.

I will continue to stay home and immerse myself in God, but I will also be available to reach out to others in compassion and to work for justice, prioritizing the most vulnerable. I close with these words that Martin Luther wrote during a plague in 1527, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” After the plague he lived another nineteen years.

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

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Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice

Progressive Christian Social Action

Brown’s Last Chance Sit-In at the State Capital, August 25, 2018

 

Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice

In this blog, Progressive Christian Social Action, I primarily address thinking Christians and other people of faith who seek a deeper relationship with God and who are open to responding to the great social and ecological issues of our day.  Most recently, I have been writing about the acceleration of climate change and the increasing ferocity of its impacts, which are being felt all over the world, especially among those who are most vulnerable.

On August 25, I participated in a sit-in in Governor Brown’s office in the State Capitol in Sacramento. We called on the Governor, who claims to be a climate leader, to stop issuing oil and gas permits and to institute 2500 foot-setbacks from oil and gas wells for schools and residential areas.  Market-based solutions are not enough to turn the tide on climate change.

For the next week, I will be participating in various demonstrations, programs, and other people’s actions related to the Global Climate Action Summit, which will be held in San Francisco.  Tomorrow morning, I will get up early to drive with Guari to Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley to say a few words to an Interfaith group before we all get on BART to join thousands of others in San Francisco at the Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice march.  Solidarity demonstrations will be taking place all over the world.

Here are some of the words I will say:

Farmer/poet Wendell Berry said, “How can modern Christianity has so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God is being destroyed?”  This critique can also be extended to other faith traditions.  But today we are not just sitting solemnly with hands folded, we are taking to the streets.

Surely the One I call God is with us: the Great Mysterious, called by so many names, the Source of life and love, Father/Mother of us all, higher power, transforming power, the Holy Spirit who flows where it will and is present in every act of compassion and justice—surely that One is with us as we rise for climate, jobs, and justice.

We rise to challenge the powers and principalities, not just the Trump Administration but also so-called climate leaders like Governor Jerry Brown, who could do so much more.

We rise to call for immediate and decisive action. There’s no longer time for a gradual transition—we need to keep oil and gas in the ground and transition NOW to a people-centered and creation-centered economy.

We rise because without each other we are lost.  As Bill McKibben said, “We can’t do much as individuals to stop this juggernaut…, but if we can build a movement, then we have a chance.”  So that is just what we are doing.  We are organizing across issues, across interest groups, across borders, creating networks and coalitions and movements, all converging in a strong and growing global movement for a stable climate and a compassionate and just world.

We rise because as people of faith we know that another world is possible.  As we take actions of hope we embody hope and we live hope into being.  In the words of Arundhati Roy, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Now let us go in peace. And to the One who, by the power at work WITHIN US, is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or even imagine, to that One be the glory… now and to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

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Find out more about upcoming actions at: https://www.sunflower-alliance.org/september-schedule-of-peoples-climate-actions-sept-2-14/

Find out about faith-related actions here:  http://diocal.org/events/global-climate-action-summit-faith-rooted-affiliated-workshop

Find out about the Interfaith service on climate at Grace Cathedral of Sept. 12 here: https://livingthechange.net/interfaith-service-high-level-leaders.

Find out more at: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/09/01/amid-extreme-weather-and-record-heat-global-mobilization-demands-fast-and-fair

Sharon’s other blog postings about climate change can be found here.   Find out about her new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change here.  Order Sharon’s CD– Climate Change:  What Do We Know?  What Can We Do? or download a free MP3 version. 

Love the Immigrant as Yourself

Progressive Christian Social Action

Parkside Church in Sacramento

Love the Immigrant as Yourself

“you shall love the immigrant as yourself…” Leviticus 19: 34

As tears flow around the country and world for immigrant children who have been separated and incarcerated by the Trump Administration, support for the president’s harsh policies among white Evangelicals continues. Even politicians and TV news anchors are visibly moved by the plight of these children and their parents, while Attorney General Jeff Sessions quotes scripture to justify these cruel immigration policies.

As a follower of Jesus, I am appalled by the deliberate distortion of scripture to justify policies that are antithetical to the love of God and neighbor.  The Bible is consistent in calling for mercy and justice for the most vulnerable people, characterized in biblical times as widows, orphans, and immigrants.  Yet the United States is enacting cruel immigration policies that violate international law.  By separating children from their parents, incarcerating them, and deporting their parents, our country has essentially left these children orphaned, many of whom may never be reunited with their families.

Consider this:  According to the infancy narrative in Matthew, the Holy Family fled into Egypt as migrants seeking safety from King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15).  How would that story have turned out if the baby Jesus had been separated from Mary and Joseph at the border?

Jesus was descended from immigrants, including Ruth (Matthew 1:5), a widow who immigrated to Israel with her (also widowed) mother-in-law Naomi.  They survived by gleaning before Ruth and Boaz married.  They were able to survive because the laws of Israel required that after the harvest landowners had to leave some the grain in the fields and grapes on the vine for immigrants and the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10).  How would the story have turned out if Ruth and Naomi had been imprisoned or deported instead?

When Jeff Sessions quotes Romans 13:1 (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities”) to call for us all to submit to the Trump Administration’s cruel immigration policies, he is ignoring the overall “scope and tenor” of scripture, which is mercy, justice, and love. Sessions has left out the clarifying passage in Romans 13:10 that “love is the fulfillment of the law.”

More than 600 United Methodists recently brought charges in the church against Mr. Sessions (a United Methodist) for violating church principles on child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and “dissemination of doctrines” contrary to those of the United Methodist Church. I am happy to support their action, regardless of how it turns out.

Many people are familiar with Jesus’ teaching to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but not everyone realizes that Jesus was quoting those words in Leviticus 19:18, and that what follows in Leviticus 19:33-34 is a command to “love the immigrant as yourself.” Here is the full passage:

“When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the immigrant.  The immigrant who resides with you shall be as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Love the immigrant as yourself.” “Love is the fulfillment of the law.

 

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