July 4, 2023
Is not this the fast that I choose:Isaiah 58:6-10
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
Last week, the United States Supreme Court made two rulings just before their recess that will disproportionately affect people of color. It’s not surprising that both cases split 6-3, with the conservative justices voting in favor of the plaintiffs. The first, that the affirmative action policies of two prestigious universities are unconstitutional, goes against every Supreme Court decision on affirmative action to date. The second ruling that President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program is an abuse of power, will affect all poor people with huge student loan debts. Certainly, minorities will be hit the hardest. A third decision struck a blow to the LGBTQ+ community when the same six judges decided that hypothetically, a web designer could refuse to do work for a member of the LGBTQ+ community on First Amendment grounds. Legal scholars, and indeed the dissenting minority, contend that this is a slippery slope and could take us back to a time when people of color, women, and other minorities could be denied service using the same arguments.
A poll about the affirmative action decision showed a slim majority of people are in favor, largely along party and racial lines. Nevertheless, we believe this, and the other two decisions are antithetical to what we stand for as Christians and as members of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We believe all three decisions are morally wrong. Indeed, they fly in the face of our scripture from the earliest prophets to the teachings of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah clearly expressed his understanding that caring for the poor and disadvantaged and working to free people from oppression are intertwined.
Roughly 25 percent of the congregations in the Presbytery of Baltimore have taken the pledge to be Matthew 25 congregations. According to the Presbyterian Mission Agency:
The Matthew 25 invitation focuses on Matthew 25: 31-46, the parable of the sheep and goats in which Jesus makes clear, that what we do matters to God and how we treat others is important to God.
When we welcome others, we welcome Christ; when we bring together people who are divided, we are doing God’s reconciling work. We are called to serve Jesus by contributing to the well-being of the most vulnerable in all societies – rural and urban, small and large, young and not-so-young. From affordable housing to community gardens to equitable educational and employment opportunities to healing from addiction and mental illness to enacting policy change – there is not just one way to be a part of the Matthew 25 movement.
Surely, Jesus was echoing Isaiah when he proclaimed to those who would inherit the kingdom of heaven, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
We believe those who support the Supreme Court decision might change their minds if they fully grasp the purpose and fairness of affirmative action. Affirmative action is deeply rooted in the need to combat structural racism. As Adam Russell Taylor points out in a recent Sojourners article, African Americans, Hispanic, and Native People are more likely to live in poverty, attend high-poverty schools with limited resources, and be behind in reading and mathematics than the national average. For every $100 in wealth the average white American holds, the average Black American holds $10. The Moral and Religious Argument for Affirmative Action | Sojourners
And none of this is by accident. Rather, it is the result of 400 years of discrimination that included federal, state, and local laws intended to force segregation. Such laws and redlining practices resulted in the concentration of people of color into ghettos and created economic and educational disadvantages that stubbornly persist today.
Affirmative action may be flawed, but it has been one of the few tools available to people of color to overcome the injustices of these policies. Affirmative action brings diversity in educational systems and workplaces and communities, creating a stronger, more vibrant social fabric for all of us. Most importantly though, and we cannot stress this enough, it is the morally correct thing to do. Just take a moment to consider these reflections from elders in our Presbytery:
“I am deeply disappointed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismantling of affirmative action. Affirmative action is one of the most effective tools to level the proverbial playing field, especially in college admissions. For much of our history, elite colleges have been reserved for predominantly white and male students; this continues with “legacy” enrollment. Affirmative action seeks to correct the wrongs of our past and present. We do not live in a “post-racial” society.” Lea Gilmore (Govans)
“At the time when the affirmative action process was instituted, I was an Advanced College Prep major. I entered The University of Maryland College Park as a second semester freshman. I saw a program set up to meet the affirmative action quota. Throughout my academics, I admit some individuals could not cut it, but affirmative action did serve many other excellent students. The political right’s attempt to rewrite history, taking us back to the 1950’s, can’t continue.” Bobby Hall (Faith)
“While many see affirmative action as an unfair leg up for students of color, I and many of my classmates had the grades and test scores to gain college admission. I was a member of my high school’s national honor society and on a college prep track. However, I did not have access to legacy admissions or family income to attend Northwestern University. The National Achievement Scholarship Fund made it possible for me to attend that academically prestigious institution.” Charese Jordan Moore (Knox)
Often in times like these, we feel helpless and simply give up believing the problems are too great, too complex to take action. Well, here are things we can all do—indeed should do—if we are going to live into our Presbyterian, Christian values.
- To the 25 percent of our congregations who have taken the Matthew 25 pledge, we say in a time such as this, we must lean into our charge to ensure that all have access “to equitable educational and employment opportunities” and to enact policy change. If your congregation is not a Matthew 25 congregation, consider becoming one. Join in the struggle. We all need to be the hands and feet of Christ as called for by our General Assembly. https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/matthew-25/become-a-matthew-25-church/
- We need to vote our values in the upcoming elections and get involved. The Dismantling Racism Team did this during the last election with targeted “Get Out the Vote” campaigns in areas where poverty and voter suppression made voting more difficult. Vote for and support candidates who will work to end racial divisions and poverty. Elections do have consequences.
- Pastors, we ask you to preach the messages of social justice from your pulpits. As the Rev. Dr. William Barber recently wrote for the Center for Public Theology & Public Policy https://www.theologyandpolicy.yale.edu/newdeclaration:
To the Moral Leaders in our nation, we must engage in the solving of this moral crisis. Our faith traditions and religious values teach us that God requires us to challenge the things in society that adversely impact people’s lives. We must engage in our pulpits and move our communities to action. To the Christian leaders particularly, the false prosperity gospel has no place in a nation where poverty is the 4th leading cause of death. The pulpit is supposed to be the place from which all people, believers and non-believers, can hear a call to conscience, a call to love, truth, and justice. Yet, a Pew Foundation poll of sermons in the United States showed that addressing poverty and calling for justice hardly registered in American pulpits. If we truly follow the life and ministry of Jesus, which was centered around the liberation of people from evil and oppression, then we must challenge this system and be unafraid to speak truth to false power.
- The Dismantling Racism one-day basic workshops for leaders will be held on Friday, October 6, and again on Saturday, October 7, for those who can’t make a weekday training. This training is now open to all leaders in the Presbytery and congregations. You can register for these training opportunities on the Presbytery website at the links above or by contacting one of us.
In the near future, we will be offering a Presbytery-wide study of the book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of how Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. There could be no more timely book study, and we encourage all who are able to participate. We will be putting out further notification as we get closer to setting the dates.
We must continue to educate ourselves to the evils of racism and bigotry in all its forms. By better understanding the history of how we got to this point, the better we will be at convincing people that the recent Supreme Court decisions are not okay. They are fundamentally and morally corrupt. In the end we all pay a heavy price for these types of decisions. We are living in times when it’s so easy to blame the other. We must recognize our own complicity as Dr. Barber eloquently reminds us in the afore-referenced declaration.
We write this message on July 4, our Independence Day, which brings to mind the Frederick Douglass speech, What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?, and held the faith community to account with these words:
Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds; and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive
In 2023, we continue to have responsibility to right the wrongs of the past that continue to perpetuate inequities to this day. Let us break the yokes of injustice so that we can live into the day when affirmative action is no longer needed.
Charese Jordan Moore
Co-chair, Dismantling Racism Team
Co-chair, Dismantling Racism Team
The rights of people matter. Following recent Supreme Court decisions, the PC(USA)’s advocacy director reminds us why.