MCC Blog June 15

MAINE NEVER GOT OUT OF THE GAME!

I’m sure many of you saw the article in the New York Times on June 10: “Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game,” by Laurie Goodstein. While I was happy to see that the media was paying attention to those of us in the community of faith who don’t fit the usual caricature of bible-thumping, small-minded believers preaching fire and brimstone judgment that too many think of when they hear the word “church,” I found myself scratching my head at the premise and headline of the article.

Clearly, Ms. Goodstein hasn’t travelled to Maine over the past 40 years, or she would know that we haven’t been sitting out of the advocacy game. (Heck, I could argue that she hasn’t even travelled as far north as 120th and Broadway in Manhattan, where my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary, has “been in the game” for generations!) We here at the Maine Council of Churches have been in the game all along, too, doing precisely what Goodstein sees as something new or different: turning to “what they see as truly fundamental biblical imperatives—caring for the poor, welcoming strangers and protecting the earth—and maybe even chang[ing] some minds about what it means to be a believer.”

In the article, Rev. Dr. William Barber (Disciples of Christ pastor, former president of the North Carolina NAACP, and founder of the “Moral Monday” protests in Raleigh) is quoted as saying, “If we’re going to change the country, we’ve got to nationalize state movements. It’s not from D.C. down. It’s from the states up.” And Maine is poised to be at the forefront of such a “states-up” movement.

I am extremely proud of and grateful for the work of our Public Policy Committee during the 128th legislature in Augusta. Led by chair Diane Dicranian and her steering committee of faith-based policy and advocacy experts John Hennessy, Suzanne Lafreniere, Leslie Manning, and Dale McCormick, and assisted by our extraordinary policy analyst partners Joby Thoyalil and Andy Burt, the Committee has invested heart, soul and hundreds of hours of their time into guiding us to do advocacy work on such important issues as Medicaid, TANF, SNAP, General Assistance, gun safety, employment opportunities for the formerly imprisoned, solar power, immigration, and the opioid crisis. In their “spare time,” they have also helped us grapple with policy issues related to conversion therapy and clergy sexual abuse, they have supported many of our partner organizations by signing on to documents and letters related to our common ground issues, and they developed a brand new initiative targeting action alerts to folks who attended our Interfaith Advocacy Days event in March and identifying constituents in key districts willing to meet face-to-face with legislators who serve on the Appropriations and HHS Committees. Out of the game? I think not!

In the NYT article, Rev. Dr. Barber explains, “If you think this is just a left-versus-right movement, you’re missing the point. This is about the moral center. This is about our humanity.” When addressing the huge crowds who gather to hear his message, he is known to call out, “Forward together!” and the crowds call back, “Not one step back!” We at the Maine Council of Churches are moving forward together, not taking one step back. And we have been in the game. We are still in the game. And we plan to be in the game until God’s kingdom comes to earth as it is in heaven. May it be so. Amen.