Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Jews and Presbyterians were among nearly 100 people gathering Monday, Sept. 12, in Frankfort, Ky., as part of a national march in more than 30 state capital cities across the United States countering the political voice of the Religious Right.
“I want you to know there are Baptists standing here with me,” Mark Johnson, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., said while stepping forward to read a portion of the Higher Ground Moral Declaration regarding inequalities in America’s criminal justice system.
“Mass incarcerations are devastating to the poor and communities of color,” Johnson said in comments quoted by the State Journal newspaper.
“Do you support policies that would end mass incarcerations?” the Baptist pastor asked elected officials and candidates. “Police abuse, misconduct and killing continues to terrorize communities of color. Do you support policies that will keep law enforcement accountable to the communities that they are supposed to serve, including the revised training on the use of non-lethal force and the demilitarization of police departments?”
The Kentucky rally, organized by the Kentucky Council of Churches, was part of the “Higher Ground Moral Day of Action,” led by Rev. William Barber, architect of the “Moral Monday” protests that began in April 2013 in North Carolina to fight the conservative politics of a Republican governor and legislature.
The Higher Ground Moral Declaration challenges the decades-old narrative “that the preeminent moral issues today are about prayer in public schools, abortion and homosexuality.”
“Instead, we declare the deepest public concerns of our faith traditions are how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, children, workers, immigrants and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations,” the declaration continues.
The document outlines “sacred moral principles” including health care, living-wage jobs, quality education and equal voting rights for all.
The Kentucky Council of Churches called on Gov. Matt Bevin to sign the moral declaration and to “move away from extremist politics and policies that benefit the few and move toward policies and laws that are just and fair and guarantee a better life for the majority of the people.”
Bevin, an evangelical Christian who held his inaugural worship service at a Southern Baptist church and has donated large sums of money to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., over the weekend denounced moral “degradation” in a speech at the 2016 Values Voter Summit held Sept. 9-11 in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Bevin said. “First, we’re killing children. Then it’s ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Now it’s this gender-bending kind of: ‘Don’t be a bigot. Don’t be unreasonable. Don’t be unenlightened. Heaven forbid. Just keep your mouth shut.’”
Bevin, a member of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., and personal friend to influential Southern Baptists in the state, suggested that defending traditional morality someday might require the shedding of blood.
“America is worth fighting for, ideologically,” he said. “I want us to be able to fight ideologically, mentally, spiritually, economically so that we don’t have to do it physically, but that may in fact be the case.”
“Whose blood will be shed?” the governor asked. “It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think that it might be their blood that is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something that we, through our apathy and indifference, have given away.”