“If they read what I read in the Bible, the Bible says you always obey the law”
Noticing that this statement contradicts a long history of religious activism, Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Fred L Hammond wrote this response on his blog:
Governor Bentley is in need of some Bible lessons. If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have stopped the stoning of the woman caught in adultery because the law must always be obeyed. If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have healed on the Sabbath because the law must always be obeyed. If his statements are true then the Boston Tea Party in 1773 by the colonists would not have happened because the law must always be obeyed. If his statements are true, then the Declaration of Independence would never have been written or signed because the law must always be obeyed.
If his statements are true then Alabama’s Governor George Wallace’s statement of “Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow, and Segregation forever” would still be the law of Alabama because the law must always be followed. Thank God for people of conscience who recognize an unjust law and deliberately disobey to overturn that law.
If his statement is true then Paul, who authored the text that Governor Bentley is referring, would never have confronted the emperor regarding Christianity because the Christian faith was considered illegal, an act of treason. So even Paul did not believe one must always obey the law.
This statement of Bentley’s reveals that he has no understanding of his own faith tradition of Christianity. His own faith as a Baptist came about because people of conscience disobeyed the law. It was illegal to be of any other faith than Anglican when John Smyth declared his Baptist faith. But if Governor Bentley is correct that the Bible says you always obey the law, then his own faith is illegal, twice over because John Smyth broke the English law decreeing the Church of England as the one faith and the Church of England broke the law when it severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church over the doctrine of divorce–another law that according to Bentley’s argument must be obeyed. Remember that church law and civil law were one and the same in the time of the reformation. There was no separation of church and state.
The context of Romans 13 which Bentley refers also includes Romans 13: 6 and following: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Love does no harm to a neighbor. No harm. That is the criteria in which to obey the laws of government, the Bible states. Yet, HB 56 does do harm to our neighbors. Our Immigrant neighbors are working hard, paying taxes, building up the community, creating businesses which strengthen the economy. Immigrant neighbors with the same expressed dreams for a better life for their children. This law seeks to rid our communities of people who are doing no harm, who are loving and caring for their community. Governor Bentley noted this in his commemoration speech regarding the anniversary of Tornado recovery efforts in Tuscaloosa when he referred to the status of citizenship of those who were first responders. Governor Bentley loves undocumented people when they are of usefulness to him but otherwise he has disdain for his neighbors who seek to make Tuscaloosa a better place for all to live.
This law has encouraged people to express their bigotry and prejudice against their neighbor. Therefore any law that causes harm to their neighbor, using Bentley’s argument of always following what the Bible says, is not a law that is to be obeyed. Such a law must be disobeyed. It must be broken time and time again because it goes against a higher law, which is the law of Love. I choose to stand on the side of Love.
Reverend Michael Livingston, director of the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative, went on Fox News Live last week to talk about the Church’s fight to end hunger and poverty in America and how the House GOP budget actively undermines those efforts.
Despite having to deal with the factually challenged bias of anchor Lauren Green, Rev. Livingston did a great job making the case for the need for a strong partnership between churches and government to address these challenges.
One of the most poignant parts was Rev. Livingston’s discussion of how child poverty statistics highlight that the problem has serious structural and economic causes rather than simply being a result of individual moral failure:
LIVINGSTON: It’s about 16 million children living in poverty — most of them are in families with parents who are working. That’s a part of the tragedy of this situation. The parents simply aren’t earning enough in order to be able to support their families. And this will only worsen if the budget that the house just passed — the Ryan budget that the House just passed — is actually enacted. It will make things worse for children and families.
Sponsored by a broad coalition of Christian organizations, nearly 800 people of faith gathered for the 10th annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days this weekend to reflect upon and lobby for “a national budget that break the yokes of injustice, poverty, hunger and unemployment throughout the world.”
The conference’s powerful and timely theme, entitled “Is this the Fast I seek?”, brought preachers, religious leaders and policy experts together to educate participants on everything from the dangers of wealth and income inequality to how to engage with local media on federal budget issues.
The dynamic conference culminated yesterday with participants spreading out across Capitol Hill to educate and lobby lawmakers on the need for a federal budget that protects the safety and dignity of all people and prioritizes programs that protect children and families over tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
While Religious Right groups like Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition attract a disproportionately large amount of media attention despite poor attendance at their Washington conferences, progressive Christians working for more just budget priorities get almost no attention.
Though news outlets ignored the gathering this weekend, advocacy and media trainings like those at EAD will equip progressive people of faith to continually rebut the Religious Right’s distorted budget priorities and more effectively inform both lawmakers and the media that Religious Right pundits don’t represent the priorities of all people of faith.
As we’ve noted before, the faith community has been working for years to put an end to mountaintop removal coal mining, a destructive practice that wreaks havoc on the environment and public health in the Appalachian region.
In Tennessee, activists have pushed for the passage of the Scenic Vistas Protection Act to restrict mountaintop removal in the state. Although the bill passed Tennessee’s Senate Environment Committee, its language was amended to weaken the implementation of the mountaintop removal ban.
The Rev. Gradye Parsons – currently serving as the highest elected official in the Presbyterian Church (USA) – wrote an impassioned editorial in the Tennessean yesterday, advocating for the Scenic Vistas Protection Act in its original form from the perspective of his Christian faith. As he puts it, opposing mountaintop removal is a matter of deep moral urgency:
“As a son of Tennessee and as a Christian, protecting God’s Creation is not merely environmentalism to me. It is a matter of faith. The book of Genesis teaches us that when God looked out at the created world, God saw that ‘it was very good.’ Furthermore, the psalmist tells us ‘the earth is Lord’s and all that is in it.’ We are called by our faith to care responsibly for the world that our Creator has made, and to do justice for our neighbors. Mountaintop removal, by damaging God’s creation and the well-being of our brothers and sisters, runs contrary to our Christian obligation to each other and to our environment.”
Rev. Parsons points out that the Presbyterian Church (USA) formally condemned mountaintop removal in 2006. At least five other national Christian denominations have also passed resolutions against the practice. It’s encouraging to see the faith community unite on important environmental issues, especially when those issues are articulated in clear moral terms.
Beginning in 2001, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (comprised mostly of Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants in low-wage jobs) launched the Campaign for Fair Food, an initiative to encourage food retailers to pay farmworkers a penny more for each pound of tomatoes they pick.
Publix, a Florida-based retail food chain, is staunchly refusing to join the Campaign for Fair Food and end its exploitative business practices.
In an effort to alert Publix’s customers to this alarming decision and pressure the food retailer to join the campaign, the CIW, National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative, Florida Presbyterians and numerous other groups joined together at Publix’s Corporate Headquarters to begin a 6-day fast, “…insisting that Publix – Florida’s largest corporation – finally recognize the humanity of the workers who pick its tomatoes…”
Michael Livingston, a participant in the fast and Director of the NCC Poverty Initiative reflects on the solidarity between farmworkers and people of faith:
It’s day one of six days of fasting with farmworkers and their supporters at the corporate headquarters of Publix in Lakeland, FL. I’m already impressed with the quiet dignity of workers with whom I cannot communicate using the English I speak or the Spanish they speak. Yet we stand together under the same bright sun and our very presence alongside a busy thoroughfare, announces a firm commitment to seek justice for a workforce whose humanity has been ignored by a system of labor that is fundamentally unjust.
While retailers such as Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and McDonald’s have joined the Fair Food Campaign, Publix’s refusal to join the campaign amounts to nothing short of a full endorsement of the inhumane wages workers are paid for their labor.
Bill Maxwell of the Tampa Bay Times criticizes Publix’s blatant exploitation of farm workers:
…each time I buy tomatoes at a Publix, I am mindful of the back-breaking toil of the laborers who picked them and lugged them to a truck. I also am aware that for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes picked, a worker gets on average 50 cents, a rate unchanged since 1980. Most workers earn roughly $10,000 a year. Besides low wages, they have no right to overtime pay, no health insurance, no sick leave, no paid vacation and no right to organize to change these conditions.
With CIW’s successful history of pressuring retailers to pay farmworkers a penny more per pound, it only remains to be seen how long Publix will choose to embarrass itself and denigrate its public image by abetting the exploitation of working people.
To stand with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the “Fast for Fair Food”, check out these resources.