Getting Arrested at Moral Monday

A Methodist Seminary professor has written an article explaining the reasoning for not submitting to arrest in North Carolina's Moral Monday protests. The article has been taken down, and I respect that. I have, therefore, removed the now-dead link to the article, and taken the name of the person out of this blogpost.

But, as I read argument, I think the professor probably should be arrested. Not because I think that Methodist seminary professors should go to jail. But because I think their arrests could add to the moral power of the movement.

The political situation in North Carolina is like that of the whole country.  If you look at the polls on issues, it seems that the public is much more progressive than the election results indicate. There are lots of folks who are in favor of increasing the minimum wage, granting equal access to marriage, restricting carbon emissions, and not making it harder to vote, but who are voting for the Republicans who are implementing the very opposite policies.  Or they are not voting at all.

Why? It's always hard to tell individual motivations.

But, voting has a tribal quality; that is well known. People inherit political preferences from their parents and absorb them from the surrounding community and loyal for a long time.  It feels like "People like us vote for our party."

What that means, practically, is that there are many white Christians who continue to vote for the Republican Party out of habit and out of emotional identification, even though they don't particularly agree with the positions of the candidates.

White, suburban, Christian voters see the GOP as people like them, and the Democrats as a coalition of the others: multi-racial, blue collar, intellectuals, poor.

The Moral Movement in North Carolina mades the fundamental argument that what is going on is moral; it transcends our customary political loyalties and asks each of us to make an uncomfortable moral stand, to reconsider our alliances, and to follow the leadership of people we don't usually follow. Even after the re-election of Barack Obama, many white progressive people still don't grasp the level of sophistication and skill of African American political leaders. Rev William Barber has done something in North Carolina that no one else has done anywhere else in the country; galvanize a multi-racial, multi-issue progressive coalition to confront the ultra-right GOP. He's done what Robert Reich, Elizabeth Warren, Rachel Maddow and Bernie Sanders can only dream about.

Some people change their minds because of arguments and evidence and persuasion. Many more change their minds because they see people they trust, and people like them, move, and take new positions. Religious leaders have that power. When white Christian religious leaders align themselves with multi-racial progressive movements, they give permission to many other White Christians. We have the power to challenge conventional wisdom about what is moral. Haven't we just seen this written boldly in the struggle over marriage equality?

 There is a middle in the United States right now, and much of it is progressive on issues, but votes for reactionary extremists.  Progressives will advance as we win over that middle. Sometimes, you win over the middle by moderating one's demands. (Been there, done that.) But more often you win over the middle, by persistently asking the question: which side are on? When white Christian religious leaders choose to get arrested, they answer that question.

Which Side Are You On?  The middle hates that question. They want everybody to stop asking it. They want middle ways and compromises and third ways. They want "civil unions" rather than "marriage equality." They agree with "the goals but not the tactics".  They agree with "the ends, but not the means". They like the movement but want different leaders. They want love over division. They accuse those who ask the question of selfish and devious motives. They want to do the same thing, but get a different result.  But in the end, most of the middle, inspired by the examples of people they trust and admire, will step up for justice.

I know, I've been there.


  1. Anonymous12:05 PM

    This would have been so much better if you had not singled out Amy Laura Hall. And her article would have been better had she not criticized Moral Monday and the motives of those who lead and support it. I think she could have made her decision for whatever reasons and let it go at that. Clearly a wonderful thing has happened. But it isn't appropriate or feasible for every person to be arrested. If I were to participate in that way, there is a very good chance I would lose the professional license that provides my living. I also have a titanium rod in my back that could put me in a wheelchair if I were "mishandled." But I support and send funds, food, hats, coats, gloves, blankets and sleeping bags to various protests. I support them in every way I can. It's just a downer to me for anyone to judge another's conscience or contributions. That reminds me a little of the people we're protesting.

  2. Clyde Grubbs9:13 AM

    Ethics professors sometimes ponder the complexities of moral choice. and Ponder. and Ponder.

  3. A live link to the story is back, as is the Religion Dispatches site as a whole, where this is still a front-page item. I have some sympathy for the author's argument about charismatic male leadership, but I doubt, having first-hand reports from friends, calling it a "Cult of Personality" is fair or accurate.

    The argument against "the public ritual of compliant arrest"? Not so convincing as the claim that the best thing is "fabulous women from all over North Carolina eager to register our daring".

    To me, it's that public display of daring that matters. I spent today's lunch hour at my state capitol for Truthful Tuesdays. It's not yet so large or so vigorous as Moral Mondays, but then, our legislature is not yet so bat-sh*t crazy (but give it another year!) as North Carolina's. Or Wisconsin's, for that matter, or Michigan's. Soon I'll arrange to take my daughter with me. She'll dig it.


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