NC faith leaders call for action on neglected policy proposals

By: - July 2, 2020 10:24 am

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the following new and powerful letter to Gov. Cooper, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore that was put together by the North Carolina Council of Churches and signed by a diverse array of faith leaders from across the state.

The letter calls for state action on Medicaid expansion, public school funding, broadband access, and criminal justice reform and highlights the direct impact each of these issues bears to questions of racial equity.

Dear Governor Cooper, Representative Moore, and Senator Berger,

We write as denominational leaders of churches across North Carolina and as members of the North Carolina Council of Churches. Know that each of you are in our prayers daily, as are all elected officials with the responsibility of making our municipalities, state, and nation a place of “liberty and justice for all.”

The previous few months have shined a light on important matters for North Carolinians. We’d like to focus on just four: Medicaid expansion, public education funding, broadband access, and criminal justice reform.

Medicaid expansion: It baffles us that N.C. has not accepted the billions of federal dollars that could be flowing into our state, a state filled with citizens who pay their share of federal income taxes. These taxes are being used to fund the 90 percent federal match on Medicaid expansion enrollees for states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Not only does this forfeit money that Washington is trying to send back to North Carolinians who qualify for healthcare coverage under the law of the land, it also leaves nearly half a million of our neighbors without health care coverage. When we consider the positive ripple effect that coverage would have for their communities—dollars out to the clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, providers—it becomes more baffling to us. For people of faith, however, this goes far beyond the economic argument. It is a moral imperative to restore health whenever possible. The numerous stories found in our gospels show that healing does much more than make people well; healing restores people to community. When Jesus healed the 10 lepers they were so excited about returning to their friends and families that only one of them thought to return and thank Jesus first (Luke 17:11-19). Medicaid expansion can restore people to community by making them well again. Perhaps they will even thank you for it.

Public school funding: Across the centuries, education can nearly always trace its roots back to religion, but in this country, Thomas Jefferson had a new idea. He proposed tax supported general education for all citizens (1779). Ten years later, the first public college was founded in N.C., and remains among the best public universities in the nation. Along with faith communities, schools are an anchor institution in many of our towns and neighborhoods. Schools provide a social safety net for the children in these communities, but they cannot do it without resources and without respect.

We need to move from talking about teachers and discipline as the problem in our schools to talking about funding as the problem for our schools. Our children are going to continue suffering if public education in this state continues down the privatization and re-segregation path we are on. We all know the numbers and we all know how to turn the tide. We all know God’s claim on the lives of the children we are tasked with protecting not only by our state’s constitution, but by the tenets of our faith.

Broadband access: The health needs and education needs of North Carolinians are writ large by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing us to adapt on both fronts. A major piece of this adaptation depends on the internet. Without high-speed internet, the sick cannot consult physicians and the children cannot complete school assignments. In much the way that the Rural Electrification Act transformed our landscape from darkness to light in the mid-20th century, broadband access can transform shrinking worlds into endless horizons now in the 21st century. The ripple effects of such an initiative will extend far beyond health and education into most sectors of the economy.

Criminal justice reform: It is time for America to face the truth of our criminal justice system. Both scripture and tradition remind us we are called to create systems of restitution, not retribution; systems of restoration not retaliation. Meanwhile, our jails and prisons are disproportionately filled with people of color, primarily black men, even as black men represent a minority among the nation’s total population. A spotlight on the microcosm of drug policy demonstrates that justice is not blind, after all. In disproportionate numbers, Black men are imprisoned for the same crimes committed by white people. This takes them out of their communities and away from their families. They cannot play with their children, visit their elderly parents, or contribute economically. The toll of their absence reverberates well beyond their families throughout the entire community.

In closing, we must state the obvious. Each of these issues we’ve chosen to highlight must be refracted through the lens of race. Health disparities sentence black people to an early grave, minimal education opportunities impede black children from successful careers, and the criminal justice system relegates a third of black men in this country to second-class status. We believe the time has come to break the chains of the cycle of reform, restraint, and retaliation that has defined our existence, at least since the Emancipation Proclamation, and more likely since the first white settlers landed on the shores of a land already occupied by people with darker skin.

We confess that the faith we serve has, at times, been complicit in the subjugation of other peoples. But we also rest in the assurance of a renewing and restoring Creator. We believe that confession and restitution will be met with forgiveness and restoration from both God and our neighbors. Let us begin to seek these things by crafting legislation that provides liberty and justice for all those created in the image of God.

The Rev. Dr. Nilous M. Avery, II

Former President, General Baptist State Convention of N.C., Inc.

Bishop George E. Battle, Jr.

Bishop, Piedmont Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion

The Rev. Edward Churn

Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of New Hope

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland

Executive Director, North Carolina Council of Churches

The Rev. Dr. Edward Davis

Conference Minister, Southern Conference United Church of Christ

Bishop James L. Davis

Presiding Prelate of the Second Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

The Rev. Paula Clayton Dempsey

Director of Partnership Relations, Alliance of Baptists

The Rev. Jan Edmiston

General Presbyter, Presbytery of Charlotte

The Rev. Elder Cecilia Eggleston

Moderator, Metropolitan Community Churches

The Rev. David Guthrie

President, Provincial Elders’ Conference, Moravian Church in America, Southern Province

The Rev. Sonja Lee

Pastor Emeritus, Unity Fellowship Church Movement

Bishop Paul Leeland
Bishop, Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church

The Rev. Jerrod B. Lowry

General Presbyter & Stated Clerk, The Presbytery of Coastal Carolina

Mr. Frank C. Massey

Presiding Clerk, North Carolina Fellowship of Friends

The Rt. Rev. José A. McLoughlin
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina

Bishop Valerie Melvin

Regional Minister, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in North Carolina

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Monroe

Bishop, Eastern North Carolina Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion

The Rev. Dr. Cameron Murchison, Jr.

Stated Clerk, Presbytery of Western North Carolina

The Rev. Dr. Conrad K. Pridgen

Presiding Elder of the Western District of the Western North Carolina Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

The Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman

Bishop Diocesan, Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina

The Most Reverend K.J. Rogers

Chief Protector, Reformed Churches of God in Christ International

The Rev. Dr. Joan M. Saniuk

Southern Hospitality Network Lead, Metropolitan Community Churches

The Rev. Stephen W. Scott

Transitional General Presbyter, Salem Presbytery

The Rt. Rev. Rob Skirving

Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina

Bishop Timothy M. Smith

Bishop, North Carolina Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

Bishop, North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors and voices regular commentaries, and hosts the 'News & Views' weekly radio show/podcast.