Moral Mondays

Most Americans have heard of North Carolina’s Reverend William Barber, whose passion and activism were recently profiled in the Washington Post. Barber founded “Moral Mondays” at the North Carolina State Capitol to protest what he labeled “immoral” legislation that would further disadvantage the poor; his movement aims to give voice to the previously voiceless, and to effect change.

I was particularly struck by the following two paragraphs in the article, because they illuminate two diametrically opposed understandings of morality.

Barber’s admirers say his sermons and speeches, which have intertwined the religious tenets of love, justice and mercy that exist in all faiths with an American vision of morality baked into the Constitution, steal the moral high ground long claimed by political conservatives.

After all, the Bible says little about abortion, prayer in schools and same-sex marriage. Yet there are hundreds of scriptures that deal with how people treat “the least of these,” which in modern times could  be interpreted to mean denying them the right to vote or health-care coverage. Last, week, Barber joined a health-care protest at a Sen. Patrick J. Toomey’s office (R-Pa.) and said a Republican repeal of Obamacare would be the nation’s greatest moral failing since slavery.

Barber is reclaiming the meaning of morality and moral behavior from the religious zealots  whose definition of morality is limited to activities that occur below the waist.

Self-identified “Christians” like Mike Pence, who want government to enforce morality as they define it, focus entirely upon sex. They are evidently obsessed by it. Think about their top priorities: denying women access to abortion and birth control and punishing LGBTQ citizens for loving people of the wrong gender.

They want government to enforce their own, rigid beliefs by denying other citizens the moral autonomy they claim for themselves.

Increasingly, religious figures like Reverend Barber are fighting back by reclaiming a more expansive and humane understanding of what constitutes truly moral behavior. In their eyes, lawmakers who want to deprive millions of poor Americans of access to health care in order to further enrich the wealthy are immoral, no matter what their sexual behavior.

Tim Tyson is a historian and author who has followed Barber’s efforts to build an inclusive movement focused on social justice and the belief that moral behavior is defined by how one treats others. He thinks that message resonates.

“He sees that when you boil it right down, Judaism and Islam and Christianity and all the other major faiths really are rooted in that same vision and same social ethos that’s rooted in love,” said Tyson. “Then this ethos also speaks to people who are of a more activist orientation. Who are not church people. That makes that church a lot bigger — and makes a place for everybody.”

Barber had a prime-time slot at the Democratic National Convention, and he got a standing ovation when he called for an “army of moral defibrillators” to “shock the heart of the nation.”

In addition to his ability to speak with eloquence and conviction about the nature of justice and morality, Barber clearly understands what is necessary for effective political activism.

“We can’t keep fighting in our silos,” he told a group of Union Leaders at SEIU 1199 during a gathering of health-care workers in Atlantic City. “No more separating issues — labor over here, voting rights over here. The same people fighting against one should have to fight against all of us together.”

Barber’s message is enough to make me respect religion again.


  1. Whether based in religion or not, I saw the first example of moral action from the Trump administration regarding voter suppression. Kansas Secretary of State Kasach (?) who is head of Trump’s newly formed Voter Commission has refused to comply with the order to submit to Trump’s government all Kansas voters personal information required from all 50 states. An excellent example of moral judgement…and it isn’t even Monday. He is undoubtedly the Moral Minority in the administration; wonder how long he will last.

  2. I just finished Timothy S. Huebner’s “Liberty & Union” (which I highly recommend) and in it he tracks the distinctions between the world views of the residents of the Northern and Southern States. I was struck by how many of those distinctions still exist. While we may not hear outright claims that the white race is superior to “colored” races any more, we know that coded appeals to white identity remain politically potent. Also, as Huebner points out, Christian dogma was modified to support slavery as Biblically correct and to contend that slavery simply followed the will of God. It followed that any attack on slavery was an attack on religion itself which, to me, had echos of the current “attack on Christianity” claims of the conservative right. He also developed a notion of Southern “honor” that is complex and I refer you to the book for its delineation. However, one of the manifestations is to view any question of a political view as a personal affront to be met with hostility and anger.
    If I am correct that these beliefs still exist and are a component of at least a large minority of the voters mindset, then how best to counter them? I have been considering the success of Dr. King’s campaign for Civil Rights and how it was based on a non-violent appeal to basic morality and justice. May be Rev. Barber is showing us the way.

  3. I had not heard of Rev Barber before today’s post. He is a rarity in organized religion. I am happy to hear that there is another pastor focused on the true Christian teachings in addition to John Pavolitz.

    However, I do not see my respect for organized religion ever returning. It is far too full of judgement and condemnation. Organized religions are fighting abandonment by their members like never before and for very valid reasons.

    If there were more pastors like Rev Barber we would most likely have a kinder nation of people. As it stands, far too many preachers are preaching judgement and hatred. I have not once regretted stopping my church attendance four years ago. I no longer endure getting upset or angry at the BS coming out of fellow church members’ mouths while they spoke hatred of others.

  4. @ Timothy- “He also developed a notion of Southern “honor” that is complex and I refer you to the book for its delineation. However, one of the manifestations is to view any question of a political view as a personal affront to be met with hostility and anger.”
    Having watched the entire Sessions testimony before the Congressional committee, the description of the honor notion and his outrage at having it questioned are classic. His past history of racism would underscore the hypocrisy of his “strongly held” beliefs. Jefferson Beauregard is aptly named.

  5. Sheila noted that the professional Christians such as Mike Pence want to deny other people their moral autonomy. John Stuart Mill made an interesting point once when he said that some people are convinced that God will hold them personally responsible if they do not prevent other people from doing certain things. I guess they have never heard of “free will.”

  6. If we are to take the first steps toward morality in our own lives, we must remember to pray for our enemies.

  7. It’s not enough to make me respect religion, but I certainly respect him and others like him and it is a step in the right direction!!

  8. Bravo, my own morals based on christian values,but, as a child, I witnessed the civil rights abuses of the sixties,(newark,n.j.). Im a non believer, and civil rights progressive. No excuses,no slight of hand. If America was to travel to the south,and other places in America where poverty is still very much prevalent,one can see,who has kept their promise to keep the people in poverty. states like mississippi,alabama,and others,are still promoting a denial of the so called American dream. Take a drive down those back roads, and you can see America at its worst. denial of rights,segregated by knowlege,and a total lack of respect to other Americans. when we allow people like jeff sessions as the new law of the land,seems the elitist have now got a full monte. Im a white man,in skin only, im not to be above anyone else,equal,under the law?If the reverand wants to promote a up lift in morals, we all need to step out and start mentoring the very people effected by the republicans ,and some democrat moral killer bees, and start getting the people to understand why we need to vote. the fact,our place to assemble in mass has been comprimised,to protest,to gather as one. does the media sees fit to promote this denial of rights? what happened to boycotting the ads,and products?, that would drive wall street wild when they, the ones who,truly promote the fall of the working class,and the driving of the working class into poverty,for profit,lose that profit.(maybe joe suit should get a real job)and its a diffrent game.
    the republicans and non progressives are,today the perveyor of poverty. and as my grandad said, “if the white man did not want poverty,there would be no poverty”

  9. I wonder if those staunch Republican, long-standing racists, are more irate over being proven wrong that mixing of the races would produce “mongrels” when President Obama appeared on the political scene or if it was his politics? That is a rhetorical question, of course. Basing their belief on their version of the Bible enlists them as followers of Pastor Pence and his version of the Bible to deny women, LGBTQs and “other” religions their basic human and civil rights.

    I agree with Nancy; my respect and trust in organized religion disappeared years ago when I realized I was living in fear of damnation directly from God and/or causing the death of my children by making a wrong decision – whichever direction I chose. I respect others maintaining their respect, trust and belief but no longer try to converse on the subject. My Atheist friend and I have much more in common regarding our belief in human and civil rights as well as science and evolution; we will support their right to their belief but will fight to our dying breath those of Pence’s ilk (remember Kim Davis in Kentucky) who seek an “Amen” to their illegal and misguided laws denying religious rights of those who don’t agree with them. “Damn the Constitution, full speed ahead!”

  10. JoAnn,

    Kris Kobach was in the unenviable position of having to refuse his own request. He wrote the letter that asked for the voter identification information. He is also the leader of voter suppression in the Republican Party. The President’s Commission is surely a ruse to help suppress more votes.

    Reverend Barber is one of my favorites. I believe it was William James who posited that a good man in one society would be a good man in any society. Reverend Barber brings that sentiment to life.

  11. Wm. Barber is preaching in Indianapolis at Central Christian Church:

    Central Christian Church
    701 N. Delaware Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204
    317.635.6397; Website:; Worship: 10:30 am
    Rev. Linda McCrae; Guest Preacher: Rev. William Barber, Pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in NC, Moral Movement Architect
    Childcare: Yes; Transportation: Yes
    Arrive EARLY!

  12. Thanks for this Sheila!!! Dr. William Barber is a true man of God and I hang on every word he says. Incredibly inspiring and totally truthful! He brings home the message that God is love which totally undercuts everyone that says or does anything to the contrary while they “bear false witness” and indulge in extreme hypocrisy as they preach horrific alt-right politics via pulpits throughout this country.

  13. If this question were asked, “Who said, ‘Thou shalt have no other God but me,'” who can doubt that Fake President Trump would swear he said it … or that he thought about saying it? Or that someone thought about saying it on his behalf?

    Ever since this nut cake took office, the nation has uncovered an ever-increasing number of self-centered religious fanatics. Let us pray for prompt impeachment . Amen.

  14. If the entire population of the United States awoke tomorrow with religious amnesia (no one recalling any religious affiliation, religious dogma, religious morality), but all still aware of and choosing to adopt long-term thinking or short-term thinking, nothing would have changed.

    I suggest that the discipline of long-term thinking–without help from religion of any sort– creates social cooperation, political empathy and practical problem solving. But short-term thinking creates individualism, selfishness and just plain problems.

    Long-term thinking creates the progressive Democrat. Short-term thinking creates the Republican.

  15. JoAnn,

    Re your statement: “my respect and trust in organized religion disappeared years ago when I realized I was living in fear of damnation directly from God and/or causing the death of my children by making a wrong decision – whichever direction I chose.”

    Fortunately, I was never subjected to Hell and Damnation preaching. Where I live, those sermons occur in Baptist or Evangelical churches. Those people tend to be the Most judgemental of others and they live in fear of going to hell for their own sins, whatever they may be. The odd thing is that many of the men in those congregations are the worst offenders of all when it comes to pedophelia and domestic abuse. They attend church regularly just for show.

    I am glad to hear that you found the strength to escape such an abusive congregation/denomination.

  16. @ indygaffer,

    What does “praying for our enemies” have to do with “our own morality”?

  17. trichinosis.
    .Morality did not begin with religion; religion came about from collective experience of the tribe into which we were born. Hence such “religious” principles of, for instance, mixtures of health codes and scripture, where Jews and Muslims have an aversion to eating pork. Such principles (in my view) have nothing to do with morality; they were probably inspired by the adverse effect on the “tribes” by trichinosis. It is not just religion that is subject to collective experience. Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr., has noted that the law is a history of experience. We lived then and live now in a world of trial and error, and the same can be said in other disciplines such as chemistry, physics and the like. Religion is apparently also based on some deep-seated need of human beings to find a place on the God to man spectrum, a murky area I am not qualified to address, my point in this response being that from what I can ascertain, religion is a response to continuing experience. I think our Christian religion of today is a far call from that practiced by medieval monks, for instance, and will continue to evolve as new experiences continue to fashion our responses to old questions.

  18. Nancy; I grew up in Methodist churches (sent, not taken by parents), dissatisfied I tried Baptist and (at that time) enjoyed the Bible lessons. The Birge Terrace Baptist Church in Indianapolis on Brookville Road seemed friendly and welcoming at first…even with its all white congregation. Thinking it might be the location in a white area I just watched and listened; till the Bible lessons covered race and was staunchly upheld by all. I babysat and took in sewing to help a little with bills; tithed what I could out of my earnings but they began DEMANDING I tithe 10% of my husband’s salary. He never set foot in the church and had no intention of doing so; I tried to carry on. We hadn’t lived in Irvington very long (moved back to Indy from New Whiteland, the most appropriately named town in this state); previous owners had left a lot of junk in the basement so I asked the Sunday School Superintendent who had a hauling business for an estimate to clean it out. He attempted to rape me in my own basement; had me on the floor of the landing, part of my clothes removed, when my kids came in from school. That was the only thing that stopped him. My next experience was the Northwest Church of Christ; hired one of the Deacons who was an attorney (named Darden, later a judge) who ripped me off on charges for my divorce with little work for me on his part. That was in 1985; my last trip through any church door except for a few weddings.

  19. A bunch of pals should take Mikey out behind the barn where he can get a lesson in traditional American Conservative morality.

  20. JoAnn, it sounds like your experiences mimic those of millions of others. Those type of men have been raised to think that women are second class citizens at best and are only here to be used for their pleasure or slavery. Again, I’m sorry you entered through the doors of that hell, but am glad that you escaped.

  21. JoAnn,

    I learned many years ago that many (if not most) attorneys attend church only as a marketing tool to put themselves in front of potential clients. They participate just enough and serve on committees to give the illusion that they are upstanding citizens who care about their fellow parishioners. Their poor unsuspecting future clients have no clue that they are going to be robbed blind by one of their fellow congregation members.

  22. Jack Smith: “[A]s my grandad said, “if the white man did not want poverty, there would be no poverty.”

    Mr. Smith, your grandad was wise, indeed.

  23. I agree with the post,it’s obvious political opportunists such as Mike Pence have purposely distorted religion. I view this the same way as to how former Republicans have defiled the Democratic Party. Supporting BlueDogs for the sake of party unity is analogous to supporting men like Pence for the very same sense of unity.

  24. This definitely interferes with voters’ attempts to uphold Constitutional and Indiana systems of both written property laws of the States (1492 to present) AND upholding religious church and faith laws of the multitudes of Christians Earth -around BY 1492. Indiana as a property place also from 1492 is very liberal in terms of religions and schools here already by 1795. That word is Latin, as Indianapolis is Greek, both languages well understood by readers here by 1776.

    Indianapolis IS the meeting place for all those who encode the Morals, Mores, Customs of The People, specifically those vital residents in the 92 counties where there are more permanent citizens buried under markers or not — still in the Mounds and Banks, isolated locations, in museums and in boxes still.

    As for Monday as a word, that is not Americans’ invention as is “Meatless Monday” in the Woman’s Day menus read and followed by millions here since 1931:

  25. The Rev William Barber…I’ve never heard of the man until reading today’s post which should come as no surprise since I don’t keep up with who’s preaching what, who’s preaching where, and who’s preaching whatever cock-eyed message du jour.

    Seriously, I hope that intelligent educated people who are not Christians will not waste one iota of their time parsing the words of preachers, of any preachers.

  26. Gerald Stinson,


    For sure, you’ve introduced a brand new variable, admittedly an exotic attention-getting variable, into a loosely constructed discussion surrounding the nature of morality. I’ll leave it to you to bridge the gap between today’s political climate and roundworms.

  27. Unfortunately, the ‘bad actors’ in religion get most of the publicity. But thankfully Rev. Barber is becoming a known figure to more and more Americans. If you can go to hear him speak, you are in for a real treat. His messages about being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers are so heart-filled, powerful, and challenging.

    There are many others in our own midst who likewise do yeoman’s work to serve those needing assistance and/or acceptance. My own church (Indpls. St. Luke’s United Methodist) is one of those. For years we’ve helped stock one food pantry and have started a second. Copying other churches, we now offer back-to-school haircuts, shoes, and fully stocked back packs for children in poor families. We outreach to Jewish and Muslim congregants and other Christian denominations for joint activities. We welcome LGBT partners and families.

    We have newscasters in our congregation and make the news at least as often as any other congregation in town, but it’s often due to a big name or event draw rather than for our charitable missions or outreach. I wish the news would try for one week to report only good news to spread a ‘contagion’ of efforts to help each other in our community. Imagine the possibilities.

  28. I do not think that it matters how you get to a point in your life when you can accept all others as your equal and treat them with respect, honesty and charity. What matters is that you grow enough to get there.

  29. We should pray for our enemies because they are our brothers and sisters, whom we love, as part of ourself. Our worst enemy is often ourself, who deserves our prayer, too.

  30. “There is no way you could pass single payer in any intermediate future,” Gephardt declared. America, he added, has the “greatest health care system in the world, bar none.” And while single payer would provide universal coverage, there would be less quality and innovation without the “involvement of the private sector.”


    Haley Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chair, another speaker at the event, chimed in to agree. “Hear, hear. Put me down as agreeing with Leader Gephardt as usual,” Barbour chuckled.


    The mere prospect of single payer, however, has elicited swift derision from some corners of the party, with Dick Gephardt, the former Democratic House minority leader, laughing off the idea at a health insurance conference earlier this month.

    Gephardt, who serves as a Democratic “superdelegate” responsible for choosing the party’s presidential nominee, was asked about the possibility of single payer at the Centene Corporation annual investor day conference at The Pierre, a ritzy five-star hotel in New York City.

    Laughing and chuckling. Got that!?

  31. Thanks, Nancy. I’ve been a member in several churches like you describe. There’s alll kinds of folks in churches. If you are disgusted with your church, look around. As a theologian friend said, it doesn’t matter what name is on a church but how the people act.

  32. Listening and seeing Barber on Youtube was enough for this iconoclast. Been there, done that same old same old.

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