Last Saturday, a crowd of thousands rallied in downtown Raleigh for the seventh annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street. The protestors showed up for a panoply of reasons—to rebut Gov. Pat McCrory and the General Assembly's "Carolina Comeback," setbacks to women's rights, voting rights, gay rights, environmental protections and school and health care funding.
This "Moral March," organized by Rev. William Barber president of the state NAACP, was clearly intended to prepare for the upcoming legislative session, which starts in May. A coalition of state leaders and social activists were present: rabbis, Muslims for Social Justice, the Campaign for Southern Equality, North Carolina Educators Association, Planned Parenthood, Health Advocates, Health Access Coalition, NCHEAT and the AFL-CIO.
"A big tent movement," as organizers dubbed it at a policy briefing on Tuesday.
However, some have criticized the Rev. Barber and the Moral movement for mixing religion and politics. "Morality has no place in our politics which rely on adaptation and change," The News & Observer wrote in a recent editorial. "Democracy demands flexibility: it requires us to able to rethink cherished beliefs, to modify our positions and strike a compromise in response to evolving standards of right and wrong and the greater good."
But faith leaders will continue to play a central role in Moral Monday and the Moral March. Nancy Petty, the pastor of Raleigh's progressive Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, emceed Saturday's event. Petty, who refused to marry straight people until same-sex marriage is legal in North Carolina, explained to me why she views politics and spirituality as inextricably bound.
"My role is to inspire people to be a part of this movement. The soul of our state is at stake so as faith leaders it's our privilege and responsibility to frame this as a moral issue, regardless of what faith tradition we're coming out of. North Carolina is a state for all people, not just some people."
Petty also said that despite a widespread assumption that politics and religions should exist in separate realms, religious leaders should not shy away from political activism.
"We are the ones that should be carrying the message that all people are created equal, God loves all people and there needs to be justice for all," she said. "This is a call for all of us to stand up and say we have to be involved. What happens in our churches on Sunday morning needs to be carried out into the streets, in fighting for peoples' rights."
What Petty and other faith leaders are doing seems to be working.
"I think one of the biggest challenges we face in North Carolina is how we educate our communities around what's happening here at the Capital," Petty said. "But people have become more aware of what's going on and the decisions that are being made in the legislature, and they don't like them. This year's march is bringing a more diverse group of people together from across our state who say 'we're going to get involved in this.'"
"Last year they had their time to vote and abuse power," the Rev. Barber said. "This year, we will vote with our voices to show power of the people."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Keeping the faith."