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We Need A Moral Breakthrough: A Reverend's Remarks to the Reform Jewish Community

We Need A Moral Breakthrough: A Reverend's Remarks to the Reform Jewish Community

Rev Barber at the podium at the 2017 URJ Biennial

This address was presented before the 74th Union for Reform Judaism Biennial convention on Wednesday, December 6. You can also download and print a PDF of this text.

Hello. Thank you. Shalom. 

To all of you, to my Jewish Bishop, Rabbi Jacobs. Rabbi Pesner, friend and brother who guided me in the NAACP when I was on the Board with Rabbi Saperstein. Amen. 

To my own personal Deborah, Rabbi Lucy Dinner. I thank God for her every day. 

Today has not been an easy day. A lot of things are going on. But your mercy, your grace, your love since we have been here has been so helpful. And I am honored to just be able to even stand in this space and to be with all of you, my brothers and sisters. 

Right now I am trying to take heed to what one of the psalmists said. There are lots of moving parts. God - Jehovah - is a present help in the time of trouble. Psalm 46 ends like this: “Be still and know that God is God.” I'm praying for that stillness in this moment. 

Tonight, standing in this grand tradition with you in your many, many years of service, I want to thank you on behalf of the world and the nation for all that this organization has done and continues to do.

Tonight I want to wrestle with you. I want to muse in public. I want to maybe even cry some and suggest that America needs a poor people's movement and a national call for a moral revival breakthrough. We need a Poor People's Campaign and a national call for a moral revival breakthrough. 

There are many hymns that we sing in this country. One of them says, “Oh, beautiful for pilgrims' feet whose stern impassioned stress, a thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness. America, America, God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law." 

The next stanza says, "Oh, beautiful for glory-tale of liberating strife, when once or twice for man's avail, men lavished precious life. America, America.“

And the first one says, "God shed his grace on thee. America, America, may God thy gold refine until all success be nobleness and every gain is divine." 

The American project and the goal of true democracy with the promise of establishing justice and providing for the common defense and the promoting of the general welfare has not from the beginning nor now been an easy thing. This is why the poet hymnists in that hymn America, America pleaded for God's grace; called upon us as a nation not to be arrogant and to live in a sense of false exceptionalism.

But instead the hymn writer said we must be willing to admit and to mend our flaws. To move in self-control, not in rashness, not in political policymaking that is more about partisanism and more about ego than it is about honoring the most sacred principle of religion, and that is the protection of life. 

The hymn writer said there is no place for pride, for ego as a nation. In order to provide a liberty and an equal protection guaranteed in the law, we must work hard at this democracy. Whatever we do, we must hope that our success has a certain nobleness about it. And we must hope that our gain would never be merely about greed, but any gain for this nation would be rooted in that which gives glory to the divine purposes of God. 

Meeting these lofty and noble aspirations has been America's constant challenge. Dr. King once said of America as he spoke to her with great love as one of America's greatest patriots, he said, “Too often we have a high blood pressure of creeds and an amemia of deeds.”

From the beginning of this nation, even as we claimed all to be created equal, the nation exited the sin of genocide against Native Americans, ostracized poor white men and all women voting, and dehumanized black people through chattel slavery and designation as three-fifths of a person.

This nation has sometimes had the flaw in the midst of its fear of running to tribalism and nationalism that has at points in this history said we don't want you if you're Jewish. We don't want you if you're Polish. We don't want you if you're Irish. We don't want you if you're Latino. As though some how we could find answers by blaming other people for our problems. 

And in every situation, in every moment of history, many had to stand up, fight for a moral breakthrough and demand that America mend her flaws. Not because they were not patriotic, but because they were. They had to work to break through injustices to point to a better way.

You can watch the rest of Reverend Barber's speech for yourself, and visit the Poor People's Campaign to find out how you can get involved in his work to bring about a Moral Revival.

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