Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Our Souls

Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew, Buddhist or Hindu, Pagan or Agnostic. Whatever your faith or religious belief, you possess morality. And that morality has a source from which you discern right from wrong.

For many, that source of our morality connects integrally to the essence of our being. Some call this our soul. Whatever you name that force that defines “you” sets you apart as unique, special and wonderful. One of the true wonders of humanity lies in those small, special differences that make us each one of a kind.

At the same time, we can come together with like-minded souls — people with whom we share concepts of morality and its sources. And so many of us belong to churches, temples, mosques and other houses of faith. These religious communities can be fonts of great strength and support. However, they can also divide us when sources of faith calcify into rigid dogma and believed truths.

Midland contains over 100 Christian churches. This fact mystifies non-Christians, who cannot understand how so many different interpretations of the teachings of Jesus can exist and manifest themselves in wholly separate communities. What is the difference between a Presbyterian and a Methodist, a Lutheran and a Baptist? And what separates the dozens of congregations not affiliated with any of the traditional Protestant denominations?

We know some of the distinctions involve ritual practices and internal governing structures. One church may interpret particular scriptures differently enough from another that worshiping together would be problematic. But many of us would be hard pressed to explain to others why we segregate ourselves on Sunday morning into 100 different buildings searching for the same things — fellowship, support, hope, love — things that everyone desires, whether they belong to a religious community or not.

As a result of this fragmentation, we find it hard to come together when needed to address matters that affect us all. Whatever our beliefs regarding the source of our morals, there are times when we should be able to unite in agreement against mutual wrong, against evil so clear that all would support its opposition.

We face such an evil right now, here in Michigan.

Barely one hour away, one hundred thousand people have been poisoned, permanently harmed by their drinking water. This poisoning resulted not from a natural catastrophe, but from decisions made by men — men whose morality varied tremendously from our social norms. These decisions derived from a source that is not any god or sacred gift of goodness and grace. The men, women and children of Flint were poisoned by people who worship an unholy god — a god of money, a god of corruption, a god of racial hatred.

The people of Flint hurt. Already long-suffering, our neighbors feel betrayed and abandoned, powerless and hopeless. The people we helped elect knew they were poisoning a city and they did nothing. This governor and his appointees placed pipelines and profits over people. They played on your faith in them to care for and nurture our brothers and sisters in Flint to pursue a political and economic agenda that is growing more and more ugly as details emerge.

We are all praying for the people of Flint: the homebound elderly; the mothers and fathers; the children who have already suffered irreparable brain damage that may affect them for the rest of their lives. We should continue praying for our neighbors in Flint, and for everyone working to help them rebuild their damaged city.

But prayer is not enough. Charity is not enough. We must reclaim the road to Jericho from the thieves and robbers so that no more travelers end up dying in the ditch. As people of faith, we must unite against the idolaters and reclaim not only our own souls, but the soul of this state. We must tell Gov. Snyder that people matter more than privatization and profit.

To do this, we must look to the source from which these men derived their sense of values and expose it to the light of love.
  • The emergency manager law violates the most core tenet of our republic — representation of the people by those elected by the people. We must demand that the politicians in Lansing repeal this law and return democracy to this state.
  • The conjoined twin of the emergency manager law is vile racism — the belief that some people are inherently superior to others. Every person has worth and dignity and no one who believes otherwise should be creating laws, whether their hatred is based on race, ethnicity, immigrant status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or any other distinction. We must demand the resignation of bigots who cannot legislate fairly and equally.
  • State officials must be held accountable to their public service mission. The mission of the Department of Environmental Quality states that this agency is “dedicated to protecting human health and to preserving a healthy environment. The DEQ exemplifies environmental stewardship and affirms that a healthy environment is critical to our social, cultural and economic well-being.” Without accountability, such statements represent cruel perversions and indifference. Any staff or appointee who knew of this poisoning and did nothing must be fired.
  • Accountability can only occur when investigations into truth are impartial and unbiased. Appointing a prosecutor with known financial ties to the principle subject of the investigation tells us that our Attorney General seeks neither truth or impartiality. We must demand an impartial federal investigation into the poisoning of Flint.
  • Even impartial investigations require transparency. This governor’s expressions of remorse ring insincere when he continues to shield himself from requests for pertinent information. We must demand complete disclosure in this and all matters of governance.
  • And the core source of all of these problems? A philosophy of selfishness and greed expounded by entities like the Mackinac Center, a soulless organization devoted to helping the wealthy retain and increase their riches while the people starve, struggle for homes and jobs, and now suffer the loss even of usable drinking water. The pundits of the Mackinac Center have turned Flint into a third world country, and we must disavow their amoral teachings. We must refute these corruptions of capitalism and democracy and steer our ship of state to a port where people are never poisoned for corporate gain.
The soul of our state hangs over a fiery precipice. If we stand mute, then all of our Sunday sermons and prayers mean nothing; all of our creeds and principles ring hollow. We have elected men into office who have already sold their souls to golden idols. We must place no more faith in their ability to govern and make decisions for us or our neighbors.

Our brothers and sisters in Flint lie bleeding along the road and we must help them now. We must lift them up, bind their wounds, and see to their needs. This means not just bottled water and filters, but immediate replacement of pipes destroyed by chemical and political corruption. This means routing state money to Flint today to restore what was taken from that city. And it means ensuring that nothing like the evil inflicted on our neighbors ever happens again.

(originally published January 30, 2016)

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