40 Days of Moral Action: Liturgical Resources for Christian Worship
These worship resources were created by Kairos Center members as a contribution to the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. During the Campaign’s 40 Days of Moral Action, each week lifts up a theme through through a series of events beginning Sunday evening and culminating in worship services among all faith traditions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The following week’s theme begins Sunday evening.1The weekly events around the theme include a Mass Meeting (Sunday evening), Moral Monday (nonviolent moral fusion direction action in our state capitals), Teaching Tuesday (educational events), Theomusicology Thursday (movement arts and cultural events) and Faithful Friday/Saturday/Sunday worship in faith communities.
The resources here are designed to support the planning of worship services in the Christian tradition that conclude the week. These services continue to lift up the theme around which we have focused in many ways throughout the week. These resources utilize the Common Lectionary and can be adapted by congregations who do not follow that calendar. Bible study suggestions draw more broadly from the scriptures.
WEEK 1 (Services on May 18–20)
Somebody is Hurting Our People and Its Gone on Far Too Long: Children, Women, and People with Disabilities in Poverty
WEEK 2 (Services on May 25–27)
Linking Systemic Racism and Poverty: Voting Rights, Immigration, Xenophobia, Islamophobia, and the Mistreatment of Indigenous Communities
The second week of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival takes on directly the many manifestations of systemic racism. It is appropriate that on Trinity Sunday we address the central source of division within U.S. society, naming systemic racism as a force of separation, violence, poverty and immorality. It is sustained by false narratives, including those that dress themselves in the language of Christianity.
This week’s Christian Testament lectionary readings are central one for doctrines of christology and salvation. For many they are texts that come burdened with past associations. Some who hear John 3:16 think about handmade signs at baseball games or on street corners, even as counter protests at social justice actions. But it is a moment to challenge interpretations of these texts that make them hyper-individual and separate the spiritual from the material. In conjunction with the call to service in Isaiah, we hear again that God’s call is one not to leave the world but to be in the world in new ways. [View or download as a Google Doc]
1. Isaiah 6:1-8
a. One of the lies that we are told about racism is that it’s a matter of changing the behavior of individuals, sometimes only specifically our language. Understanding the evil of racism to be systemic, we know it cannot be solved without deep structural changes. Isaiah’s lips were made clean by God, but this was only an initial step. God called Isaiah to action, and Isaiah answered, “here I am, send me!”
b. We see evidence of systemic racism in the reality that today in 2018 we have fewer voting rights than there were fifty years ago when the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were passed. Since 2010, 23 states have passed racist voter suppression laws, including racist gerrymandering and redistricting, laws that make it harder to register, reduced early voting days and hours, purging voter rolls, and more restrictive voter ID laws. Following the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court case, which gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, 14 states had new voting restrictions in place before the 2016 Presidential election and there were 868 fewer polling places across the country. These laws directly and intentionally target Black people, along with American Indian and Alaskan Natives. But when our democracy is racially attacked those who benefit use their electoral power to pass laws that oppress the poor of across racial lines. For example thirteen states that passed voter suppression laws also opted not to accept expanded Medicaid benefits offered under the Affordable Care Act.
a. Distorted moral narratives sometimes use these verses to shame the body and perpetuate a split between the body and spirit. But this way of reading lifts the words out of their context and actually ends up perpetuating ideas very similar to the ones challenged by Paul.
b. Reading the bible in its historical context reveals the ways in which the early Jesus followers struggled to challenge the social, cultural and religious practices of the Roman Empire. These practices were not challenged simply for being different or foreign, but because they were part of maintaining a political and economic arrangement of extreme inequality, poverty, violence and indignity. Those were the ways of the flesh, and for many poor people it literally led to death–in wars of conquest, in the suppression of dissent, in coliseums, and from starvation in the midst of abundance. Mixed into these larger patterns of violence were more subtle cultural and religious practices, and Paul often challenges listeners to reject those too as part of rejecting the structures kept in place by the ruling elites.
c. It was a fearful position for the early Jesus followers to accuse the existing rulers of the world of being illegitimate. The rulers of the Roman Empire sometimes called themselves the “Father” of the world and used the concept of “adoption” to claim they were heirs to positions of power ordained by Roman gods. But the communities of Jesus followers were finding the courage to claim that they are adopted by a very different Father, one who cared for all human beings as children, abolishing the inequality that makes some rich and safe and others poor and subjected to violence. This witness required a robust resistance to the many ways in which the powers of the Roman Empire made it’s dominance normative, small and large. It was this challenge to power that led crucifixion of Jesus, and the Jesus followers knew well that they might share the same fate. In very real ways they would “suffer with him”.
d. Today we are called again to reject the practices that rulers use to maintain power, and a central tool in their arsenal is racism. Racism takes shape in social, cultural and religious practices, all of which are related to and support a deep structural racism. Today we are called by God and each other to reject both the cultural forms of racism and its structural roots. To do so we must see how racism is used to keep us divided apart from one another and loyal to the existing order of the world. Racism makes it hard for us to imagine a world free from poverty and violence. It keeps us divided among ourselves, telling us we are in competition with each other for scarce resources, rather than united to imagine how our abundance could serve all life and a world free of poverty. And in these ways it makes poverty, militarism and environmental devastation possible.
e. Racism is the kind of “way of the world” that that Paul calls us to reject in Romans. It is in opposition to the ways of the Spirit. And it serves the interests of the powerful at the expense of the poor across racial lines.
3. John 3:1-17
a. When beginning to think about a Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during a retreat in May, 1967 about the story of Nicodemus, challenging them to think of the mission of Jesus and meaning of salvation in terms of society. He said, “We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together. And you can’t get rid of one without getting rid of the other. Jesus confronted this problem of the inter-relatedness of evil one day…A big-shot came to him and he asked Jesus a question, what shall I do to be saved? Jesus didn’t get bogged down in a specific evil. He looked at Nicodemus, and he didn’t say now Nicodemus you must not drink liquor. He didn’t say Nicodemus you must not commit adultery. He didn’t say Nicodemus you must not lie. He didn’t say Nicodemus you must not steal. He said, Nicodemus you must be born again. In other words Nicodemus, the whole structure of your life must be changed…Now this is what we are dealing with in America. Somebody must say to America, America if you have contempt for life, if you exploit human beings by seeing them as less than human, if you will treat human beings as a means to an end, you thingafy those human beings. And if you will thingafy persons, you will exploit them economically. And if you will exploit persons economically, you will abuse your military power to protect your economic investments and your economic exploitations. So what America must be told today is that she must be born again. The whole structure of American life must be changed.” —“Speech at Staff Retreat” (Frogmore, May 1967)
b. I am often with Nicodemus asking, “How can these things be?” How can the structure of an entire nation be changed? How can things that are so much a part of how things are be changed? We must hold the blessing of 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world,” and insist that the life and ministry of the Son is not a weapon against people or the world. We are told explicitly, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world.” But the life and ministry of Jesus, and the early congregations who took up that ministry, challenged the things of the world that stand against God’s love for the world. Today that challenge is directly at the evils of racism, poverty, ecological devastation and war. These are structures that King saw as being rooted in “contempt for life,” exploitation, and the treatment of human beings (and our planet) as a means to an end. To change this indeed requires transformation so big that it will be as if we are born again. “The whole structure of American life must be changed.”
- Using the Census’ Supplemental Poverty Measure and 200% of the federal poverty threshold as a broader but more accurate measure of who struggles to make ends meet in the US, 60.3 percent of Black people, 65.1 percent of Latinx people, 41.1 percent of Asian people and 33.9 percent of white people in the US are poor or low income.
- At the same time, globally the richest 1% own more wealth than the bottom 99% combined. In 2017 the richest 8 people controlled more wealth than 3.6 billion people. (It was 80 people in 2014 and 388 people in 2010.)
- The number of sentenced inmates of all races in U.S. state and federal prison grew from 187,914 in 1968 to 1,458,000 in 2016. People of color account for 66 percent of people in prison, while they make up only about 39 percent of the total population. If current trends continue 1 in 3 black men born in 2001 will go to jail or prison at some point in his lifetime.
- Federal spending on immigration, deportation, and border policies increased from $2 billion to $17 billion and deportations increased tenfold between 1976 and 2015.
- “America Will Be: Uniting a Movement” (8 minutes) follows the struggles of people across the country, exploring how they are interlocked in their fundamental opposition to the violence that degrades and kills life. The forces that unleash and benefit from this violence and who divide the struggles against it are mighty, but they are few. A movement to unite the many is gaining strength and momentum. This episode takes us to the front lines of those struggles and introduces us to some of the leaders who are helping to bring a movement together and to realize a world free from the evils of poverty, racism, militarism, and environmental degradation.
- For the 2018 commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, Bishop William J Barber II discusses the dangers of growing voter suppression not only for those who are denied their right to vote but also for democracy and the poor across racial lines. An excerpt of the presentation is available here.
Sample intercessions to add to prayers of petition:
- Seeing our nation plagued by systemic racism and poverty, we hear the voice of the Lord say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Grant us the strength to courageously answer, “Here am I; send me!”
- As the Spirit bears witness, we know that all are children of God. In our words and actions we will make known that xenophobia, Islamophobia and the mistreatment of indigenous communities are are against this witness.
Voices and testimonies:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.” – Galatians 3:28 “Paul was not saying we shouldn’t keep our differences. We must keep and celebrate our differences, but we must never discriminate and create policies that divide us. That is not the way of God. In other words, poverty among any group of people is unacceptable. In other words everyone has the right to live.”
—Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
“There are alarming attempts to purge voters from registration roles (disproportionately poor and of color) in violation of the National Voter Registration act. There are efforts to strip opportunities to vote early and vote on weekends, the period where working poor have the most access to the ballot. We have witnessed and fought against mass apartheid redistricting efforts across our country based on racial gerrymandering, separating voters by race and party…We have witnessed efforts to end access to broad and innovative voter registration schemes, and the spreading of fear to diminish confidence in our democracy…The same states that have the most voter suppression efforts also host the greatest denial of healthcare, denial of living wages, the highest rates of incarceration and disproportionate imprisonment of people of color, and the highest rates of child poverty. Affordable housing, disability benefits, medical care, income and living wage protections against environmental racism, the divestment of long-term wealth in our communities foundationally depend on the right to a true political voice.”
—Caitlin Swain, Forward Justice.
- “Telling Stories, Making Commitments” encourages reflection on commitment through the stories of the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King Jr’s reflections on leadership, and the story of the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26. It is available here.
Multifaith Responsive Reading:
Music: Ready for Change to Come
I wanna be ready for change to come
I wanna be ready for change to come
I wanna be ready when it comes
Wanna be ready when it come
I wanna be ready for change to come
Do you wanna be ready for change to come…
Yes I wanna be ready for change to come…
We need to be ready for change to come…
We better be ready for change to come…
Yes we’re gonna be ready for change to come…
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||The weekly events around the theme include a Mass Meeting (Sunday evening), Moral Monday (nonviolent moral fusion direction action in our state capitals), Teaching Tuesday (educational events), Theomusicology Thursday (movement arts and cultural events) and Faithful Friday/Saturday/Sunday worship in faith communities.|