North Carolina’s Politics Need Mercy
“In a mess, she is.” So man of letters and fellow Tar Heel Reynolds Price described a character in his essay Scars. So too could he describe the current political atmosphere in North Carolina.
For the first time since Reconstruction, the GOP has taken control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of North Carolina’s General Assembly. For the past ten consecutive Mondays, protestors led by The Rev. Dr. William Barber II of the NC NAACP have filled Halifax Mall outside of the General Assembly building in Raleigh.
They’ve shown up by the thousands each week to voice their frustration over Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP-controlled legislature’s agenda — all of it. In an editorial published Wednesday, the New York Times took up their cause, specifically criticizing, among other issues, cutting federal unemployment benefits, reducing spending for public schools, repealing the state’s Racial Justice Act, cutting income taxes, and closing abortion clinics.
North Carolina General Assembly law enforcement officers, who have arrested more people in the past three months than they have in the past six years, load school buses full of handcuffed, collar-wearing clergy members each week, to ship to the jail down the street.
And each Monday, the same things happen again — more signs, more hashtags, more bullhorns, more yelling, more standing, more police officers, more handcuffs, more buses, and more future court appearances.
During the first few “Moral Mondays,” I wanted to be among the ministers, priests, rabbis, and university professors arrested. I chose not to, in part, because I would lose my prison visitation rights as a (God-willing) future clergyman. Instead of having my hands zip-tied, I watched, wrote, “liked” photos, and retweeted updates.
I realized over the past few Mondays, however, that there haven’t been any updates. There haven’t been any developments. Substantive positions aside, both camps simply trade feelings of indignation, resentment, and annoyance every seven days. And I’ve been right there with them.
Richard Beck, a psychology professor at Abilene Christian University in Texas, writes on his blog this week about sin and mercy:
I was reading Sara Miles’ book Jesus Freak and came across these lines:
“I tried to remember what Jesus preached constantly: mercy. It sounded like an abstract theological principle, but I clung to it to keep me afloat in what was otherwise an inexplicable sea of human sin. Mercy. It was all that could help me give up my self-pity and judgment.”
An inexplicable sea of human sin. Whenever Jana and I are trying to explain the stupidity, vanity, meanness, thoughtlessness, shallowness, duplicitousness and self-absorption of ourselves and others we are, more and more often, using this shorthand assessment: “It’s just sin.”
Which makes us sound like crazy Christian fundamentalists. But the tone we are using is not one of rage and judgment but that of pity, sympathy, and sad resignation. We are, pretty much all the time, a sad and sorry lot.
The character of “Moral Monday” has been all of the above. From the duplicitousness of legislators tacking on abortion restrictions to motorcycle safety laws without public notice, to the vanity and meanness of protestors holding signs that state, “You have Republicans in your vagina,” the climate has been one of sin — of the “pity, sympathy, sad resignation” sort — and no mercy.
I want to maintain the “beacon of farsightedness in the South” as much as anyone, and the arrests made in the name of equality have been nothing short of inspiring. But what the state needs now more than ever before is mercy — from and for all parties involved, not involved, and unable to be involved.
Mercy briefly shone a few weeks ago when ten legislators twice met with a dozen religious leaders to find common ground. But no sooner had their Starbucks lattes cooled enough to drink than the meetings were called off because someone disclosed their existence to the media.
Another small ray of hope, however, may be peeking through. INDY Week reports the director of the State Employee Association of North Carolina (SEANC) said, “If you want to move a progressive cause forward right now, what that takes is being at the table.” Whether the director pulls up a chair remains to be seen, but at least he’s pursuing a merciful endeavor, despite voices like NC Justice Center senior counsel and former labor commissioner Harry Payne. “Not everyone who kneels together, prays together,” INDY Week reports Payne saying. “[The SEANC director’s] strategy has certainly gotten him a seat at the table, but that doesn’t mean anyone is listening.”
It’s true that “Mercy will only flower when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice,” as wrote C.S. Lewis, but Someone will listen, Mr. Payne. And that Someone is the only one who can grant us the mercy to close the separation among the people in North Carolina.