The leaders of the denominational members of the North Carolina Council of Churches have sent a joint letter to senior elected leaders, Governor Cooper, Representative Moore, and Senator Berger, outlining a few of their primary concerns on behalf of the people of N.C. Items mentioned by the faith leaders include: Medicaid expansion, public school funding, broadband access, and criminal justice reform. The letter also names their belief that these matters relate directly to the question of racial equity:
Dear Governor Cooper, Representative Moore, and Senator Berger,
We write as denominational leaders of churches across North Carolina and as members of the North Carolina Council of Churches. Know that each of you are in our prayers daily, as are all elected officials with the responsibility of making our municipalities, state, and nation a place of “liberty and justice for all.”
The previous few months have shined a light on important matters for North Carolinians. We’d like to focus on just four: Medicaid expansion, public education funding, broadband access, and criminal justice reform.
Medicaid expansion: It baffles us that N.C. has not accepted the billions of federal dollars that could be flowing into our state, a state filled with citizens who pay their share of federal income taxes. These taxes are being used to fund the 90 percent federal match on Medicaid expansion enrollees for states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Not only does this forfeit money that Washington is trying to send back to North Carolinians who qualify for healthcare coverage under the law of the land, it also leaves nearly half a million of our neighbors without health care coverage. When we consider the positive ripple effect that coverage would have for their communities—dollars out to the clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, providers—it becomes more baffling to us. For people of faith, however, this goes far beyond the economic argument. It is a moral imperative to restore health whenever possible. The numerous stories found in our gospels show that healing does much more than make people well; healing restores people to community. When Jesus healed the 10 lepers they were so excited about returning to their friends and families that only one of them thought to return and thank Jesus first (Luke 17:11-19). Medicaid expansion can restore people to community by making them well again. Perhaps they will even thank you for it.
Public school funding: Across the centuries, education can nearly always trace its roots back to religion, but in this country, Thomas Jefferson had a new idea. He proposed tax supported general education for all citizens (1779). Ten years later, the first public college was founded in N.C., and remains among the best public universities in the nation. Along with faith communities, schools are an anchor institution in many of our towns and neighborhoods. Schools provide a social safety net for the children in these communities, but they cannot do it without resources and without respect.
We need to move from talking about teachers and discipline as the problem in our schools to talking about funding as the problem for our schools. Our children are going to continue suffering if public education in this state continues down the privatization and re-segregation path we are on. We all know the numbers and we all know how to turn the tide. We all know God’s claim on the lives of the children we are tasked with protecting not only by our state’s constitution, but by the tenets of our faith.
Broadband access: The health needs and education needs of North Carolinians are writ large by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing us to adapt on both fronts. A major piece of this adaptation depends on the internet. Without high-speed internet, the sick cannot consult physicians and the children cannot complete school assignments. In much the way that the Rural Electrification Act transformed our landscape from darkness to light in the mid-20th century, broadband access can transform shrinking worlds into endless horizons now in the 21st century. The ripple effects of such an initiative will extend far beyond health and education into most sectors of the economy.
Criminal justice reform: It is time for America to face the truth of our criminal justice system. Both scripture and tradition remind us we are called to create systems of restitution, not retribution; systems of restoration not retaliation. Meanwhile, our jails and prisons are disproportionately filled with people of color, primarily black men, even as black men represent a minority among the nation’s total population. A spotlight on the microcosm of drug policy demonstrates that justice is not blind, after all. In disproportionate numbers, black men are imprisoned for the same crimes committed by white people. This takes them out of their communities and away from their families. They cannot play with their children, visit their elderly parents, or contribute economically. The toll of their absence reverberates well beyond their families throughout the entire community.
In closing, we must state the obvious. Each of these issues we’ve chosen to highlight must be refracted through the lens of race. Health disparities sentence black people to an early grave, minimal education opportunities impede black children from successful careers, and the criminal justice system relegates a third of black men in this country to second-class status. We believe the time has come to break the chains of the cycle of reform, restraint, and retaliation that has defined our existence, at least since the Emancipation Proclamation, and more likely since the first white settlers landed on the shores of a land already occupied by people with darker skin.
We confess that the faith we serve has, at times, been complicit in the subjugation of other peoples. But we also rest in the assurance of a renewing and restoring Creator. We believe that confession and restitution will be met with forgiveness and restoration from both God and our neighbors. Let us begin to seek these things by crafting legislation that provides liberty and justice for all those created in the image of God.
The Rev. Dr. Nilous M. Avery, II
Former President, General Baptist State Convention of N.C., Inc.
Bishop George E. Battle, Jr.
Bishop, Piedmont Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion
The Rev. Edward Churn
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of New Hope
The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland
Executive Director, North Carolina Council of Churches
The Rev. Dr. Edward Davis
Conference Minister, Southern Conference United Church of Christ
Bishop James L. Davis
Presiding Prelate of the Second Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
The Rev. Paula Clayton Dempsey
Director of Partnership Relations, Alliance of Baptists
The Rev. Jan Edmiston
General Presbyter, Presbytery of Charlotte
The Rev. Elder Cecilia Eggleston
Moderator, Metropolitan Community Churches
The Rev. David Guthrie
President, Provincial Elders’ Conference, Moravian Church in America, Southern Province
The Rev. Sonja Lee
Pastor Emeritus, Unity Fellowship Church Movement
Bishop Paul Leeland
Bishop, Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church
The Rev. Jerrod B. Lowry
General Presbyter & Stated Clerk, The Presbytery of Coastal Carolina
Mr. Frank C. Massey
Presiding Clerk, North Carolina Fellowship of Friends
The Rt. Rev. José A. McLoughlin
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina
Bishop Valerie Melvin
Regional Minister, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in North Carolina
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Monroe
Bishop, Eastern North Carolina Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion
The Rev. Dr. Cameron Murchison, Jr.
Stated Clerk, Presbytery of Western North Carolina
The Rev. Dr. Conrad K. Pridgen
Presiding Elder of the Western District of the Western North Carolina Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
The Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman
Bishop Diocesan, Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina
The Most Reverend K.J. Rogers
Chief Protector, Reformed Churches of God in Christ International
The Rev. Dr. Joan M. Saniuk
Southern Hospitality Network Lead, Metropolitan Community Churches
The Rev. Stephen W. Scott
Transitional General Presbyter, Salem Presbytery
The Rt. Rev. Rob Skirving
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina
Bishop Timothy M. Smith
Bishop, North Carolina Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
Bishop, North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church