Establishing a Moral Government
Why my faith draws me to partner in advocacy with Bread for the World
By Paul Turner
When Martin Luther King Jr. came out against the war in Vietnam in the 1960s, his justification was that it was draining resources needed to implement the Great Society social programs and hampering the government’s ability to finally deliver on a promissory note guaranteeing that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. King was drawn to the antiwar movement because his faith compelled him to work toward systemic change.
His opposition to the war broke down the silos of seemingly disparate movements and fused them together in one overarching desire for open, honest, and responsive government—a moral government.
Today, that desire involves pushing our government’s leaders to play a significant role in stemming hunger, poverty, and disease at home and abroad. However, just as King had the Vietnam War in his time, we too face enormous competition for government resources to help those whom Jesus called “the least of these.” We too are outraged by government waste, fraud, and abuse; but we are just as outraged by the government’s misplaced priorities and devolution from social responsibility. Even getting the attention of congressional leaders is a competition. The wealthy and powerful are able to steer government policy through campaign contributions and special-interest lobbying firms. How do the voices of those who can’t afford to “pay to play” get heard?
Bread for the World is unlike the special-interest firms that crowd the Capitol, bestowing gifts and favors on members of Congress who support their motives. The organization instead serves as a proxy for those who lack the income and wealth to gain access to these corridors of power.
Bread uses its influence to call for policies that are characteristic of a moral government. It speaks with authority on behalf of the church, God’s primary agent for transformation in the world, and supplies the vigilance needed to ensure the government plays an active role in addressing poverty and hunger.
In the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 5, Jesus encounters a lame man who is lying by the pool of Bethesda because no one would help him enter its healing waters. His blessing was being deferred by the selfish motives of others, who were out to get their own blessings. That’s how it often is in Washington—powerful interests rush in, seeking to receive from the government trough.
When Jesus healed the lame man by telling him to “take up your bed and walk,” he demonstrated the power the church has in advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable.
In the Master of Arts in Transformational Urban Leadership program (MATUL) at Azusa Pacific University, our students are engaged in social entrepreneurship and community transformation in the poorest communities around the world. They are working outside traditional structures to empower the poorest of the poor. Bread similarly engages in social entrepreneurship by embracing civic engagement and advocacy to bring the faith community together to pray, act, and think about new ways to establish a moral government.
Paul Turner is director of Mission Implementation at West Angeles Community Development Corporation, adjunct professor of the MATUL program at Azusa Pacific University, and elder at Abundant Life Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Los Angeles, Calif.
Photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meet at the White House, 1966. (Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office)