Commentary: Republicans Have Some Explaining to Do on ‘Faith’ and ‘Freedom’

At a weekend summit, the Faith and Freedom Coalition made groups deserving of comfort targets of contempt.

Posted: 06/22/2014 06:39 PM EDT

Over this past weekend, the Faith and Freedom Coalition brought conservative activists from around the country to Washington where they heard from Republican leaders, including many of their top potential 2016 presidential candidates. While each individual is entitled to his or her personal interpretation of faith, it is difficult to reconcile our own understanding with a gathering that preached intolerance, hatred, condescension and exclusion.

Across the long history of religious traditions, there is a common tenet that guides our morality, so universally accepted that it is simply known as the Golden Rule. Just as it guides our personal interactions, it can direct our society toward the greater good. We have a responsibility to help those least among us — to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to educate our young, to care for those in need. It is what each of us hope would be done for us were we in their position.

But this past weekend, those deserving of comfort were instead the targets of contempt.

Scorn and derision won’t nourish the hungry child of a single mother. A stern lecture won’t keep the family of an unemployed, underemployed or underpaid worker in their home. It is hypocritical to extol the positive influence of marriage and family with one hand and then deny those benefits to our LGBT brothers and sisters with the other.

Attendees of the conference heard from leaders who are in a position to use their power to offer hand up those in need, but have sought instead to keep them at arm’s length. They are members of a Republican Party that has consistently blocked immigration reform, an increased minimum wage, pay equality, and student loan debt relief. House Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

We would ask them, what article of their faith would deny access to life-saving care to those unable to afford it? What kind of freedom is it to work full time and remain in poverty? How do we accept the status quo of a broken immigration system that breaks apart families, and punishes the children brought here by their parents so that they could have a shot at the American dream?

Our standing in our communities affords us the opportunity to speak up for others. It is part of a rich tradition that we encourage each member of our community to participate in by making their voices heard at the ballot box. Yet 50 years after Freedom Summer, we find ourselves once again fighting to ensure our ability to exercise the right to vote.

As President Obama has said, religion has strengthened our nation: “Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals, from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers’ rights.” Our faith aligns us with a Democratic agenda focused on the economic security of working families. We have a moral obligation to be responsible stewards of the environment for future generations and to protect our most vulnerable communities from the harms of a polluted and changing climate.

Congressman and fellow clergyman Emanuel Cleaver said it best last week: “Though faith and freedom may mean something different to each of us, they are not defined by adherence to a rigid dogma.” Faith and freedom are embodied by how we treat our fellow man, the help we offer to those in need, and an appreciation that we are a stronger community when our actions are guided not by hatred, but by love.

The Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins is the senior pastor of the historic Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He is the former Vice President of the North American Baptist Fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance. The Rev. Dr. Boise Kimber is the head pastor of the First Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven and Hartford, CT. He is President of the Connecticut State Missionary Baptist Convention, and a candidate for the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.

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