Remarks delivered by Rev. Chuck Currie at the Oregon League of Minority Voters dinner on October 30, 2014.
It is with great appreciation that I join with you all this evening.
We are, as you all know, near to an election. There is always cause to celebrate the democratic process. We live in a nation where the people decide on those who will occupy elective office.
For all the gifts of our democracy, however, we are a nation not fully free. A broken system allowed the loser of the popular vote to take the presidency in 2001. Our political system has never fully recovered.
Since then we have given corporations the rights of people and taken away from certain people the right to freely vote. We are not fully free.
The United States keeps company with nations like Russia in incarcerating large numbers of our fellow citizens, and in America those jailings are disproportionally based on skin color and not on crime.
We are not fully free in Missouri or New York or California or Oregon when unarmed African-Americans are killed by uniformed police officers and we know the process of investigation will be neither fair nor balanced.
We are a little less free in Portland, Oregon this month after the Portland City Council decided to fight a judge’s oversight of reforms of the Portland Police Bureau that have been mandated by the federal government which would make us a little more free.
Ours is a disconnected reality. We live in an age where an African-American can be elected president of the United States. We live in an age where a Latino can serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. We live in an age where a lesbian woman can serve as the Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. All of these people serve based on the content of their character.
These victories are a reality because of the work undertaken by many of you in this room here today.
But we are less free when our people are hungry. We are less free when our children are homeless. How can we make the claim that we are the “greatest nation on Earth" when 20,000 or more students will experience homelessness just in Oregon this year? Neither political party pays enough attention to poverty and economic inequity but the harshest judgment must rest with those who have fought investments in jobs, expansion in health care…and with those who have simply turned a blind eye to the people Jesus called the least of these.
The crisis of Ferguson is not an isolated incident but indicative of larger social ills that infect the whole body of our nation.
Only when we recognize the common humanity that we all share will we all be free. We cannot treat one another as if we can do without the other. We are too interconnected.
In his letter 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote about the church being the body of Christ. These are the words his used, as translated by Eugene Peterson:
For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?
This is a good message for us as the election nears. We are not fully free because we do not treat the “other” as necessary, as integral, when there is no one, not a soul, that can be left behind. If we do not love neighbor as ourselves, we have no hope.
So I leave you with this prayer, one based on a prayer organically penned by Phillips Brooks, that we often share in the United Church of Christ:
Jesus said, "You ought always to pray and not to faint." Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger women and men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, but for power equal to your tasks. Then, the doing of your work will be no miracle - YOU will be the miracle, and every day you will wonder at yourself and the richness of life that has come to you by the grace of God. Amen.