Last week, a delegation of clergy from across our state joined North Carolinians who are directly affected by Gov. Pat McCrory’s policy decisions to ask a single question: Will you affirm our Higher Ground Moral Declaration? If not, please explain why.
During a news conference outside the governor’s office at the Old Capitol, we took time to publicly read the declaration we had sent ahead of us for McCrory’s review. We gathered to make clear that individual clergy like Franklin Graham, who exploits his father’s good name by promoting fear of Muslim and LGBTQ neighbors, do not speak for our faith traditions, which affirm love, justice and mercy as guiding principles for public engagement. We affirmed that voting rights, education, health care, immigration, environmental protection and equal protection under the law are moral issues. We asked McCrory to state clearly whether he agrees.
This is a busy campaign season, so we did not expect McCrory to be personally available at our request. We also recognize that people of good will can disagree about the best ways to ensure public education, heath care, justice and equal protection for all people in North Carolina. We simply asked for clarity about where McCrory stands on these issues so we can inform our congregations.
Rather than offer an honest response, however, McCrory chose to send security officials to tell us we could not deliver our declaration to his office. When we asked whether any new policy prohibited citizens from visiting the Old Capitol, the officers conceded that we were welcome in the building. But no one was available to answer our questions on behalf of McCrory.
From outside McCrory’s office at the Old Capitol, we were able to reach someone at the governor’s administrative offices on Jones Street who apologized for the “confusion” and invited us to deliver our declaration to her, which we did. But she was not authorized to say whether McCrory affirms these matters of public concern as moral issues.
When we asked if someone could, we were asked to wait in the lobby. When, after 30 minutes, we called to ask how much longer we would need to wait for a response, we were told, “Not long.” When we dialed the number again, it went to voicemail. No one from McCrory’s staff has responded to our message.
What are we to make of an administration that cannot be reached, even by the most diligent of attempts to follow its protocol? Millions of dollars are being spent on TV ads in which McCrory smiles and assures us that he wants to “do what’s right.” The lobby of his offices on Jones Street is decorated with posters of that same smile. But to people who are being hurt by his policies, his smile feels like an insult. To citizens who want to engage in the democratic process, the run-around we experienced is answer enough to our question about where he stands.
The NCAA and ACC have moved their championship events scheduled for North Carolina because of the discriminatory HB2 that McCrory continues to defend. In an official statement, McCrory blamed the NCAA for not letting the judiciary branch do its work. Yet when the nation’s highest court declined his request to overturn a federal court ruling that found that McCrory and the NCGA had targeted African-Americans in our state with “almost surgical precision,” McCrory still did not trust the judicial process. He smiled and said the voting law he’d signed was “common sense.”
Such basic contradictions beg for clarification – a give-and-take that traditionally happens in democratic society through conversation between constituents and their elected representatives. Among the clergy who went to meet with McCrory was a living memory of meeting with every sitting governor, both Republican and Democrat, for at least three decades. But that tradition of conversation about the common good and how we might pursue it together has broken down with this administration.
As teachers and preachers in North Carolina’s synagogues, churches and theological schools, we can’t tell people whom to vote for. We have made vows, however, to tell the truth about our faith traditions and what they demand of each of us. At the Moral Day of Action, we tried to do this respectfully and according to the protocols laid out by McCrory’s staff. The response we were met with not only makes clear where McCrory stands on moral issues but also how he responds to the people he was elected to represent.
The Rev. Nelson Johnson works at Faith Community Church in Greensboro. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is with the School for Conversion in Durham. Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or in Raleigh contributed,