Why I Am In Jail

Why I Am In Jail May 26, 2011

[Editor’s Note:  This letter was written after David LaMotte was arrested on Tuesday of this week.  He is out of jail now.]

As I write this note, it is 12:30PM and I’m sitting comfortably in my office at the NC Council of Churches.  At 3PM, though, I will be in the gallery at the NC Legislature, and by late this afternoon I may find myself in jail.

The current legislature is making a host of decisions which are contrary to the teachings of Christianity, and I feel called to resist those actions with my very body.

Some may say that the actions of the legislature are legal and mandated by the people, and it is therefore suspect to oppose them. I contest that some of the actions are legal (sound public education is guaranteed by the North Carolina Constitution, for example, but is being systematically gutted by the current legislature), but it’s not the legal argument I will be making tonight. I will leave that to the lawyers.

Rather, I would argue that what is right and what is legal sometimes come into conflict, and when they do, our allegiance to God’s teaching should be stronger than our allegiance to the state.  To repeal the Racial Justice Act, to gut public education funding in favor of vouchers for private schools, to prevent federal unemployment money from reaching needy state recipients (when this has no impact on the state budget), to restrict access to the polls by requiring photo IDs, to stop a whole host of services to the poor, from disability funding to health programs to legal representation, stopping same-day registration, stopping Sunday voting, etc. — these things are unconscionable.

When Jesus began his ministry, he said “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” The direction of the current legislature is very bad news indeed for the poor, and as people of faith, it is our responsibility to oppose it.  There are many ways to oppose it, of course, and I encourage others to explore how they are called to do so, whether it is a phone call to the governor to encourage her to exercise her ink well and veto bills that are morally unjustifiable, a letter to your legislators, or marching with HKonJ. Whatever shape our action may take, though, we must act. It is hard for me to reconcile inaction and faithfulness.

The point of getting arrested, in this case, for me, is to simply call attention to what is going on Jones Street. I think the vast majority of North Carolinians are good people and people of conscience, and would not stand for what is happening there if they were aware of it. I believe that many of the people who voted for the current leadership would also not stand for these actions, but were manipulated by fear into supporting a radical faction which is now betraying the very people who put them in office. Of course, North Carolinians are also busy people who are struggling with issues that occupy their time and attention and may keep them from being fully informed.

If we do not call attention to these issues, though, our struggles will become much more difficult to bear. We have to make the time to tune in, and to take action. My action, this afternoon, will be to refuse to leave when I am asked to.  I will break the law willingly, and will pay the price of that civil disobedience to the law because it would be a higher price to disobey my conscience, shaped by my faith.

When asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus said “Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, strength and spirit, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  I believe that ‘love,’ in this case, is not an emotion. Rather, it’s about how we treat each other. In a representative democracy, we decide what matters and who matters through our governmental process. If we are to be faithful to Christ’s teachings, we must be active in that process, because in the eyes of God (though apparently not in the eyes of the NC legislature), everyone matters, not just the privileged and the powerful.

– David LaMotte
Program Associate for Peace
NC Council of Churches

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