Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series.

gilbert-raiford-web.jpgUnlike Conservatism, which tenaciously clings to self-serving policies, Liberalism recognizes the imperfections in the social order and, though “liberals” also benefit from these imperfections, their collective sense of moral responsibility leads them to seek change.

Liberals are open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. They seek to create a more perfect society, a society where justice means fairness and fairness means equal treatment. Liberal doctrine is deeply rooted in religion. The raison d’être of religion is to make moral sense of life. 

It is no surprise that most efforts to guide this country along the path of morality originated in the Church. The abolition of slavery in America resulted from the courage and actions of religious people. Quakers were so serious about the Christian mandate to “love your brothers as I have loved you” that they were willing to risk the safety of themselves and their family to help slaves escape.

There were other Christians who embraced their faith and the teachings of Jesus Christ and were willing to die for them. Congregationalist minister John Brown declared, “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery.” He did — and he died for his convictions. Today, in stark contrast to past courage and devotion to Christian principles, there are shrill shouts from some pulpits calling for the death of America’s first black President.

It was a Baptist minister who was in the vanguard of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr., like the Quakers and John Brown, held strong beliefs in Christianity and spent his life advocating and pushing America to live up to its cherished creed that “All men are created equal.” He encountered opposition in many corners of society, including among the religious community.

King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail responded to the correspondence from a group of inter-denominational clergy urging him to stop his civil disobedience. His articulation of the Judeo-Christian ethic was so passionate and precise that those same ministers were waiting outside the jail to join his movement. Millions of whites, motivated by moral persuasion, joined and contributed to the success of the Civil Rights struggle. Sadly, today’s Church preaches a prophetic gospel which seems to intentionally ignore the Biblical mandate to be “our brother’s keeper.”

Before slavery ended, Mary Kelsey Peake, a religious black woman, defied Virginia law and dared to teach enslaved blacks to read and write. She saw literacy as an essential tool for full participation in American society. Her courage and insight motivated the American Missionary Association (AMA), an amalgam of non-denominational churches, to join her in the effort.

The AMA deserves credit for many of the educational advancements made by African Americans. Historically Black Colleges and Universities owe their beginnings and their survival to the AMA. Hampton, Fisk, Tuskegee, Dillard, et al., are its legacy and graduates of HBCUs are its beneficiaries.

A society stagnates and dies without Liberalism. It serves as a mirror that reflects cruelty and injustice. United States history is replete with examples of Liberals struggling against tremendous odds to advance a measure of justice: The right to vote for African Americans and women and veteran benefits enjoyed by members of our Armed Forces were the result of the work of Liberals. Franklin D. Roosevelt created “The New Deal” and led the country out of the Great Depression. Lyndon B. Johnson created “The Great Society.” There are many, many more. Yet, Conservatives have succeeded in making “liberal” a dirty word, a word shunned by politicians.

Liberals advocate for the rights of others and continue to push this nation toward a “more perfect union.” Liberals are motivated out of a keen sense of right and wrong and, like Lincoln, they believe that “those who deny freedom to others do not deserve it themselves and, under a just God, cannot hope to long retain it.”

Gilbert L. Raiford is semi-retired after a career in teaching and working for the U.S. Department of State. He lives in Miami where he volunteers at homeless facilities, the Opera House in Miami and after-care school programs as a fund-raiser. He may be reached at graiford@hotmail.com.