Saying that we live in a nation that is “trapped in labeling,” the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), told those at the Presbyterian Voices for Justice Award Luncheon that “we’ve got to cut out all this foolishness of liberal and conservative and moderate.”
Nelson’s call to “take off the labels and talk,” followed the presentation of the Voices for Justice Andrew Murray Award to Dorothea Murray, 86, widow of the award’s namesake, who has been a longtime advocate for the work of the organization. Murray, a member of the Oxford (Pa.) Presbytery Church, remains an active supporter of social justice causes.
Nelson, speaking at Sunday’s luncheon at East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh as part of the 220th General Assembly, said, “We are struggling in this nation with two groups, one rich and one poor.”
While gun violence continues on the rise, while privatized prisons emphasize confinement over rehabilitation, while the poor struggle to get by and while corporate wealth drives the electoral process, the nation is being driven to a “major crossroads,” Nelson said.
But those issues are only the visible effect of a more primary cause. “We must address the work that must be done up front,” he said.
“We’ve got to take these handguns out of the hands of the people on the street,” Nelson said. “There is something wrong when [prisons] are not in the business of rehabilitation.”
Nelson lamented the influence of corporate funding of election campaigns, adding that voting in Congress is influenced by corporate “money infused into campaigns.” Corporations, he said, contribute equally to both parties, so “whoever gets in is beholding to” the corporate supporter.
Nelson called for a high voter turnout. “If [corporations] did not believe voting counted, there would not be all this voter suppression going on,” Nelson said, pointing out that making government identification necessary for voting presents challenges to the homeless and elderly, among others.
Nelson used voter suppression as a call to advocacy. “It is important we not get discouraged,” he said. “It is really not about us anymore,” but it is about relationships. Nelson wants Presbyterians to build relationships with legislators.
“We’ve got to put pressure on those in Congress to do what is right,” he said, remembering that it is those relationships—talking with each other without labels—that will move the nation beyond the crossroads to that place where, in the words of Lincoln, to be a nation “of the people, by the people, for the people.”