From Bethlehem to Kwanzaa, Calls for Moral Revival. Will We Listen?

Nativity Scene by Haitian artist Toussaint Auguste/UNICEF

“I'm convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.”

These are the prophetic words the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, from the pulpit of the historic Riverside Church in New York City. After this speech King would quickly become one of the most hated and unpopular men in America among both whites and blacks. He was vilified for his outspoken criticism of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Vietnam War, and the inherent connection of the military industrial complex to capitalism and racism. In order to overcome these three evils America would have to fundamentally transform from a materially driven society to a people and community-oriented society.

Tyrone McGowan

Nearly 55 years later, this remains America’s challenge. On December 15, 2021, the United States Senate voted, 88-11, to pass a $770 billion defense bill to increase the Pentagon budget further expanding the military industrial complex. This bill is expected to be signed into law by President Biden. These days Congress is usually divided on everything, from voting rights to immigration reform, to gun control, to climate change, to health care and how we can end this lingering pandemic that has claimed over 800,000 American lives, but somehow, they find a way to agree to increase our already massive military budget. We must ask: is this military budget increase even necessary. Currently, America spends more on defense than the next 11 nations combined. Who or what are we really “defending” ourselves from?

This piece of legislation passed with such ease while an economic package that will improve the lives of working American families remains stalled in the Senate after passing the House of Representatives. This economic package, The Build Back Better Plan, includes making the Child Tax Credit permanent. If the Child Tax Credit is not extended, an estimated 10 million children will be pushed into a crushing state poverty and food insufficiency.

It is Mahatma Gandhi who states, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” The season of Christmas focuses on a vulnerable child. As we prepare to enter the seasons of Christmas and Kwanzaa, we must recommit to prioritizing the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. I believe the deeply liberative principles and values of these two seasons can provide our nation with the blueprint to the moral revival that we so desperately need. If we want a moral revolution of values to occur in this nation, we must boldly and courageously live into the unbridled possibilities these seasons offer us.

If we want a moral revolution of values to occur in this nation, we must boldly and courageously live into the unbridled possibilities these seasons offer us.

The world’s first Christmas was not as joyous, festive, and happy as we love to make it out to be. All was not merry and bright that first Christmas. It was a time of great uncertainty, political and religious oppression, and socioeconomic unrest. Christmas is ultimately about God’s power to radically enter the world to identify with the most vulnerable and marginalized members of a society. Christmas is about God choosing to come in the form of a poor, baby of color born to an unwed teenage mother in a barn on the backside of Bethlehem.

The authentic Christmas narrative brilliantly shines a light of hope upon the lives of those on the margins and propels them to the center. In addition to the poor baby and unwed teenage mother, there is the blue-collar working carpenter, Joseph, who listens to the voice of the angel to save his family from Herod’s domestic policy of destruction that sanctioned the killing of all the Hebrew male children 2 years old and younger. The news of Jesus’ birth is not announced to the privileged few in the palace first. The angel first brings the news of the Savior’s birth to the poor and working-class shepherds keeping watch of their flock by night. This Christmas, America must honestly ask herself, what are we doing to advance the lives of our citizens reflected in this miraculous story. How would eliminating the Child Tax Credit impact the life and destiny of baby Jesus today?

The day after Christmas begins the seven day long celebration known as Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa was created by activist and scholar, Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966, a year before King’s prophetic speech at the Riverside Church. This was a turbulent time in our nation’s history as the Black Power movement was emerging and Dr. Karenga believed it was time to talk about a harvest of the collective will of the black community. Kwanzaa is a time where we pause as a community to reflect and assess where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.

Each day highlights one of the seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. These principles have guided the black community throughout our over 400-year journey in America and continue to shed light upon our path today. Although Kwanzaa is not a religious celebration, the seven principles are universal in nature and can be applied to any community. Ultimately, Kwanzaa is a time of communal, social, and economic empowerment. Applying these moral principles to our daily lives and our public policy can transform us from a thing-oriented society to a people oriented-society.

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.