Their speeches and calls to action drew cheers and applause from the audience, making it clear that this is a side of Asheville’s faith community that will not sit down or step aside in the face of what they see as unjust, socially destructive policies. “We believe in North Carolina enough to fight for North Carolina,” said Jasmine Ferrara of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “We will speak up, and we will act. We must use coordinated, peaceful acts of civil disobedience to put pressure on the system.”
The policies contested ranged from cuts to nonprofit and education funding, to reduced teacher’s salaries, voter identification laws, tax breaks for the wealthiest North Carolinians, and impediments to reproductive rights — all of which those present unanimously agreed will be most harmful to the poor and vulnerable, faith leaders asserted.
The conference was introduced by Rev. Joe Hoffman of First Congregational United Church of Christ: “We are here because we have deep concerns for the decisions that are being made by the General Assembly and particularly how they impact the disenfranchised. ... We have a vision as the faith leaders for a better community. ... As leaders of faith communities we affirm justice as God’s promise and our calling.”
“We affirm that God wants justice for all of us, and we see justice as standing with and for the vulnerable, justice as God’s character, and justice as our hope.”
Beginning with demonstrations on April 29, the North Carolina NAACP has been coordinating protests each Monday afternoon at the General Assembly in Raleigh to speak out against this swath of legislative overhauling. The group’s fifth rally is scheduled for Monday, June 3 (they will take a hiatus this week in honor of Memorial Day). John R Hayes, president of Asheville’s NAACP chapter, said that busses will be made available in Asheville to transport demonstrators to the capital on June 3.
During his speech, Hayes spoke of the Pentecost (observed Sunday, May 19) — a holiday commemorating the biblical occasion whereby the apostles were filled with the holy spirit and given the strength to spread the Gospel far and wide. He compared the biblical story to what he observed to be at happening throughout North Carolina: “Something unique began to happen after Pentecost,” he said, “And it was just like each of you who are standing here today. Two of the disciples were going up to the temple for prayer, and there stood one — that we are standing here for today — begging alms, needing a hand out. But instead, they got a hand UP. They got a hand up when we — the people of faith — stood together! And Peter and John looked on him and said ‘Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I unto thee.’ Then — with just the words that we need to move forward today — ‘Rise up and walk. Rise up and see. Rise up and do!’ Western North Carolina: We are rising up!”
“Busses ... will be leaving Asheville packed with people that are going to join members of the NAACP and other members of the movement,” said Hayes.
Monday’s speaker’s aligned faith with political and social activism in a manner reminiscent of the civil rights movement — and appropriately so, as many of them pointed out similar stakes: that the current policies will further exacerbate socioeconomic and racial segregation in North Carolina.
“There is a hurricane-force wind that we are feeling from Raleigh,” said Joyce Holiday of Circle of Mercy. “[It] is destroying racial justice, affordable homes, food programs, and protection for survivors of domestic violence. But friends, we are here because there is a stronger wind that is moving among us. It’s a Pentecost wind, and it can’t be stopped or contained!
“So watch out, legislators: the Holy Spirit may just enter your heart like a mighty gale ... and transform you into someone who cares about the people you’re voting into oblivion and condemning to misery. Consider yourselves warned, in love.”