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Results of the mid-term elections were barely a day old when finally I heard a resounding response to Tea Party rhetoric. No, it didn?t come from President Obama or Harry Reid or Jon Stewart. It certainly didn?t come from Franklin Graham or Glenn Beck. Instead, it was delivered with undeniable moral authority by a mother of six who is not yet old enough to be president of the United States.
The oracle is a Liberian woman named Leymah Gbowee, and her message is simple: I see your humanity, will you see mine?
Gbowee was the first speaker chosen by Union Theological Seminary to deliver its inaugural Judith Davidson Moyers Women of Spirit Lecture. Moyers is CEO of Public Affairs Television Inc., an independent production company in which she collaborates with her journalist husband, Bill. You may have seen Gbowee on Bill Moyers Journal or in the award-winning documentary made about her work, ?Pray the Devil Back to Hell.?
If anyone can do it, Gbowee can.
She kept her lecture simple and direct in a packed Union chapel, but her major accomplishment?uniting Christian and Muslim women to use prayer to confront the terrifying dictator Charles Taylor and demand that he go to Ghana for talks to end the second civil war that Liberia had endured since 1980?is testimony to her profound faith and courage.
While she has garnered many awards for her work in Liberia, she spoke with sadness and dismay about what has happened in the world that she frequently travels since 9/11. She deplored the fear that pervades our public places and airports, the rooms at Customs filled with Middle Easterners suspected of being terrorists and Africans suspected of being immigrants.
This fear, I realized, has now extended to our president (a suspected Muslim and alien), to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (a suspected radical socialist) and to an almost endless list of Representatives and Senators who supported the extension of health care to millions of people who had no insurance. The government has not taken over the U.S. health system; it has simply taken sides with people too powerless to get what they need.
Yet the media remain predominantly focused on the humanity of those in power, (The puckish portrait of Rep. John Bonior on this week?s cover of Time comes to mind.) Why do they fall all over Warren Buffett and Bill Gates but not the woman who lost her home even though the mortgage was paid up? Why do we as a people require individuals to declare their political contributions and allow corporations to remain unidentified? How can Keith Obermann lose his job at MSNBC for contributions to Democratic candidates and Rupert Murdoch keep Fox News after donating a million dollars to the Republicans?
And how is it that liberal religion, which spoke so eloquently during the civil rights movement of the sixties and offered sanctuary during the Central American wars of the eighties has largely been silent about the current economic crisis, the two wars we are fighting in the Middle East, and the entitlement of Wall Street? Have we lost sight of our humanity?
Gbowee derided fundamentalism in all religions. While she said nothing about the convergence between Christian fundamentalists and a corporatist agenda in the United States, those connections have been made many times by the Moyers. Although Judith Moyers was a trustee of the State University of New York, she chose Union for a reason, and that reason was religious. It?s no accident that the Moyers come out of Texas, where the Bible Belt meets the politics of right-wingers like the Hunts, George W. Bush. and Karl Rove.
Gbowee speaks with the authority of one who worked alongside the mothers, sisters and wives of militiamen in the very war she was trying to end. Had she not acknowledged their humanity, she could not have succeeded, she reminded her audience.
It made me wonder how we can speak across the divide to those frightened women in the Tea Party. How we might demonstrate the difference between a political contest and a beauty pageant. How we might convince them of the folly of fomenting war in the hopes of evoking a Second Coming. How we might persuade them of the pointlessness of protecting the unborn when we neglect the welfare of countless living children. How we might show them the tears of the immigrant as their own.
I don?t have any answers, but Leymah Gbowee convinced me that this is no time to give up on transformation. If we can put a black man in the White House, we can encourage him to execute his duties with authentic compassion. And we should demand no less of ourselves.