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'Moral Man and Immoral Society'

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This past Sunday, I delivered a speech at an annual event held in honor of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr at Elmhurst College just outside of Chicago. It was in fact Niebuhr's book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, that I read as a youngster and that still resonates with me today when I reflect upon our remaining challenges as a nation. Before I spoke to those gathered at Elmhurst, my thoughts went immediately to that book and the immoral society created by policies enacted and upheld by some in power today. After a week which began with 12 killed at a Navy Yard shooting in Washington, and continued with 13 shot at a South Side park in Chicago, we still can't get Congress to pass legislation on background checks. Some elected officials are so quick to give tax breaks and subsidies to the rich, and then turn around and cut billions from the food stamp program. Neibuhr talked about an immoral society, and today's right-wing likes to hold itself to high and mighty standards, but doesn't hesitate to stomp on the most vulnerable among us. Talk about a double standard.

Personal responsibility. We see pundits, Party leaders and talking heads on the right continuously tout personal responsibility. But they conveniently forget that personal responsibility includes a duty to create communities and environments where everyone can feel secure and have a chance to excel. We're living in an era where the right-wing installs personal morality, but institutionalizes inequity. Instead of allowing kids to stay on their parent's insurance, or give those with pre-existing conditions health care, they would rather shut government down. With all that is at stake, they choose to play games with the nation's economy. Working mothers and fathers don't have time to play games. The man or woman working two or three jobs just to feed their children do not have time for games. The veteran returning from combat and looking for work does not have time to play games. The child in desperate need of life-saving surgery does not have time for games. The person burying a loved one who died suddenly at the hands of gun violence doesn't have time for games. And the middle-class and poor who were the biggest victims of the economic crisis of '08 definitely do not have time or patience for games.

It's easy to sit in Congress or in a gated secluded community and talk down to people. When you are removed from reality and removed from the everyday struggles of hard-working folks, you have no concept of what they overcome day in and day out. Some are quick to tell people who are literally pulling pennies together to feed their children that they need to work harder. House Republicans don't hesitate to cut nearly $40 billion in food stamps while they continue enjoying their paychecks and scheduled vacation time. Many give in to NRA pressure and lobbying efforts, meanwhile our society grows increasingly unsafe with the proliferation of guns everywhere. Moral people should reflect a moral society. One cannot consider themselves even remotely moral when they demonize the poor, and create further inequality in the country.

Within the next few weeks, I will be taking an apartment in the city of Chicago in order to continue raising awareness on the epidemic of gun violence. I don't have all the answers. Nobody does. But just because a task is challenging, that does not mean we simply shrug our shoulders and do nothing. It is the duty of everyone with a voice to raise questions publicly and consistently, with the goal that together we can find solutions. The answer is not attacking the impoverished, threatening a government shutdown, attempting to defund a program that will give millions health care and pretending to be moral figures while behaving like the biggest sinners when it comes to others.

This is precisely what Niebhur talked about. Those that seek to be personally moral must also make sure that our government and institutions reflect the same principles. Anything less is a disgrace to the definition of morality.