(Rabbi Schreiber is an author and publisher, currently completing a book on Moses and leadership in collaboration with an Episcopal deacon and a Muslim scholar.)
When the ruling party and the sitting president of the United States cease to represent the conscience of the American people, and when the rule of law is made a mockery of on a daily basis, who do you expect to step up to the plate and point out that “the emperor is naked?”
Granted, many in the media are doing their level best to expose the severity of the situation. But major media outlets are engaged in an ideological duel that keeps widening the rift in the society as the debate goes around in circles without getting anywhere.
Back in the sixties when I graduated from rabbinical school the conscience of America was being put to the test because of the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights. Back in those days, prominent clergy of all backgrounds, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Berrigan Brothers, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and many others, were in the forefront of the peace movement, the civil rights movement, and the equal rights movement. I was proud to be an American rabbi, because the voice of conscience was heard loud and clear throughout the land as clergy and lay people alike made America morally great as they put themselves at risk and spoke truth to power.
Where are those voices today? Why are the voices of the faiths that have made America great been silent?
It appears that religion in America is in a state of crisis. The founders of the great monotheistic religions, from Moses to Jesus to Muhammad and beyond, spoke truth to power and put their lives at risk. They all spoke out for the poor and the oppressed, and taught their disciples social responsibility. Men like King and the Berrigans and Heschel were disciples of the great prophets of the monotheistic faiths, and rather than pay lip service to their faith they sought to make it a force for good. It appears that, like some politicians, many of us today respond to our self-interest rather than to our higher calling.
This does not bode well for the future of our country. I am calling on all clergy of all faiths in America to examine our conscience. Are we doing enough to speak up for truth and justice? Do we have the good of all the citizens of our country at heart? Or are we putting personal interest above the common good?
I have just turned eighty. My militant years are behind me. But I have wonderful children and grandchildren, and I am worried about their future. Moreover, I am worried about the future of the planet and of the human race when the country which is expected to be the moral leader of humanity is in such a deep crisis of conscience. Don’t be afraid to speak up my colleagues and friends. We have done it before, and we can do it again. The clock is ticking.