Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country. – Jeremiah 31:16–17
The Reverend Shannon Daley-Harris quotes this passage from Scripture in the preface to her powerful new book Hope for the Future: Answering God’s Call to Justice for Our Children. She says: “Even in the midst of the enormous problems our children face — poverty, gun violence, abuse, neglect, lack of health care, and more — I do believe there is hope for our future, that we can bring all children to an experience of safety, love, and justice. It will take more than weeping, God reminds us, it will take work — and to keep at that work we need to stay close to God.”
It’s time for that work. Hope for the Future is a series of twelve meditations that include Scripture passages, moving true stories, and examples from other movements and faithful leaders to inspire all those working to create a better world for our children. It’s a book that could be used as a devotional or in group discussions by everyone from parents to pastors. Rev. Daley-Harris has long been speaking out on the call to care for children in every major faith tradition and calling on people to turn faith into action. As the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Religious Affairs Advisor and Director of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Insttitute for Child Advocacy Ministry for two decades, she coordinates the National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths® Celebrations. Every year congregations of many faiths observe the Children’s Sabbath by drawing on Rev. Daley-Harris’s resources and the texts and teachings of their religious traditions to hear and respond to the holy and eternal call for love and justice that urges special care and protection for children, especially those who are poor.
October 21-23 marks the 25th anniversary of the annual Children’s Sabbaths Celebrations. This year’s theme, “Children of Promise: Closing Opportunity Gaps,” focuses on the inherent promise in every child, made in God’s image, and on the importance of keeping our promises as adults, leaders, and people of faith to treat all children with equality, dignity, justice and love.
In America, we are good at making promises but far less good at keeping them. We promise all children a free and equal education, but millions of children are consigned to failing schools bereft of adequate resources, and 62 years after Brown v. Board of Education a majority of Black children are still receiving a separate and unequal education. We promise families that if they work hard and play by the rules they can get ahead, but millions of hard-working parents find that a minimum wage doesn’t lift their family above the poverty line. We promise that all people are created equal with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but children find that the lottery of birth and geography gives some of them enormous advantages while others face profound and persistent hindrances, and we allow these gaps to grow wider rather than narrower over time. During the Children’s Sabbath, people of all faiths are promising to work to close the opportunity gaps now and in the years to come so that each and every child has a fair chance to succeed.
An election year is especially rife with promises. Candidates assure us of what they will do to improve the lives of children and families as they kiss babies and pause for photo ops with cute children. Will those promises be kept after the ballots are cast? On this Children’s Sabbath weekend, we must commit to pay attention to the promises politicians are making to children and families and hold them accountable if they are elected. We must keep our disciplined attention on policy decisions long after the election spotlight has switched off.
People of faith and goodwill must put their bodies and souls in motion to curb morally obscene and indefensible child poverty rates; wealth and income inequality; massive miseducation of poor children of color; lack of affordable quality child care and preschool opportunities; preventable hunger and homelessness; mass incarceration and unjust criminal justice systems that criminalize the poor; and bullying and demagogic politicians encouraging assault of nonviolent protesters. The time is ripe right now to do what is right and reject the ugliness, violence, demagoguery and greed that have permeated far too much of our political discourse. We must move forward and not backward and teach our children how to disagree strongly without disagreeing wrongly. The election is one more opportunity for our nation to choose leaders who share our hope for our children’s futures and model the behavior we want our young to learn. To do that we must do the work and get out and vote — every time. Every vote is precious and a responsibility of being a good citizen steward.
The call is always urgent. As Shannon Daley-Harris reminds us: “We don’t have time to move at the world’s sluggish pace to rescue our children. We don’t have time for filibustering in Congress and for frittering away our own time; we don’t have time for business-as-usual foot dragging at the Capitol or slogging our way through our own routines. We can’t keep moving at the world’s pace if we are going to protect children as God expects of us . . . As we pursue justice as God intends, we need, my friends, to say to one another as a blessing, a reminder, and a prodding, ‘Godspeed.’” If you are one of the faithful, please join us in this year’s annual National Observance of Children’s Sabbathscelebrations and work together to get out every vote we can. Remember to take the children in your life with you when you vote so they can see and understand the power of democracy in action.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.