Last year our Adult Ed ministry team invited Rev. Dr. William Barber, preacher at the 2015 DNC and architect of the recent Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, to be our guest. His dance card was too full, and he had to decline. But in a happy twist, Mother Jones magazine succeeded in booking him this summer and, without even a nudge from us, rented out our sanctuary for their event (thank you, Jesus!).
Last Thursday evening, the sanctuary was full to overflowing with Barber fans, many of whom, a casual poll showed, were not church folks. The atmosphere was electric. We had all come hoping he would make sense of the madness around us. We had all come for a word of hope.
We were not disappointed. He articulated a compelling vision of “moral fusion” in which we understand that all our individual fights for justice are one fight. He urged us to move beyond two-party politics, away from left and right, and begin speaking in moral terms of right and wrong.
He told us that what we were hearing from many conservative white Christian leaders is not evangelical Christianity, but religious nationalism, and it’s heresy. “There are thousands of scriptures in the Bible about poverty, and only a couple about homosexuality,” he told us. Asked about the Supreme Court, he quoted Isaiah chapter 10 to paradoxically wild cheers from this largely secular crowd, “Woe unto those who legislate evil and rob the poor of their right and make women and children their prey.”
He reminded us that the reason we who care about justice and civil rights are being fought is not because we are weak, but because we are powerful. Those doing evil are lying and cheating because they can’t win in a fair fight.
Best of all, he shamed us, in the best possible way (I’m coining a new word: shamespired!), back into hopefulness when he said, “I get pessimistic, I’m not always optimistic. I’m hopeful because I’m required to be hopeful. There comes a time when you gotta stop mourning and pick yourself up. And if somebody ever tells me again that this is the worst we’ve ever seen in America… Worst?! You tired, and folk had to fight against their people being killed, genocide? 200 years against slavery, and 150 years against Jim Crow? You tired, and women had to fight like hell for the vote? You tired, and 18 year olds had to fight because [the leaders] were sinning in the [Vietnam] war? And we got the nerve to talk about TIRED? I’m tired of what I see happening, and I’m rested, and ready to FIGHT.”
Bishop Barber has been fighting this fight for a long time. He has a debilitating form of arthritis that has fused his spine and causes him tremendous pain, and yet he flies across the country nonstop to carry his message of hope and call to action. He regularly receives death threats — against himself, as well as his wife and five children. The man has every reason to be tired and cast down! And yet he says: he is rested and ready to fight.
I had the enormous privilege of hanging out with Bishop Barber in the bride’s room before the event. Right before he went on, I asked him what he needed prayers for, and, deflecting from himself, he said “the movement. That more people will join it. That they will understand that it is work that is going to take a long time. That they will not lose heart but stay motivated.”
Rev. Lynice Pinkard who preached for us last Thanksgiving was with me, and we took his enormous hands in ours, hands that hold so much, and we prayed for the movement — but we also prayed for him, for his strength, for his voice, for his continued ability to move past pain and keep doing the work of movement building.
Beloved, I’m ashamed and I’m inspired. I’m about to go on a short rest — three weeks on the East Coast to volunteer at church camp with young Christians and time with extended family and friends — and then I’ll be ready to fight. God knows we need our rest in order to be ready for what’s coming next. See you back here soon, for resting and fighting in holy rhythms!