Last Thursday, the Rev. William Barber II addressed all Americans when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Wednesday he will address the people of Chautauqua Institution.
At 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy, Barber will give an Interfaith Lecture presenting his call for a third reconstruction and national “moral revival.” Barber is a member of the national board of NAACP, and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, a set of regular, peaceful civil rights protest in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Barber’s father was a progressive minister whose involvement in social justice advocacy work inspired Barber at an early age. Barber attended segregated kindergarten at age 5, and was elected president of NAACP’s youth council at age 15.
Barber said his theological upbringing taught him “there’s no way to be Christian and not be concerned about justice.” Today he is a member of Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which he said has a predominantly white congregation that has committed itself as an anti-racism church.
“I’m a serious critic of those who claim to be quote-unquote ‘evangelical,’ but they limit being evangelical to where you stand on prayers in school and abortion and homosexuality, when in fact the majority of the Scriptures in the Bible speak to the issues of justice,” Barber said. “Wherever the word evangelical is listed in the Scriptures — which actually means ‘good news’ — it always begins with good news to the poor who have been made poor by systemic injustice.”
Barber said evangelical critique should critique the injustices of society and call on them to change, which is exactly what he’s currently attempting with his goal for a “moral revival.” Barber spent the last few months traveling the nation to preach that idea of moral reclaiming, which he believes will be the third reconstruction in the United States.
Even though his “moral revival tour” has included several speeches, when Barber was asked to speak at the DNC he was very hesitant. Barber said he is usually careful to never affiliate himself with one political party and rarely endorses candidates.
But Barber said it’s time for people of faith to “come out of the sanctuary” and be heard, and this was a chance to be heard by thousands. He believes America is facing hate-based and race-based politics that he calls “Trump-ism,” which he said is not the result of one individual, but of a combination of racialized, polarized politics growing in popularity.
Barber criticized Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for frequent use of the word “I” in his speech at the Republican National Convention. Barber said he feels called by both his faith and the moral tenets of the Constitution to be “concerned about the ‘we’ and not just the ‘I.’ ”
“[The Constitution] says that part of what we have to do in order to make this a more perfect nation is to establish justice: to care for the common affairs, to promote the general welfare and to be about the business of securing domestic tranquility,” Barber said. “And so, both constitutionally and Biblically, we have a moral calling.”
When Barber did agree to speak at the DNC, he made it clear he required the absolute freedom to say what he believed.
The DNC’s audience members rose to a standing ovation — they cheered, clapped and smiled with hopeful eyes as Barber neared the end of his fiery, 10-minute speech:
“We must shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with the power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all. We can’t give up on the heart of our democracy, not now, not ever!”