Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Rev. William J. Barber II: Healing the soul of the nation will take more than a return to ‘normal’

Adam Harris writes:

On November 7, after four days of counting votes, Democrats celebrated the end of a “long national nightmare.” And when former Vice President Joe Biden took the stage in Wilmington, Delaware, to deliver his victory speech that Saturday night, he quickly extended a hand to President Donald Trump’s supporters, who may have felt demoralized by the loss.

“I understand the disappointment tonight,” Biden said. “I’ve lost a couple of times myself. But now let’s give each other a chance… This is a time to heal in America.” Prior to the November election, Trump and Biden supporters alike argued that if the other candidate were to be elected, “it would result in lasting harm to the country,” according to a survey from the Pew Research Center.

A week after Biden’s victory address, as the Trump campaign worked to challenge and discredit the election results while trying to get hundreds of legally cast votes thrown out on outlandish claims of fraud, the Reverend William J. Barber II took a different tack.

On November 15, Barber—a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement based on the idea that America is in need of a moral revival—stood in the pulpit at Greenleaf Christian Church, in Goldsboro, North Carolina, preaching to a live-stream audience about unity. But his idea of healing looks different from Biden’s. “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy for you,” he preached, reading from the Book of Matthew. “I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God.” It seems a strange place to start, but that’s the point, he said. “There has to be division for healing.”

I called Barber five days later to chat about that sermon, and the way he emphasized the difference between a cure and healing. We spoke about why it’s not always a good thing that when Christians are asked how they’re doing, many simply say, “Blessed and highly favored.” He said America cannot afford to go back to the “normal” it knew before Trump. “If we don’t have a politics that can have earnest conversation and debate on how your policies are going to impact the least of these, then we are in trouble,” he told me. We were scheduled to speak for 30 minutes; we ended up speaking for more than an hour.

After our initial conversation, he called me back. He had just watched Vice President Mike Pence deliver a speech in Canton, Georgia. “We are gonna keep fighting until every legal vote is counted. We are gonna keep fighting until every illegal vote is thrown out,” Pence told a cheering crowd. Barber’s vision is one of racial and economic progress, and he has risen to national prominence during the Trump administration because of his push to restore morality to the public sphere. But, I asked, how did those people cheering Pence factor into that vision? “They have been sold a bill of goods that their way of life is being threatened by the others,” he replied.

Martin Luther King Jr. was on Barber’s mind that day. He was thinking about the March on Washington; everyone remembers King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but many forget its actual title: “Normalcy—Never Again.” [Continue reading…]

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