A prophet among us
Published January 26, 2023
By Lib Campbell
Reading his bio, it sounds like William Barber II was destined for the role of prophet from the time he was 15. Leadership in NAACP and student government as a teenager prepared him all the roles he is now undertaking. Training and accomplishment are one thing. Gifts, conviction, vision and faith are wholly different undergirdings.
In 2013, I remember driving downtown to “Moral Mondays,” on Halifax Mall behind the Legislative Building. Walking up, I could hear music sometimes, chanting, cheering, and a booming voice coming over the loudspeakers. It was clear an authoritative, more-than-motivationalist was doing the talking. He was speaking with the authority of righteousness and justice on his side. He was compelling and charismatic; the crowds loved it!
Today Barber spends his time calling for health care, voting rights, higher wages, and all the issues facing the disenfranchised and downtrodden. He is a voice for the voiceless in a world of noisy hate. He has accolades and degrees and recognition for his brilliance, now he is being recognized for his heart and his passion. He most recently is making a splash going after Christian Nationalism, casting them as heretics. The prophet seldom seeks to please the ruling class. Ask Jesus. Ask MLK.
Reverend Barber calls it “fusion politics.” Fusion politics creates a “political coalition that often transcends the conservative binary.” Coalescing the “rejected stones,” the poor, the immigrants, working class white people, religious minorities, people of color, and the LGBTQ community turns the tables on those who claim they are right and everybody else wrong. It is the eternal message of the prophet, the great reversal of the last being first and the first being last. For people who hold power at all cost, this is a frightening message.
Reverend Barber, in a recent CNN story says, “There is a sleeping giant in America. Poor and low-wealth folks now make up 30 percent of the electorate in every state and over 40 percent of the electorate in every state where the margin of victory for the presidency was less than 3 percent.” Barber emphasizes that when poor people vote they can swing elections. I suppose that is why there is such effort to suppress the vote in areas where poverty is high. The ole “let’s work at keeping the downtrodden down” way of being in the world won’t work forever. Hate and fear do not win in the end.
William Barber is headed to Yale, as Founding Director of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy. He will train a new generation to make the connection between what goes on in public life, how we make policy and set wages, and vote for what God wants for us. The prophet knows what God wants - to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an every-flowing stream. The prophet knows that until everyone born has equal access to the table of plenty, the world is not set right.
The few times I have been in the presence of Reverend William Barber, I have experienced him as modest and unassuming. He has a quiet presence. He gets fired up when he steps into the pulpit and his role as the prophet. He is an imposing figure with a booming voice. He is a person of deep faith and conviction that is genuine.
I pray for his safety as he moves about with his message of justice, as he continues working to repair the breaches. Historically, prophets are targets. The prophet’s message makes people uncomfortable. I pray William Barber will continue to step on toes and call out wrong doing. He is only 59. I pray long life and health for Reverend Barber. Not since the first century, not since the 1960s has there been such a voice that brings such hope to the hopeless. I pray that all those who cannot wrap their heads around love and justice, righteousness, and grace, will rethink their faith and some of the cruelty of their actions. Hear the prophet and follow.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite www.avirtualchurch.com. She can be contacted at email@example.com