taking the words of Jesus seriously

On Tuesday, November 29th, I joined fast food, healthcare, childcare and other service workers across America to protest slave wages in 21st-century America. Together with 53 workers and fellow clergy in Durham, North Carolina, I was arrested and taken into police custody.


While I do not take lightly the restraint of my free movement or the consequences of criminal charges, I did not feel that I had a choice. I had to stand with the Fight for 15 because of choices I made long ago.


As a Christian minister, I follow a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew named Jesus. In his very first sermon, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah to say that he came to preach “good news to the poor.” The word he chose for poor—ptokos in the Greek—means “those who are made poor by unjust systems.” Jesus came to preach freedom to people who work for slave wages.


After America’s Civil War, when formerly enslaved African-Americans served in Southern legislatures for the first time, they re-wrote the Constitution of North Carolina. “We hold these truths to be self evident, ” they said, borrowing language from a Virginia slaveholder to assert that we are–all of us–“endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” They affirmed that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But that was not all. When formerly enslaved people shared political power with their neighbors, they added “the just fruit of their own labors” as an inalienable right.


Labor rights became fundamental Constitutional rights when people who had been divided came together. So I had to stand with workers this week not only because I am Christian, but also because I am an American. With Langston Hughes I say, “America never was America to me / and yet I swear this oath / America will be.”


Read the rest of this piece at NBC News.

About The Author


The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church and President of Repairers of the Breach. He has served as president of the North Carolina NAACP, the largest state conference in the South, since 2006 and sits on the National NAACP Board of Directors. A former Mel King Fellow at MIT, he is currently Visiting Professor of Public Theology and Activism at Union Theological Seminary and is a Senior Fellow at Auburn Seminary. Rev. Barber is author of the best-selling The Third Reconstruction: How A Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear.

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