Remind and Renew 2016: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

This week I was blessed to attend Remind and Renew, a two-day symposium hosted by Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Okla. One of the reasons I attended is that three of this year’s speakers were authors of recent Chalice Press books: William J. Barber II, Leah Gunning Francis, and Sharon Watkins. I’m always eager to see and hear our authors, especially in front of audiences topping 200 participants from coast to coast, but the unifying subject was particularly intriguing:

What is the conversation about race Christians in the U.S. should be having, and how might that conversation contribute to liberty and justice for all?

As a former journalist, I saw the first opportunity to live-tweet an event, and I’ll give credit where credit is due: It’s not easy. (Note that these are paraphrases unless quotation marks are used. I’m not as fast a typist as I used to be.) That said, I captured nuggets from Barber and Gunning Francis that describe succinctly yet poignantly where our country and our church have failed — and where there is hope for change.

Brad Lyons at Remind and Renew 2016, photo by Mindy McGarrah Sharp

Dr. Barber spoke first, reminding us of the original Reconstruction that half-heartedly attempted to rebuild society in the old Confederacy before Jim Crow undid that progress, followed by the Civil Rights Movement, whose progress has eroded through the end of the War on Poverty and trimming voting rights. Barber believes he is seeing the Third Reconstruction beginning in the Moral Monday Movement rooted in his home state of North Carolina and other states where the movement is gaining momentum. Here are the nuggets I captured from Dr. Barber’s talk at #RemindRenew:

  • The fact of the matter is, when you deal with racism and class, you are dealing with an old demon. We have not fully named the demon, so we cannot cast it out.
  • Of those deconstructing Reconstruction in the 1870s: “They said they will redeem America. They used moral messaging for immoral purposes. Sound familiar?”
  • “I believe the 14th Amendment (equal treatment under the law) is more important than the Second Amendment.”
  • Why was the War on Poverty stopped? Because it worked.
  • Visionaries transcend boundaries. “You never hear anybody say, ‘I have a dream for Democrats.'”
  • “If the church doesn’t have a political Pentecost and learn to speak in tongues, we will never get at this issue of race in America.”
  • “Helicopter [national] leadership will not sustain a local movement.”
  • “We need to use moral language to reframe the public policy of who’s in power.”
  • Let’s read in the Constitution that freedom isn’t, in fact, the Constitution’s priority — it’s securing our basic needs and safety.
  • On the Religious Right: “I’ve got a problem calling somebody right when they’re so wrong.”
  • Moral imagination has been the backbone of every prophetic movement.
  • “We need a grown-up conversation about race and class. An altar call. We need a revival. We need a Pentecost.”
  • (Sarcastically) Want a great America? Cut teachers. Hurt people because of their sexuality. Deny income to the working poor. Take labor more open to war than diplomacy. Distort the religious views of leaders for your own benefit. Make sure everybody can get a gun more easily than they can vote. “If we can’t preach against that … then something is wrong with us.”
  • At the beginning of the Moral Monday movement, about 40% of North Carolinians agreed with the movement’s ideas. Now, it’s almost 60%. The moral understanding of policy has changed.

Barber is the most charismatic, evangelical preacher I’ve had the honor of seeing. Each time, the audience has been mostly white and middle-class — age varies widely — but  he connects so keenly with the hopes and ambitions and frustrations that all seeking racial justice share. I can’t wait to hear him again.

In my next post, I’ll share what Leah Gunning Francis had to share about her experiences protesting Ferguson in the days and weeks after the killing of Michael Brown, of writing Ferguson and Faith, and what terrifies her in an era when just a few years ago we believed we might actually be moving into a post-racial world. Stay tuned …


Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

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Brad Lyons

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

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