Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II
September 24, 2015
Note: These were the fully scheduled remarks but were shortened due to time restraints in advance of the Pope Francis' speech
We gather here today as one human family to raise our moral voices and to welcome Pope Francis and his message that true faith is not a disengagement from the challenges of the world but an embrace of those very challenges.
Truth is, there is no gospel that is not social; no gospel that relieves us of our call to love our neighbors as ourselves; no gospel that lives outside God’s admonition to serve the least of these. Pope Francis has made this clear, and for that we thank him.
In this history of the United States, a moral critique has been always been at the center of any challenge to the structural sins of society—slavery, the denial of women’s rights, the denial of labor rights, the denial of equal protection under the law, the denial of voting rights, and the promulgation of unchecked militarism. We have never overcome any of these evils without a moral critique that challenged their grip on the heart and imagination of our society.
A moral critique is still needed today.
We hear Pope Francis’s cry that we cannot love our earthly neighbors and yet sit quietly while the Earth herself is made unfit for human habitation. We cannot love humanity and yet give way to forces that derail the very climate that gives us life. As His Holiness has said, we must acknowledge the “very consistent scientific consensus that we are in the presence of an alarming warming of the climactic system.” We cannot be silent a world “devastated by man’s predatory relation with nature.” The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein.
We must make a moral demand, shifting the energy supply strategy from coal, oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels to solar, wind, geothermal, and other clean renewable energy sources.
We must establish policies and programs to modernize the national infrastructure for the 21st century, transitioning toward full-employment with millions of new green jobs to help build a sustainable economy. We must provide educational and job training programs, transitional financial assistance and job opportunities for the industry workers displaced due to the transition to a renewable energy-based economy.
We must choose community and care of the earth over chaos and greed.
Not only must we push to protect the Earth’s delicate climate balance; we must also challenge the social climate in which the poor live.
The Pope was right when he said in 2013: “The times talk to us of so much poverty in the world and this is a scandal. Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.”
4.5% of U.S. deaths have been found to be attributable to poverty. That is nearly 120,000 people, each of them created in the image of God. Each of their precious lives matters. Their death is the scandal the Pope is exposing.
It is a moral disgrace that there are 14.7 million poor children and 6.5 million extremely poor children in the United States of America – the world’s largest economy.
We know that nearly half of the world’s population — more than three billion people — live in poverty on less than $2.50 a day. One billion children worldwide are living in poverty. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. 805 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat.
This is the scandal a moral critique must expose: he poor are destroyed, society is destabilized, and our shared humanity is terribly diminished.
We can and we must do better.
If we focus more on ending poverty than cutting the social safety nets that help the poor, we can do better. If we move beyond the politics of lust for power to the politics of love for people, we can unify around a moral agenda. And we can do better. If we secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability by fighting for living wages, strong safety nets for the poor, fair policies for immigrants, infrastructure development, and an end to extreme militarism that puts more resources in bombs, missiles and weaponry than food jobs and shelter, we can do better.
God is using Pope Francis to prod or consciousness and push us toward action. By daring to preach the gospel of truth and justice, challenging the sins of economic exploitation, poverty, and climate destruction, he is showing the way to revival, repentance and redemption.
To our ears, the Pope’s message resonates with the ancient Jewish text that says, “Woe to those who legislate evil and rob the poor of their rights.” This Pope sounds a lot like Jesus, who said in the Gospel of Matthew that love, mercy, and justice ate the weightier matters of the law.
There are some Americans who applaud the Pope for his theological orthodoxy when he calls on us to love one another but decry his message as “political” when he points toward inequality and injustice. These are the same voices that grow hoarse touting “morality” with respect to abortion and homosexuality but cannot hear any suggestion that poverty is a moral issue.
This deafness to the Pontiff’s purpose suggests that Jesus himself would not be welcomed by them in America. Their complaints reveal the serious moral crisis we find ourselves in.
Somebody must stand and say, “It doesn’t matter what party is in power or who has a political super-majority. There are some things that transcend political majorities, partisan politics, and the narrow categories of liberal versus conservative. There are some things that must be challenged because they are wrong, extreme, and immoral.
Destroying the Earth is just wrong. Hurting the poor is wrong. Treating corporations like people and people like things is just wrong.
And so, to those who complain that the Pontiff is engaging in politics, we say, prophetic voices must rise up and challenge immorality in every age. It’s our time now. So let us join the Holy Father not in the politics of Democrat and Republican but in God’s politics of love and justice.
Let our prayer be like the Franciscans:
“May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live from deep within our hearts. May God bless us with righteous moral anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God's creation, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.”
Let us fill the whole earth with the song of hope and redemption in this hour and sign with our lives that old hymn which says, “Revive us again / fill each heart with thy love / let each soul be rekindled / with a fire from above.”
Lord, rekindle in us a fire for justice, a fire for truth, a fire for hope.
“Hallelujah, thine the glory! Hallelujah, Amen. Hallelujah, thine the glory!
Revive us again!