- Rev. Dr. William Barberpresident of Repairers of the Breach and distinguished visiting professor of public theology at Union Theological Seminary, former president of the North Carolina NAACP, and Moral Mondays leader.
While tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered near the heavily fortified border with Israel for nonviolent protests against the U.S. Embassy’s opening in Jerusalem Monday, a new Poor People’s Campaign launched in the United States. Rev. Dr. William Barber II, a co-founder of the movement, is bringing together low-wage workers, clergy and community activists around the country to advocate for the rights of the poor. People in 40 states are participating in actions and events starting today that will culminate in a mass protest in Washington, D.C., on June 23. We are joined by Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach and distinguished visiting professor of public theology at Union Theological Seminary, to discuss human rights from Gaza to Washington, D.C., and the anti-gay, pro-Trump pastor from Dallas chosen by the Trump administration to lead the prayer at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if you can comment—as you’re there in Washington, D.C., there are mass protests in Gaza. And it looks like the deadliest day of violence, with Israeli military gunning down, it looks like, at this point, something like 37 protesters. Overall, since March 30th, thousands have been injured, I think something like 84 people killed. But the person who is opening the ceremony for the U.S. Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem is Pastor Jeffress, who has spoken out against Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, gay men and lesbians, Mormonism. Can you comment on what this Southern Baptist preacher represents, from Dallas, Texas?
REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: Well, yes, and it’s hurtful, but it’s necessary. You know, I’m thinking about that this May 10th was the end of the Birmingham campaign, 50-some years ago, 55 years ago. And remember, we saw the images of dogs attacking children and women in Birmingham. And today we see the images of drones attacking our Palestinian brothers and sisters. We see our president playing every race card he can, and connecting—he’s an extremist, and he’s connected with Netanyahu, who’s an extremist. And now they’re connected together. And he’s doing this for all the wrong reasons, splitting people, splitting people who historically are brothers and sisters.
And now he has chosen not only Jeffress, but Hagee, who once actually described—John Hagee, I understand, described Hitler as a hunter, a God-sent hunter, who was designed, ordained by God to hunt the Jewish people, to force them to come back to Israel in order to bring about the coming of Christ. Jeffress, as you remember, also said at President Trump’s inaugural sermon that God endorsed the building of walls. Now, both of these men, if you really check their theology, they are not preaching Christian theology. They are heretics, in many ways. What they’re talking about is heresy. They claim to be Christian, and they claim a certain brand of Christianity. But when you look at it theologically, it does not line up with the Scriptures’ call to love. It does not line up with the Scriptures’ call that you treat the person or persons that are not of your particular race or your particular lineage as brothers and sisters. It does not line up with the Scriptures’ anti-violence, anti-killing. This is just a form of what—it’s nothing more than a modern-day form of what my good friend Jonathan Hargrove calls slave religion, the kind of religion that abuses the Scriptures and uses it to support political opinions that are not the politics of God or the politics of Christ. Jeffress is spewing hate and meanfulness. And by the president choosing him, that joins him to that kind of theology.
And we see it happening in this country. That same group of people will go in and pray—P-R-A-Y—with President Trump and his other allies in the Congress and bless them, while Trump and his allies are preying—P-R-E-Y-I-N-G—on the poor and the broken and the hurting and the least among. It is sad. It is theological malpractice. It is costing people their lives. It is mean-spirited. And the world should stand up and speak out against it. And clergy and people of faith should speak out against it. And we should stop, in the media, assigning “Christian” and “evangelical” to persons like this. If we say it, we should say it in quotes, or we should call it what it is. It is not Christianity. It is not evangelicalism. It is not the religion of Jesus, who, in his first sermon, said to follow Jesus was to preach good news to the poor, to care for the brokenhearted, to provide liberty and healing to the bruised, and to declare the acceptable year of the lord. Nothing in that says endorse killing, endorse hatred, endorsed meanness.
And lastly, Amy, the two pastors that are going over there, they don’t even like Jewish people. They have some weird theology, that by creating certain actions in Israel, it can force the coming of Christ. But they don’t even believe anybody, except people who believe like them, are going to go to heaven. Well, I say what my grandmother and what the slaves used to say about slave master religion: Everybody talking about heaven ain’t going there. And Jeffress and Hagee and others like that, who are abusing, who are misusing the theology of Christ to promote these attitudes and these actions of hate, they are wrong. It is heretical. It is theological malpractice. And it’s high time that people of faith take it on. I’m an evangelical, and I’m deeply offended—deeply offended—by what they’re doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we go, I want to bring in Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, who co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign. You visited Marks, Mississippi. In 1967, Dr. King was there, brought to tears as he met with the poor there, one teacher dividing an apple into four parts so she could feed her four hungriest students. Reverend Liz Theoharis, as we wrap up, talk about your action today and why you’re organizing around the country right now.
REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: Well, today, Amy, in—as Reverend Barber said, in almost 40 states across this country, there are people, impacted folks, poor people, who are taking action together. And we were in Marks, Mississippi. We were in Lowndes County, Alabama. We were in El Paso, Texas. We have traveled around this country, because this campaign is a deep organizing drive amongst people who need to have their voices heard, need their stories to be told, so that we hear that there are 140 million poor people in this country, that in this country there are 38 million poor children. Almost half of this country’s children are poor. And this is unacceptable. And so, people are taking action together, and not just today, but they are deep-dive organizing in their communities. They’ll return, week after week, for this 40 days and into the future, as we build a deep moral movement to turn this country around.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ll follow what happens today in Washington and what you’re doing around the country. Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival with our other guest, the Reverend Dr. William Barber, both speaking to us today from Washington, D.C.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the former finance minister of Greece. We’ll be joined by Yanis Varoufakis. Stay with us.