One of the distinctive things about the Forward Together social justice movement led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II in North Carolina is that it is based on religion.
He believes that politics has to be based on morality and his morality is based on religion—not religion in general, but specifically the Bible-based conservative African-American church tradition.
And even though that tradition puts its stamp on all of Rev. Dr. Barber’s People’s Assemblies and Moral Mondays, he is able to rally people of many different religious traditions and of no specific religion at all.
Now, I don’t think it should be surprising that a progressive political movement should arise from a theologically conservative form of Christianity.
After all, the followers of Jesus and St. Paul were people, most of them poor, living under an oppressive government. In the Gospels, the presumption is that a rich man or a government official is a sinner unless shown to be otherwise.
St. Paul taught that in Christ, there are no distinctions between rich or poor, free or slave, male or female, Greek or Jew (and presumably white or black).
Christianity is rooted in Judaism whose lawgiver, Moses, who forged a nation consisting of fugitive slaves. Later Hebrew prophets denounced rulers of Israel for oppression of the poor.
Now, although the early Christian communities were models of what a just and compassionate society would look like, neither Jesus nor St. Paul was a revolutionary or a social reformer. Furthermore Christians developed a priesthood which, like almost all priesthoods in history, allied itself with the rich and powerful.
But the basic Christian teaching of justice and compassion for the poor never died out. And down through history, there have been Christians who have taken the next step—to attempt to create a just and compassionate society instead of simply waiting for the Last Days.
Rev. Barber grew up in that tradition. “I cannot remember a time when I did not know God to be both real and to be about bringing justice into the world,” he wrote in The Third Reconstruction.