William Barber Says Faith, Illness Inspired His Activism


Disciples of Christ Pastor William Barber II said his illness and his faith drive him more to fight for medical health care that all people deserve.

Barber revealed to Religion News Service that his ankylosis causes his spine to deteriorate yet he said his pain wouldn't stop him to fight for people being inflicted by the "arthritis of inequality - the pain of racism and classism." He was first diagnosed in the early 1990s, since then, the pastor admitted that his disease has been demanding and frequently incapacitating.

He shared that sometimes his eyes turned red and would lose eyesight occasionally. His body felt excruciating discomfort due to inflammation in his neck, spine, and hips. His low baritone can become thin and harsh at times and his medication can deplete his energy. Despite all of this, his home congregation, Greenleaf Christian Church, embraced his health issues, recounting that he preached sermons in a wheelchair for 12 years.

Barber claimed that as he stood up to preach, all of his sufferings vanished supernaturally. The pastor explained that it was not him being a masochist; he pressed on to make a difference with the life that God gave him and focused to bring all back the glory to Him. He said it gave him comfort to realize that great leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as activist Fannie Lou Hamer, had health problems and Biblical leaders like Moses had difficulty speaking.

The pastor said he was determined to commit all his life to fight for people who suffered much. He testified that though Greenleaf Christian Church was small in size, the vision of the ministry was immense. He shared that after the church had built several homes and a senior citizen facility in the region, a Dollar Store finally popped out. They were also aspiring to build a facility to help those living with HIV in the area.

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Barber's Campaign For Poverty And Health

Barber was known to be the co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, a campaign against poverty that bears the name and aims of Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights movement, which began shortly before his death. Recently, the movement held a "Mass Poor People's & Low-Wage Workers' Assembly & Moral March" in Washington, urging Congress to act and alleviate the condition of millions of Americans living in poverty and low-income households.

In his speech, he listed many social issues including housing, low wages, Indigenous rights, climate change, immigration reform, religious nationalism, LGBTQ rights, and most especially his recurring concern for health care issues. RNS reported that he insisted that America needs a "heart transplant."

Barber set himself an example to point out his argument. He shared that he was thankful for having a healthcare provider to help him through his illness. That's why his heart hurt for people who had already pain yet still thinking about how to cope with poverty and a lack of health care.

He also reiterated their movement's call to President Joe Biden to hold a house meeting on poverty. Barber closed his speech by encouraging people to live their lives with "more justice, more love, and more truth in our society."

Related Article: Faith-Led Advocacy Group Urges Biden To Hold Summit For the Poor