“Beloved, war and poverty form a kind of toxic symbiotic relationship with each component contributing to the other. The more we wage war, and the war economy, the more poor young men and women die on the battlefield and die at home from the lack of healthcare. And at the same time we’re draining away more and more resources to the war economy, thus creating even more poverty. And when the current situation of escalating war and poverty is seen from another standpoint, from the standpoint of the military industrial political elites who make billions of dollars off of war it is easy for them to justify more war in order to take more resources of other nations and to give crumbs to the impoverished masses in this nation to blind us and keep us from seeing the truth. And that if we saw the truth, we would turn against them. And so we are in this cycle of perpetual war.”— Rev. Nelson Johnson
Rev. Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro, North Carolina speaks at The Gathering. Learn more and take action at breachrepairers.org.
Nelson Johnson has been active in the movement for social and economic justice since high school in the late 1950’s. Though involved in a myriad of initiatives, Rev. Johnson centers his efforts on facilitating a process of comprehensive community building, which include a convergence of racial and ethnic diversity, social and economic justice, and genuine participatory democracy. He is is actively building relationships with and providing leadership within organized labor, faith groups and other public and private community organizations.
Poor people, clergy and activists in the Poor People’s Campaign plan to deliver letters to politicians in state Capitol buildings demanding that leaders confront what they call systemic racism evidenced in voter suppression laws and poverty rates. “Our faith traditions and state and federal constitutions all testify to the immorality of an economy that leaves out the poor, yet our political discourse consistently ignores the 140 million poor and low-income people in America,” the letter states.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This is not a way of life at all, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953)
The growing gap between rich and poor in this country is consigning people to a fate that is largely inescapable. If you are born poor in America today you are likely to die poor. If you are born rich, the same. Poverty is not really an economic question. It’s a question of power: Who gets their needs met, which communities get their needs met and which communities don’t.
Personal responsibility and hard work are not bad values. However, these values tend to move charity to a subtle form of social control where the poor are offered assistance based on merit or adherence to conservative standards, rather than on the basis of generosity and a commitment to a more equitable society. Pulling oneself up by the bootstraps has become American gospel. Jesus implores people not to simply be more generous, but to overturn oppressive systems that create inequality in the first place. True community justice requires that all American Christians ― conservatives and liberals alike ― set aside political agendas and values and seek equity.
We hear it said that Sunday is the most divided day in America. For the past century Christians have filled mission stations with missionaries in faraway lands. We send checks and crates of supplies to the mission field and the missionaries, all the while living and worshipping in segregation. What we struggle with is sharing a pew, sharing a meal, sharing a living room on a Sunday afternoon. The inauthenticity is glaring. — Palmer Chinchen, Justice Calling: Live Love, Show Compassion, Be Changed
Palmer Chinchen is an author, speaker, pastor and an expatriate who speaks widely on issues of justice, spiritual transformation, and the need for a Christian response to affliction and poverty. Justice is a significant passion for Palmer, who regularly travels to places like Haiti, Cuba and Africa to help bring healing to a broken world.
“There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will. The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’” — The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I Have a Dream” and Other Great Writings
Instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights. Contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound. In a rich country like the U.S.A., the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power. With political will, it could readily be eliminated. — Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. — Franklin D. Roosevelt, Second Inaugural Address (January 20, 1937)