The month of July has seen police shootings of black men and shootings of police in the U.S., an attempted coup in Turkey, and acts of terrorism in France, Baghdad, Kabul, Nigeria, and the rest of the world, rounded off by the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention in the U.S. The world watched the conventions carefully to see how the rising leadership in each party would address the violence in the U.S. and around the world.
An important response came from a surprising corner: the clergy. In a party that has had a conflicted relationship with religion, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, a self-described “theologically conservative liberal evangelical Biblicist,” spoke powerfully at the Democratic National Convention. “I know it may sound strange,” he stated, “but I’m a conservative because I work to conserve a divine tradition that teaches us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, NC, and the son of a pastor, Barber started the Moral Mondays movement to put his faith into action.
Barber diagnosed America with a “heart problem.” He called his audience to “love the Jewish child, the Palestinian child, the Muslim and the Christian and the Hindu and the Buddhist and those who have no faith.”
Barber drew the analogy of a defibrillator used to shock weak hearts back to healthy functioning with the need for the weak heart of America to be shocked back to healthy functioning. He exhorted Americans to be “moral defibrillators.” “We must shock this nation with the power of love; we must shock this nation with the power of mercy.”
Barber stands as an example of a moral leader who dives deep, beneath the superficial cacophony of voices that constitutes much of American’s political discourse. Barber stands on the bedrock of his Christian scriptures and of prayer: “We need to heed the voice of the scriptures. We need to listen to the ancient chorus in which deep calls unto deep.”
American culture’s obsession with consumerism, violence, and self-centeredness needs more than a Band-aid approach. America needs deep healing. Barber, for one, understands this need, and knows the deep well from which healing can come. As Maggie Ross, an Anglican solitary, points out in her book, Silence: A User’s Guide, “The human race is sleepwalking into extinction. If we are not to destroy our beautiful planet and ourselves with it, then we must learn to live more simply, more carefully, more joyfully.” Ross calls her readers to the deep well of prayer and silence to awaken them, a well that Barber knows.
Those who have ears to hear awoke when Barber spoke at the DNC. May more leaders arise who call us to the deep places, out of which we can exercise “heart leadership.” Our world is depending upon it.