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👥 Freedom Church of the Poor

C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels
Dear Friends,
I hope that you are all well. I am glad we’re at the end of the week and hoping for some respite over the weekend for each of you.
Today, I wanted to tell you a little about the Freedom Church of the Poor, why I am involved, and some of what I think we can learn from it. I want to share about this not only because it is important but because we are launching this church this Sunday in partnership with the Kairos Center and the Poor People’s Campaign.
Query for Reflection
What is the Freedom Church of the Poor?
Thanks for reading and sharing with your friends we have almost hit 340 subscribers after just 14 issues. I’m very excited for the ways it is growing and you all are responding to this little newsletter.
Thank you for reading, sharing, and engaging with these topics with me.
-Wess Daniels
Haw River Watershed (Greensboro, NC)
PS we also have a “reader response” from last week’s issue on “A Multitude of Legacies” that I really appreciated and wanted to share with you from Mike Huber (see below).

👥 Reflection: Freedom Church of the Poor
Online Every Sunday at 6pm EST
Online Every Sunday at 6pm EST
The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life. Beginning in the New Year, we will be recruiting three thousand of the poorest citizens from ten different urban and rural areas to initiate and lead a sustained, massive, direct-action movement in Washington. Those who choose to join this initial three thousand, this nonviolent army, this “freedom church” of the poor, will work with us for three months to develop nonviolent action skills. - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I became aware of this statement from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a number of years ago when I first became involved with the Kairos Center and the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary. It was a kind of founding statement for a lot of the work and teaching that was taking place there and then (and now) as they ask questions like: what does it mean to build a movement organized and led by the poor as a new and unsettling force in this country in order to address the complacency and injustices we face today?
There are at least two key components underlying this idea of “a new and unsettling force.”
The first being that God is and has always been on the side of the poor and oppressed - that you cannot understand the work of God in this world or the story of the Bible apart from God’s struggle to bring an end to systems that create the conditions for poverty, violence, and detachment from God and one another.
For instance, in Leonardo Boff’s book “Jesus Christ the Liberator,” he writes that just in the Gospels alone the poor are mentioned 122 and 90 of those times are from Jesus’ own lips. As I mentioned in the newsletter titled, “Jesus Against Empire,” Jesus himself frames his entire mission in relationship to the poor and oppressed when he said he will:
  • bring good news to the poor [but what about the rich, Jesus?!]
  • Proclaim recovery of site to the blind [that sounds awfully close to healthcare, Jesus]
  • let the oppressed go free [but don’t all lives matter?!]
  • proclaim the year of Jubilee [what all debts are cancelled…but they are just lazy and deserve to pay!]
Jesus follows up these statements by actually doing them throughout the rest of the Gospel accounts.
An important second part of the new and unsettling force is that it is the poor, the disinherited, and the dispossessed who are able to read and understand the Biblical accounts in a way that the rich and powerful will always fail to do - as that great theological rock group Arcade Fire sings:
You never trust a millionaire
Quoting the Sermon on the Mount
The poor and marginalized are people who live under the injustices of our systems and are therefore the ones who know best how to fix the problems. It will take the poor and those in solidarity with them to finally bring about an alternative community and system because they have the most experience in how the current system works and wins (by keeping some wealthy and the rest constantly grasping for more).
The Freedom Church of the Poor is the spiritual home of this new and unsettling force. It starts from the bottom. It starts at the back of the bus, at the end of the line, it looks for the one lost sheep, knowing that is not only what God has taught us to do but where we will find God already at work.
What does it look like to create a church that starts in a place of the poor and disposed, addressing those needs, following that leadership, and then working from that place? Rather than the place of power and wealth which always seeks to sustain institutions and the status quo, the Freedom Church of the Poor is not afraid to address current issues political, economic, religious, from a theological framing that elevates and prioritizes the poor.
Rev. Wendy Hamilton🧢🍎
I would like to see a Presidential debate solely dedicated to eradicating poverty. That’s the tweet.
c wess daniels is "like a quaker curator" -@p2son
Yes to this.

And I honestly do not think that the majority of our political leaders are aware enough of the systems and real issues that create poverty to speak intelligibly about this.
Today’s iteration of the Freedom Church has been meeting online since March 24 and it has met every Sunday evening online since. Each Sunday we look at a biblical text and we invite preachers, organizers, scholars, and activists who are either poor themselves or are dedicated to reading and practicing their faith in solidarity with the poor.
We are a loose network of workers, poor folks, pastors, organizers, thinkers, and fighters. We are bound together by our conviction that “it does not have to be this way,” that God created abundance for all, not just a few, or that “this is as good as it gets”.
We are inter-faith, interspiritual, and nonreligious and come from every region of the country. We welcome all who wish to be a part of the movement and all victims of empire. (From the Freedom Church of the Poor’s mission statement)
The result is a church service that is many-voiced, multi-faith, multi-racial, multi-class, community dealing every week with everyday issues that impact the most vulnerable in our communities.
In the opening of the Freedom Church’s mission statement you’ll see that there are the 5 interlocking injustices of the Poor People’s Campaign. These are the key “contextual” lenses we use alongside reading the Bible with the poor, and communities in the struggle right now:
The mission of the Freedom Church of the Poor is to be a spiritual home for movement leaders and a place to help nurture moral leadership for the struggle to end poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, militarism, and the false moral narrative of Christian nationalism. We reject the religion of empire, which blames the poor for their poverty, pits poor and dispossessed people against each other, and promotes the false narrative that poverty cannot be ended, only alleviated through charity. Instead we read the Bible and all of our religious and moral texts from the perspective of the organized poor and in service of mutual solidarity, justice, and liberation. 
As an active participant, speaker, and co-planner of these services, I can say that this iteration of the Freedom Church of the Poor is unlike anything I have every participated in on a regular basis before. It has been a boon to my spirituality in this extremely difficult and often scary time. To gather with people who are not only committed to their faith but are actively linking across the many barriers and boundaries the religion of empire sets for us is a powerful thing to participate in.
Image from Presenters of a Freedom Church of the Poor service this Spring
Image from Presenters of a Freedom Church of the Poor service this Spring
How to Get Involved?
  1. If you’d like to get involved you can join us any and every Sunday from 6-7pm EST simply by tuning in on the Poverty Initiative’s Facebook Page.
  2. You can also get involved by inviting your faith communities to consider what it means to read the Bible with the poor. I cannot recommend Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis’ book “Always with Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor (affiliate link to indie bookshop)” as a great place to start.
  3. You can also work closely with 5 interlocking evils and allow them to shape your conversations, communities, and places of worship. Learn more about the 5 interlocking evils (poverty, systemic racism, the war economy, ecological devastation, and the distorted moral narrative of Christian nationalism) on the Poor People’s Campaign Website.
❓Query for Personal Reflection
  • What is the historical “Freedom Church of the Poor?”
  • What does it look like and where is it already happening around you and in your community?
  • How can you be more involved directly or indirectly in the Freedom Church of the Poor?
  • What more would you like to know or need to know to help you move forward with that?
🗣 Reader Response From Mike Huber
This is a response from reader Mike Huber (Quaker from Portland) based on last week’s guest article from Gwen Gosney Erickson called, “A Multitude of Legacies,” which was a part of the series on Quaker Values: Part 1: The Problem of Quaker Values & Part 2: To move Beyond Quaker Values
“Thanks for another engaging newsletter and interesting query. In the way you’ve asked the question "is it this or that,” you’ve created a dividing line that doesn’t really reflect my experience. I suspect you asked the question that way to motivate people to think about their priorities they hold around “values.” Fair enough.
The tweet at the end of your newsletter is astounding (“Life is antifragile information that travels through time using the fragility matter as it’s vehicle.”). I think that same framing is helpful for thinking about “values.” Values are orientations to reality that travel through time using the fragility of human communities as their vehicle. While 21st Century Quakers in North Carolina may have inherited the value of “Simplicity” from 17th Century Quakers in Lancashire, that value will be embodied differently. Some clever scholar might even say the value is “remixed” over time, the way an older song is incorporated into a new performance.
The religious technology of queries helps encourage this transformation. Not only is telling everyone to dress in gray “a right poor gospel,” it promotes a hollow, lifeless conformity, in which the “faithful” purchase clothes, “Of the best sort, but plain.” Asking someone, “How do you embody the value of simplicity?” encourages variety and change, while keeping “simplicity” as a way of orienting ourselves to reality.
Is this religious technology uniquely Quaker? Are Quakers reliably using this technology? Of course, this fragile human community is no less fallible than any other. Naming our failures may be important – both in calling us back to faithfulness and as a first step in making amends to those we’ve harmed. However, I don’t think it’s very interesting to create a litany of failure as an end in itself. Like wearing gray, this seems to me “a right poor gospel.”
Anyone who wants to preserve Quaker values like a fly in amber is probably an aspiring Bond villain: “You’re too late, Mr. Bond. Now I will use my petrified values as cudgel to inflict harm on society! Mwahaha!” It’s a fun image; but like most supervillains, it’s probably a caricature rather than a real portrait.
Something in me comes alive when I hear how Quakers were mindful in orienting themselves toward their reality in particular ways. I think about John Woolman opening the door of his house to find a troop of soldiers ready to commandeer his property for the night; after making them wait on the threshold while he prayed for guidance, Woolman let them stay as guests but refused to accept the payment that would make him feel complicit in the military activity. It’s not likely I will ever find myself imitating these outward actions, but I feel inspired to orient myself to reality in a way that draws some core insight from Woolman’s discernment.“
-Mike Huber
🔗 Dress Down Friday Links
Union win at Brooklyn Friends
Freedom Church of the Poor - University of the Poor
Soul Force and the Catonsville Nine: Berrigan and King in 1968 | Kairos
To Fight Apple and Google, Smaller App Rivals Organize a Coalition - The New York Times
The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet | by Yancey Strickler | OneZero
🐦 Tweet Thread of the Week
Jordan Moore
I have a theory that everything looks good as a skateboard deck...
🌱🌲 Nurselog Note of the Week
The Nurselog is my “digital garden,” a kind of personal wiki with notes and ideas of things that I am working on and/or find interesting.
This week’s note is: Reading the Bible With the Poor
📆 Upcoming Events
Join Us!
Join Us!
Join us as we officially launch the Freedom Church of the Poor this Sunday at 6pm, live on
💚🧠 Final Thought
#SlateSpeak fam, I keep coming back to this. <3

“With intention, thoughtfulness, & our full presence with and for each other, we can emerge from these trying days with greater clarity and renewed purpose. We're in this together and together we will prevail."

–Grace Lee Boggs
☕️ Thank you for Supporting This Newsletter
You support this newsletter by reading it, sharing it with friends, and/or by contributing financially to the making of this newsletter, and my other ministries.
Thank you! -Wess 💚☕️
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C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels @cwdaniels

Old and New (Spiritual) Technologies For Life Today in the Face of Empire. Renewal and change in the hopes of mobilizing communities for love & liberation.

Wess Daniels
Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College

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