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.