This tale began for me when I had the opportunity to hear Rev. William Barber Jr. speak, via webcast, at the NAACP annual convention, which was held earlier this month. I was so overwhelmed by the power of his message, I wrote about it—and was determined to find out more about him.
Here's a clip of his speech, in which he hammers home his message, "If we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now!"
(Transcript written by Kossak TrueBlueMajority linked here)
I finally found a biography, published when he took over as president of the North Carolina NAACP, which gave me some insight into not only his background, but also how he sees his evangelical mission. Many of us on the left have reason to disparage and distrust the term "evangelical" since it is far too often associated with right-wing beliefs (more on that later).
Firing up the faithful: The state NAACP's new president
Barber was born in Indianapolis but grew up in the eastern North Carolina town of Plymouth in Washington County. His father was a preacher, an organizer and a teacher; his mother a school secretary. Barber's political consciousness grew from his early relationship with his daddy. "I remember in my young life always being with my father," he says. "The community meetings would be in our house. Or my father was going somewhere to meet some representative trying to get somebody to do something in the community." The effects of those experiences were latent, however.After graduating from North Carolina Central University, he went on to Duke University School of Divinity earning a Master of Divinity Degree, was a Dean's Scholar and Benjamin Mays Fellow. He then followed up with a doctorate from Drew University.
In his youth Barber had a rebellious streak, what he calls the "preacher's kid syndrome." He remembers, "I didn't really put forth my best effort until college."
He left home for North Carolina Central University in 1981. "When I went to college I saw this whole world--coming from rural Washington County, where everybody knew everybody." He set out to explore this new world in an effort to put some distance between himself and his youth as the preacher's son. "I did not want to go to school and have any classes in religion." He studied political science and public administration and hoped to go to law school. He became the president of the youth council of the NAACP, freshman class president and later sophomore class president. He was elected vice president and eventually president of the student government during the time that Jesse Jackson was running for president. He met his future wife, Rebecca, organizing student voters.
He learned in divinity school that there are three elements to mature faith: holiness, spiritual empowerment and prophetic social consciousness. "In terms of Christian faith, you can't live a life of personal piety but not care about social wrongs," Barber says. "You can't speak against social wrongs and social empowerment without spiritual empowerment to give you the strength and wherewithal to be able to stand up."A colleague of Rev. Barber shared this additional information with me:
Rev. Barber and his wife Rebecca live in Goldsboro, where he pastors the Greenleaf Christian Church, a church founded by ex-slaves just after the Civil War. His oldest daughter, graduated with honors from Bennett College in May 2007, having also served as student government president. The Barbers have four other children, all of whom attend or will attend the almost completely re-segregated Wayne County public schools.Reverend Barber's spiritual mission has led him to championing the struggle for marriage equality, stating that "we must always be opposed to any attempts to codify hate" and also to his special mission in the fight for quality education for North Carolina schoolchildren.
In the Spring of 2005 Rev. Barber declared for the President of the N.C. NAACP State Convention. He was convinced the N.C. NAACP was a sleeping giant that could be mobilized into concerted action against the racist oppression of thousands of people of color in North Carolina. He discussed it first with Rebecca, then his church, and then with his many friends across the state in the clergy, in political circles, and the NAACP branches he has worked with over the years. His church members volunteered to help him maintain a seven day a week schedule of driving the country roads of Eastern N.C and the interstates to Charlotte and the other key cities. Rev. Barber had been trained by a country preacher father, who also had served the dirt-poor people of Eastern North Carolina. In most of these counties, the Movement of the 50’s and 60’s had barely touched the racist gangs and policies that controlled their court houses, school boards, and law enforcement. Rev. Barber asked the people in these counties for help in building a new Movement in the South. His message was plain: “I want to turn the NAACP into a fighting organization with an anti-racist, anti-poverty agenda that stands for fundamental change. If we can do this, we will drive the pimps and money-changers from the temples of the people’s government in Raleigh.”
If there is one issue that's dearest to Barber's heart--one that draws on both his pastoral and activist drives--it is the resegregation of black schoolchildren. He told his congregation, "It is theologically inconsistent to say you love God and segregate children." And his cry has been heard well beyond the brick walls of Greenleaf Christian Church..."It's clearly systemic racism, but now it's also classism. Racism is not just somebody putting on a white sheet or burning a cross," Barber says.When I did a Google search of his name, along with keywords like "marriage equality," oddly enough another "Barber" popped up—a J. Matt by name. I took a look at some of his writing (aka racist, homophobic rants) and was appalled. Stuff like this:
(Apologies for linking, but want to make it clear I'm not making this stuff up)
For decades now, well-organized, well-funded and politically powerful homosexual pressure groups have, with impertinence, hijacked the language of the authentic civil rights movement. In what amounts to a sort of soft racism, this mostly white sexual anarchist faction has disingenuously and ignobly hitched its little pink wagon to a movement that, by contrast, is built upon the genuine and noble precepts of racial equality and humanitarian justice."Little pink wagon?" "White sexual anarchist?" Um—no. Plus this guy has no right to discuss anything about the civil rights movement, or to define what is or isn't authentic. I'm far more familiar with other more well-known bigots, but what struck me about this particular Barber was his affiliation with a purported academy of "higher learning"—Liberty University, where he is listed as an associate dean for Career and Professional Development, and adjunct assistant professor of Law.
Indeed, that Barack Obama and the NAACP would align themselves with a militant, immoral lobby that literally takes "pride" in arrogant rebellion against biblical principles is, perhaps, what's most troubling about this inexplicable political misstep. It's offensive — disgusting, in fact — that this pleasure-based, sex-centric movement — delineated by deviant proclivities and behaviors—would dare to equate its demands for celebration of bad behavior to Christian notions of racial equality.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
Frankly I find it frightening but no coincidence that his name came up on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), linked to "the Liberty Counsel."
Matt Barber was CWA’s policy director for cultural issues in 2007 and 2008 before moving on to similar work with the Liberty Counsel. While at CWA, on April 12, 2007, Barber suggested against all the evidence that there were only a “miniscule number” of anti-gay hate crimes and most of those “may very well be rooted in fraudulent reports.” In comments that have since disappeared from CWA’s website, Barber demanded a federal probe of “homosexual activists” for their alleged fabrications of hate crime reports.Here's what they reported on the Counsel:
Created in 1989, Liberty Counsel is affiliated with Liberty University Law School in Lynchburg, Va., a legacy of the late conservative icon Jerry Falwell. It was founded and is still chaired by Mathew (Mat) Staver, who also serves as director of the Liberty Center for Law and Policy at Liberty University, and provides legal assistance with regard to religious liberty, abortion and the family. The organization may be best known for its campaigns to ensure that “public displays of religion” are maintained during the Christmas holiday, and it has adopted broad right-wing views, including the allegation that the Obama Administration has a “socialist liberal agenda.” But it also has focused heavily on anti-gay activism.J. Matt Barber has launched an empty suit, incoherent counterattack on the SPLC, combined with an attack on gay men. Feel free to dislike him on YouTube.
In 2009, J. Matt Barber, formerly with Concerned Women for America and Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (see above for both), joined Liberty Counsel as director of cultural affairs (also becoming Liberty University’s associate dean for career and professional development). A year earlier, Barber had argued that given “medical evidence about the dangers of homosexuality,” it should be considered “criminally reckless for educators to teach children that homosexual conduct is a normal, safe and perfectly acceptable alternative.” The Counsel also has been active in battling same-sex marriage, saying it would destroy the “bedrock of society.” In 2005, the group’s blog said: “People who … support the radical homosexual agenda will not rest until marriage has become completely devalued. Children will suffer most from this debauchery.” A 2007 blog posting said same-sex marriage would “severely impact future generations.”
Like other anti-gay groups, Liberty Counsel argues that hate crime laws are “actually ‘thought crimes’ laws that violate the right to freedom and of conscience” — an opinion rejected by the Supreme Court. In fact, the laws raise penalties for crimes already on the books — assault, murder and so on — that were motivated by hatred of people based on their sexual orientation. They do not, and could not under the Constitution, punish people for voicing opinions. Since 2006, Liberty Counsel has also run its “Change is Possible” campaign with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays to protect people who say they’ve changed from gay to straight from “discrimination” by “intolerant homosexuals.”
Matt Barber's academic credentials are listed as "Education: J.D., Regent University School of Law, M.A., Public Policy, Regent University Robertson School of Government, B.S., Organizational Management, Colorado Christian University."
What concerns me is the fact that the evangelical right wing in the U.S. has created an alternate universe of mis-education, founded on anti-science, and bigotry. Which then gives its graduates academic legitimacy. Regent University has among its notable graduates people like Cynthia Noland Dunbar
In 2006, Dunbar won the Republican nomination for the Texas State Board of Education for District 10, saying voters responded to her because she supports teaching intelligent design in science classes. In the general election that year, she defeated Libertarian Martin Thomen, a clerk, with 225,839, 70.38% to 95,034, 29.62%. She did not run for reelection in 2010 and her term ended in January 2011.What distresses me as an academic is that schools like Regent and Liberty have their own journals and law reviews, which publish reams of non fact-based, right-wing articles that then become part of the curriculum vitae of people who get jobs at mainstream universities.
Her 2008 book One Nation Under God advocates that the Christian religion should be in the public square more. She has been criticized for a section of the book that calls public education a "subtly deceptive tool of perversion" as well as saying that "The establishment of public schools is unconstitutional and even 'tyrannical'." In early 2008, Dunbar ran for the Republican nomination for the United States House of Representatives representing Texas's 22nd congressional district, the district formerly represented by Tom DeLay, but she eventually withdrew and endorsed Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.
In late 2008, Dunbar wrote an article on the Christian Worldview Network website saying that a terrorist attack on America during the first six months of an Obama administration would more likely "be a planned effort by those with whom Obama truly sympathizes to take down the America that is threat to tyranny." Though Dunbar was criticized, she refused to retract the claim saying "I don't have anything in there that would be retractable."
We need to be more aware of the league of youngsters these places are churning out—right-wing hate is not simply the purview of the old.
Right Wing Watch is keeping an eye on J. Matt Barber.
Me—I'm backing Rev. William. I've changed my sig to link to him.
Help spread the word. The gospel of civil and human rights applies to us all, Christian, theist and atheist alike.
So in the tradition of the black church, and the blues call and response, I will repeat the refrain from Rev. Barber's sermon:
If we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now!.