There were lots of good things about last week’s vacation but best was the fact that I had absolutely no access to Wi-Fi. It did more for my blood pressure than my two daily pills. Re-entry is traumatic though, and I was feeling particularly saddened by the mean-spirited actions of our so-called leaders as I skimmed through the past week’s news. What I needed was hope.

As the universe is wont to do when asked, hope was delivered Saturday afternoon in the unlikely form of a radio interview with the Reverend William Barber. I say unlikely because while I consider myself spiritual, I am definitely not religious. And unlikely because Barber is an evangelical preacher and I am definitely not a fan of what I have considered, until now, evangelical anything. However, long after I had arrived at my destination, I sat in the car listening to what he had to say.

Who knew, biblical evangelical preaching always began with a critique of economic injustice? A calling to task of nations whose systems leave out the poor, the forgotten, the brokenhearted, the sick, and the stranger. Listening to evangelical preaching today, who knew there were 3,500 references in the bible about love and justice, but only three about homosexuality? Hmmm, not exactly the focus of today’s evangelical message. Why is that?

Shortly after FDR started introducing New Deal legislation, there began a “weird” theology (Barber’s word, not mine) to oppose it. If you’re “good” you go to heaven; if you are “bad” you go to hell, which translated to, you are wealthy because you are a good person; you are poor because you are a bad person. Suddenly, one of the puzzles of the election — why people who claimed to be evangelical could vote for a wealthy man with no moral compass, no compassion for the poor, the sick, or the stranger — was solved.

Ah, but what about abortion? Barber admitted there were people in his congregation who held differing views on the subject. He was clear that he wanted people to have children but he also understood there were many reasons why that might not be the best option for some people and he wasn’t about to judge them. He was more concerned with the higher-level question of how we stop the government from aborting the hopes and dreams of the poor.

I hope his work to galvanize a national movement to repair the breach in our country takes root. I hope that in what he calls our “third reconstruction” we finally get it right. The call-and-response of our nation’s reconstruction history has been a call for more justice, more racial progress, and an expansion of the electorate; the response has been an increase in racism, fear, and a call for tax cuts to keep the government from leveling the playing field, and fixing the problems it created in the first place.


Listening to Barber I recalled the lessons I’d learned in Sunday school about social justice. Jesus’ teachings weren’t about private charity, they were a call to the nations to attend to the voices of those least heard. You don’t have to be Christian, or even religious, you can be progressive or conservative, but you do need to believe there is a moral arc to the universe that bends toward justice. The choices we are making today are not a question of right vs. left but of right vs. wrong.

Mainers struggling to pay their taxes are found on the left and the right of the political spectrum. Choosing between reducing taxes for those who aren’t struggling and taking dollars away from Mainers who are is a question of right vs. wrong. Mainers struggling with addiction are found in every socioeconomic level and political party in the state. Choosing between expanding treatment options and locking Mainers up is a question of right vs. wrong. Cutting or not cutting public health dollars that are designed to keep young, old, rich, poor, conservative and liberal Mainers healthy is a question of right vs. wrong.

Students come from families all along the political spectrum. Choosing between funding and not funding public education, Head Start, and pre-school is a choice between right and wrong. Choosing to welcome and help the strangers from foreign lands get on their feet, is a choice between right and wrong.

The hope I found in Barber’s message is that it has attracted thousands of people, across the political spectrum, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and non-religious, of all colors and abilities to work to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice. He renewed my faith that we were made for this work and together we are strong enough to prevail.

Karen Heck is a resident and former mayor of Waterville.

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