Remarks for the Poor Peoples Campaign

Power. It always comes back to power:

  • Who has it and who doesn’t.
  • What those who have it will do or fail to do with it.
  • What those who have it are willing to do to keep hold of it.
  • And on whose behalf it will be used.

Government, which is preoccupied with the strategic application of power, must continually have an answer about how and on behalf of whom power will be used.

At its worst, government exercises its power to conquer and subdue those it feels threatened by. Whether it’s the North Koreans or undocumented immigrants trying to support their families (or, God have mercy, just to keep them together), whether it’s the Iranians or African Americans sitting in Starbucks waiting on a friend, whether it’s the Syrian government or the refugees that government makes by the hundreds of thousands, or whether it’s ISIS or trans kids who just want to go to the bathroom in peace (or any kid who wants to go to school without the fear of being shot), the government has a habit of employing the power at its disposal to smack down any perceived threats.

At its worst, the military, the justice system, ICE, militarized law enforcement, private prisons are tools the government uses to beat back those threats.

But, you see, saying it that way keeps the discussion abstract. The thing of it is, those tools don’t use power abstractly; they use it on real people—the poor and the dispossessed, the marginalized and outcast, the voiceless and the vulnerable. To beat back a threat, in other words, is most often an exercise in beating down a human being.

At its best, government uses its power to work for and protect those who lack power. At its best, government has the ability to defend the poor and the dispossessed, the marginalized and outcast, the voiceless and the vulnerable.

If you have power, you can either use it to safeguard the interests of the rich and powerful or advance the interests of the poor and powerless. If you happen to follow Jesus (a man executed by the state as a threat to the interests of the rich and powerful), as most of our politicians in Frankfort claim to do, you can’t pursue the former at the expense of the latter and still believe Jesus is smiling down on you.

To the Christians in Frankfort: You can’t beat people down in the name of the one who gave his life lifting people up.

I didn’t write the book; I’m just telling you what’s in it.

This post was previously published on Derek Penwell and is republished here with permission from the author.


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