Author and influencer Connor Boyack wrote the following editorial after Rev. Dr. William Barber II called for a moral march on Washington at a recent forum at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
It was only a few months ago that social media erupted in fury over Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s BYU speech in which he insisted that the institution stand “unquestionably committed to its unique academic mission and to the church that sponsors it.” It was a clarion call for fidelity to the faith, and ensuring students on campus are exposed to messages consistent with doctrine.
It seems that BYU didn’t quite get the message.
On November 30, the campus hosted Rev. William Barber II at its official forum, where he lectured the assembled students about the problems with the nation’s approach to poverty and the need for, as he called it, a “moral march” on Washington to demand a litany of policy changes to help the poor.
The coverage of the address by Deseret News contained no criticism of his remarks—only interviews with students offering praise. Students apparently “responded with a robust standing ovation,” so perhaps no one could be found to offer a dissenting perspective.
And that is perhaps the most problematic conclusion, for Rev. Barber’s remarks conflict deeply with the gospel of Christ he cited as justification for his policy prescription—and therefore run afoul of Elder Holland’s plea.
Rev. Barber began his address by citing scriptures that call for us to help the poor. These are well known, if not well followed. But after sharing these verses, the Reverend suggested only one set of solutions: more taxes, more forced redistribution of wealth, and more socialism to take from the haves and give to the have nots.
Though cloaked in Christian garb, Barber’s demands were merely progressive political proposals: “It’s time to ensure legislation that seeks to end poverty and low wages… raise the minimum wage to a living wage… use the power even of deficit spending on the front end to meet the pressing needs of the [poor]… guarantee quality health care for all… guarantee safe and quality housing for all… implement a federal jobs program to ensure good jobs… deal with climate change… enact relief from student debt and medical and housing and utilities debt… [and] transform the economy from a climate chaos to a green renewable energy economy.”
But what’s the doctrinal problem? It’s simple, really: Jesus never suggested forcing people to help the poor. The call to be charitable involves individual actions of free will and love. Rev. Barber’s policy demands are therefore un-Christian and inconsistent with the scriptures he cited, for each of them involves forcibly taking resources from some to give to others. That moral justification is nowhere found in scripture. (Quite the opposite, actually.)
Rev. Barber’s remarks were based on a premise of legislatively “ending poverty,” yet Jesus said that we would “have the poor always with [us]” (Matthew 26:11). Helping the poor provides an opportunity for both the giver and receiver of charity to benefit and become united (see 2 Corinthians 8:13-14)—a reciprocal relationship that is snuffed out when routed through the inefficient, corrupt, and far more costly channels of bloated bureaucracy. Inequality is something for us to individually address on a personal, ongoing level; it can’t be magically eradicated through an act of Congress.
Set aside the reality that Rev. Barber’s policy recommendations are all deeply problematic on a practical and economic level—with $15 hour minimum wage mandates forcing many businesses to either close or raise prices (again, that hurts the poor), or universal health care decreasing its quality and leading to rationed services that cause poor people to wait longer, if they are even served at all. Set aside these are other reasonable rebuttals and you arrive at the chief concern in Rev. Barber’s remarks—his reliance on Caesar over Christ.
At no point did the Prince of Peace call on his followers to bring about a better world through the chaotic, coercive arm of Caesar. A “moral march” is indeed needed, but its destination shouldn’t be D.C.—it should be into the chapels and homes of our communities, inviting people to individually respond to the crisis of inequality. People should be asked not to vote to empower Caesar to take what belongs to others, but to empower themselves as change agents that directly give to and help the poor and needy.
That is a message worth sharing—one that is consistent with Christ’s counsel and the teachings of Elder Holland and his colleagues (past and present). Perhaps future BYU forums will invite speakers whose proposals and policy prescriptions have alignment with our faith.