Social Holiness Concerns: Conscience of the Conference
April 3, 2018 / By Rev. Marti Swords-Horrell, pastor, Emmaus United Methodist Church, Albany
Many of us remember where we were on April 4, 1968 when the nation was shaken to its core by the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. I remember that tragic day very well, but also conversations at our family’s table the previous fall concerning the criticism Dr. King was receiving for his opposition to the Vietnam War, and the connections he was making between poverty, racism and militarism. At the time of his untimely death, Dr. King was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign: putting injustices faced by low wage workers, black and brown and white, at the center of the struggle for equality in this country.
Many of our churches commemorate Dr. King’s birthday in January, but this year we have an opportunity to lift up the 50th anniversary of his untimely death. On April 4th, please take time to prayerfully review the events of that fateful day in Memphis where Dr. King had travelled to support sanitation workers, on strike for better wages and working conditions.
But the best way to honor the memory of Dr. King is to continue his work. Many things have changed in the intervening 50 years in this country, but one thing that hasn’t is poverty. If anything, it’s gotten worse. As a native of New York State, I am deeply ashamed to report that we have the worst income inequality in the country, with 1.7 million New Yorkers living in poverty and 88,000 New Yorkers homeless every night across our state, while the wealth of Manhattan multi-millionaires and billionaires soars to all-time highs.
Our Upper New York Conference spans a wide spectrum politically and theologically. But even as many things divide us, one thing that every District across the Conference has in common is poverty. In my 35 years of ministry, I’ve served in distressed urban neighborhoods and in poverty- stricken rural settings as well – which have more in common than not. Banding together to address poverty across New York State is something every United Methodist can and should do. As followers of Jesus in the heritage of John Wesley, together we are devoted to bringing good news to the poor.
The good news is that there’s an active and growing movement not only here in New York but in 33 other states which seeks not so much to commemorate Dr King’s Poor People’s Campaign as to continue it. Headed up by the Rev. Dr. William Barber of “Repairers of the Breach” and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of Union Theological Seminary, the New Poor People’s Campaign “is not so much about right vs left as it is about right vs wrong” Watch for opportunities to join in nationwide actions starting on Mother’s Day.
I hope to see you at the statewide conference sponsored by the New York State Council of Churches in Johnstown, July 10 – 12: “Bridging the Rural-Urban Divide”. This year’s theme is “Congregations as Catalysts for Economic and Social Change in their Communities.” Together we can be the change we wish to see.