Chronic illness has made Disciples of Christ Pastor Rev. William Barber II grounded and inspired in pursuing his fight for the poor out of his faith in God.

Poor People's Campaign Co-Chair Rev. William Barber II disclosed in an exclusive interview with Religion News Service how his debilitating illness deeply informed him on the theology of his advocacy for the poor. The Poor People's Campaign is a faith-led organization envisioned with a moral revival against systemic evils such as poverty, racism, and war.

Barbers, who is also a pastor in North Carolina's Greenleaf Christian Church, was inflicted with COVID-19 in January and reached out to the media outfit to share about his experience with his chronic illness, ankylosis.

A Pastor's Physical Battle Inspires Activism

Barbers narrated that it was in the 1990s when he was diagnosed with ankylosis, which over time tries to close one's chest cavity. The activist disclosed that ankylosis is an exhausting condition that causes immense pain in his body due to the inflammation of the hips, spine, and neck. The disease, he said, is slowly damaging his spine, which has slowly deteriorated into a curve.

The 58-year-old pastor shared that the condition also impairs his vision at times and even turns his eyes red. While at times affects his baritone voice into one that is hoarse and thin. He said he needs to perform daily stretching exercises for almost two hours or even longer involving his arms and back. This is on top of taking medication that makes him weary.

Amidst all these, Barbers said he learned the realities of body and spirit because of his religious upbringing. His faith tradition taught him that one does not "live life and rust out" but one wears out.

"When I got up to preach, I didn't hurt, mystically, or whatever you want to call it. I came from a people who said: 'You fight on. You walk by faith and not by sight. You don't quit. You be steadfast.' You don't do it for glory and honors. You don't do it because you're a masochist. You do it because you've got to take the life you're handed and make a difference with the life you have," Barbers said.

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Barbers said the speeches he gives in the activities of the Poor People's Campaign were first preached in Greenleaf, where for the last 12 years he would do so either on a wheelchair or walker. He said the lives of prominent leaders who suffered health issues like Abraham Lincoln and Fannie Lou Hamer, as well as, the Bible's Moses comforted him in his own struggle.

The activist said that despite the pain he suffers, no matter how long he lives or if the pain no longer permits him to, he will still be with America's marginalized who have been inflicted by the "arthritis of inequality."

A Pastor's Battle Against Moral Narratives

The Poor People's Campaign held a Mass Poor People's & Low Wage Workers' Assembly and Moral March in Washington, D.C. on Saturday as part of its ongoing, committed declaration to shift the moral narrative that has been ongoing for generations. The march is not only a day of power but aims to build power for the poor and low-wealth people through real policies that address their issues.

As previously reported, the Poor People's Campaign has repeatedly called on President Joe Biden to a summit with low-income earners to discuss various issues including a $15 an hour federal minimum wage. The group hoped to meet Biden before their DC March but Biden has been unresponsive to their requests despite being endorsed by the president during his campaign. Barbars said that one can not remain silent anymore in the face of the hardships low-income earners face, whose wages have not been raised for decades.

NBC Washington said thousands gathered during the march that began at the Freedom Plaza. NPR highlighted that protesters also demanded a Third Reconstruction, which is a "large federal effort to end poverty and make other large scale changes" patterned after the Civil War and civil rights movement of the first and second reconstruction, respectively.

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