The Executive Director Rev. Jason Wells made these remarks at Concord District Court on October 11, 2019 following sentencing for disorderly conduct during a Poor People’s Campaign rally. He was sentenced only with five other moral witnesses who spoke up on May 14, 2018 about the interrelated evils of systemic poverty, racism, militarism and ecological devastation.
1. As I travel across the state, I visit churches who have been reading through the Book of Luke in the Bible. The chapters they’ve been reading lately feature stories from Jesus about people who have become rich and stayed rich because they cause the poor to suffer. There’s the prodigal son who conned his inheritance out of the family farm. There’s the unjust manager who abused his power to overcharge people at market. There’s the “rich man Divies who lived so well” while “poor man Lazarus, sick and disabled” had to “eat crumbs from the rich man’s table.” There’s Zacchaeus who punished the poor people of Jericho with a crooked tax scheme. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the rich taking advantage of the poor as an issue of Biblical morality and I always want to talk about the things Jesus talked about.
2. Nearly a year and a half ago, I was arrested in State Street while holding a banner that read, “Stop and listen. 140 million Americans are poor or low-income. 1 in 2 New Hampshire children are poor or low-income.” The Poor People’s Campaign reckons that 40% of Americans and fully half of our children in New Hampshire are in poverty or only one emergency.
Some people won’t trust my reckoning on these questions. Instead they can listen to New Hampshire Business Review which reported that “income disparity between rich and poor is widening at a greater rate in New Hampshire than anywhere else in the nation.” Or they might trust the Union Leader’s reporting that “income inequality in America reached its highest level since the Census Bureau started tracking it in 1967,” with New Hampshire topping the list.
Again, as I travel to the churches of New Hampshire, I regularly see charity stretched to its limits as churches feed hungry schoolchildren, unable to keep up with each year’s growing numbers. I have met a Christian pacifist who lost his job in the 2008 recession who began working for a defense contractor against his conscience just to make ends meet. I watched a young father enlist in the Army not out of patriotism but because that was the only job he could find that would give health benefits to his young children.
Our growing wealth gap is poisoning us socially and spiritually.
3. In all of those Biblical stories, they end with a calling to account, repentance and restitution. Their stories only resolved when they would “stop and listen” to what they were doing. Zacchaeus promised to restore everything that he had stolen by abusing the tax structures. The unjust manager brought everyone back to market and renegotiated the bills in their favor.
Several of the stories end with Jesus remarking, “You cannot serve both God and wealth.” To keep the system in place was to put our world and our souls in jeopardy. To find salvation though is to repent, to change and at the end of the story to re-deal the resources to those who need them and to whom they rightly belong.
4. The banner we carried said, “Stop and listen.” I wanted people to stop and listen to the facts about poverty, especially as it harms New Hampshire families. I want people to stop and listen to the demands of the Poor People’s Campaign because I find there clear and convincing ways to address this suffering. I want people to stop and listen to the policy solutions put forward in the Moral Budget that can fund every single demand, with money left over, through moderate cuts in military spending, correcting our tax structures, ending mass incarceration and more.
These steps are ready, if our nation but stop and listen, to change a disorderly and immoral system that keeps rich folk rich at the expense of the poor and bring a morally-ordered economy that comes from our deepest religious, spiritual and constitutional values.