State Politics

NC’s Rev. William Barber at DNC: Be ‘the moral defibrillators of our time’

Rev. William Barber: Be ‘the moral defibrillators of our time’

Watch a portion of Rev. William Barber's fiery speech at the Democratic National Convention calling on Americans to be the ‘the moral defibrillators of our time'.
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Watch a portion of Rev. William Barber's fiery speech at the Democratic National Convention calling on Americans to be the ‘the moral defibrillators of our time'.

North Carolina NAACP and Moral Monday leader William Barber became somewhat of an overnight celebrity after his energetic speech Thursday at the Democratic National Convention.

The Rev. Barber is well known in North Carolina politics for his booming speeches and liberal political advocacy. But until Thursday, he wasn’t nearly as famous nationally.

Barber couldn’t be reached for an interview Friday – he was flying home, then orchestrating a press conference to celebrate Friday’s court ruling overturning the state’s voter ID law – but the internet spoke volumes on his behalf.

“Place went bananas for Barber,” tweeted MSNBC host Chris Hayes.

Comedian Patton Oswalt was particularly wowed, tweeting a series of praises including: “I’m an atheist and I’d go to Rev. William Barber’s church in a second. Just to get levitated by his voice.”

Comparing him to the more typical politicians at the convention, Esquire Magazine said Barber’s 10 minutes on stage “was like someone dropped Pavarotti into the middle of a barbershop quartet competition.”

Conservatives were less impressed. Thursday night, Gov. Pat McCrory tweeted that Barber’s “radical Moral Monday agenda would cost NC $10 billion, increasing state spending by 50%.”

Others criticized Barber’s advocacy against North Carolina’s LGBT law, House Bill 2, this spring.

In a speech intermingling Biblical themes with political advocacy, Barber called on Americans to “embrace” Hillary Clinton. The Washington Post called it “liberal, religious patriotism.”

Clinton, in turn, gave him a shout-out in a tweet sent right before she came onstage to accept the nomination.

By Friday, Barber’s Twitter following had roughly doubled to more than 10,000 as video clips from his speech were being shared frequently online.

And while he didn’t mention HB2 or other issues that are specific to North Carolina, the prime-time speaking slot gave a national audience a taste of Barber’s fiery preaching. He backed a variety of causes: Voting rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, universal health care and a $15 minimum wage.

He said some people use their faith to excuse hate, and that Americans should love everyone regardless of their religion – or lack thereof.

“Jesus, a brown-skin Palestinian Jew, called us to preach good news to the poor, the broken and the bruised and all those who are made to feel unaccepted,” he said.

Barber’s “Forward Together Moral Movement” typically doesn’t endorse candidates, but instead lobbies for action on specific issues. Barber’s speech Thursday was a clear endorsement of Clinton’s candidacy, although he began by saying he was not on the stage to represent any particular group.

“When I hear Hillary’s voice and positions, I hear and I know she is working to embrace our deepest moral values, and we should embrace her,” he said. “She nor any person can do it alone. The watchword of this democracy is ‘we.’”

Barber did not mention Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump but took aim at unnamed politicians he says are misusing religion.

“I’m my heart, I’m troubled by the way faith is cynically used by some to serve hate, fear, racism and greed,” he said. “When religion is used to camouflage meanness, we know that we have a heart problem in America. … We are called on to be the moral defibrillators of our time.”

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter