Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

Rev. William Barber To Lead Yale’s New Center for Theology and Public Policy

“I’m excited to move from...pastoral work with the congregation, to, in a sense, pastoring the movement with this center,” Rev. Barber tells The Root.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Reverend William Barber
Reverend William Barber
Photo: Jose Luis Magana, File (AP)

It’s been thirty years since Reverend William Barber began preaching at the historic Greenleaf Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Now, the pastor and anti-poverty leader is leaving his position at the historic church, but his life’s work is far from over.

Reverend Barber will head-up the Yale Divinity School’s new Center for Theology and Public Policy, which aims to bring moral teachings into public policy and movement work.

“I’m excited to move from pastoring that is thirty-five years of pastoral ministry with the congregation,” says Rev. Barber, who grew up in North Carolina, “to, in a sense, pastoring the movement with this center.”

Advertisement

The goal of the center, which will open in 2023, is to train a new generation of students and movement leaders on the history, philosophy, and practice of transformative social justice movements with a grounding in theology.

“We’re gonna share what I’ve learned to lead research on the deep connection between theology, deepest moral values, constitutional values, and just policies in the present,” explains Rev. Barber.

Advertisement

Barber, 59, is known for much more than his pastoral role at Greenleaf. Barber burst onto the national scene in 2013 with his massive “Moral Monday” protests in Raleigh, North Carolina, to protest against voting restrictions, cuts to social welfare programs, racial injustice, and abortion restrictions.

Since then, he founded the Repairers of the Breach, a non-profit focused on educating religious leaders. In 2017, he stepped down from his role at the NAACP to lead the “new” Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival. It was aptly named after the 1968 campaign founded by Martin Luther King Jr.

Advertisement

Barber’s work has extended to politics. He’s seen as a key thought leader in the Democratic Party and gave a roaring speech at the 2016 National Democratic Convention. (Based on his speech at The Root Institute this year, it’s hard not to see why he got so much applause.)

As evidenced by his extensive career, Barber sees the role of being a pastor as about much more than a single congregation.

Advertisement

“I’ve never just pastored a congregation,” says Rev. Barber. “I think you have to be engaged in pastoral care and public policy. Otherwise you’re engaged in a form of theological malpractice, if you say you only care about what’s going on for your members.”

Centering morality in public policy is essential, says Rev. Barber, who hopes to ground the new generation of leaders in the history of moral movements, whether that’s from a religious lens or not.

Advertisement

“Everything we celebrate today, from social security to the voting rights act, to minimum wage,” says Rev. Barber. “All of these things, women’s suffrage, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the battle for the environment. If you dig, you will find that there was always a moral critique.”

Rev. Barber isn’t the only new face joining the Yale Divinity School in 2023. “The staff we’re bringing here are deeply rooted in social justice movements,” he explains.

Advertisement

Along with Rev. Barber, Valerie Eguavoen, a social justice movement lawyer, will be joining as associate director. Roz Pelles, a workers’ rights advocate will be starting as assistant director for student engagement and lecturer, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, an author and preacher, will lead the theological research fellowship program.

Barber wants to extend his work outside the ivory towers of Yale University. “One of the things I said to Yale is if I work with the center at Yale we have to have a liaison relationship with an HBCU in the South,” says Rev. Barber.

Advertisement

The exact details of the relationship is still in the works. But, Barber says that starting in the spring, they’ll announce their partnership which seeks to allow students at Historically Black Colleges in the south to benefit from the work at Yale.

Opening the center is a labor of love for Rev. Barber, who will continue leading the Poor People’s Campaign and Repairers of The Breach.

Advertisement

“This work is hard, but it’s worth it,” says Rev. Barber. “I would not want to leave this life and not try in some way to seed what we’ve learned, what we know, what we are yet to know into the veins of this society and into the hearts and minds of generations of leaders that are already here, but also will be here long after many of us.”