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Abolishing Poverty: Holy Spirit-Inspired Wesleyans Appreciate MLK, Jr.

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

-Luke 4:14-19 (NRSV)

The Holy Spirit Inspires Us to Bring Good News to the Poor

From Luke 4:14-19, we learn that Jesus was “filled with the power of the Spirit." Spirits inspire. When we feel powerfully inspired, we should ask: What spirit is inspiring us now? The Spirit that inspired Jesus was identified as the Spirit of the Lord “because” it inspired Jesus “to bring good news to the poor.” While other spirits inspire various other activities, the Spirit of the Lord inspires bringing “good news to the poor.”

Moreover, upon receiving this good news, the receivers are no longer poor. Observing a “year of the Lord’s favor” requires redistribution of land (land to the landless), cancellation of economic debts, and liberty for those enslaved by debt and other captivity. The very good news to the poor is that the poor, the landless, and the enslaved become physically free and debt free property holders in the promised land. This is slavery-abolishing and poverty-abolishing good news!

The Next Abolitionist Movement

No doubt, it was the Holy Spirit that inspired Wesleyans to prescribe the abolition of slavery. And, no doubt, it was the Holy Spirit that inspired Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to prescribe the abolition of poverty. 

Abolishing transatlantic slavery during the 19th century was the first abolitionist movement. Abolishing legal segregation in the southern USA during the 1960s was a second abolitionist movement. King’s contributions to this second abolitionist movement are widely recognized. Now we need to recognize King’s contributions to a third abolitionist movement: the not-yet fully emergent movement to abolish poverty. In Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012) Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed:

“The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty."

Good News among Wesleyans

For perhaps the first time, King’s economic prescriptions for abolishing poverty are now being taken seriously by contemporary Wesleyans at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) Perkins School of Theology, and by pioneering economists.

For a preeminent example, see A Way Out of No Way: The Economic Prerequisites of the Beloved Community (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2014) by Michael Greene. In addition to being a United Methodist deacon with a PhD in religious studies from SMU, Rev. Dr. Greene also holds a PhD in economics. Here Greene brings King’s economic prescriptions for abolishing poverty into conversation with economic analyses by William A. Darity, Jr., by Philip Harvey, and by other economists. Greene concludes that our financial resources are sufficient to begin implementing King’s economic programs.

Indeed, the time has come, and some among the Wesleyans are rightly inspired.

Editor's Note:  This is a companion piece to Lynn Parson's blog, "Will Ministry with the Poor Abolish Poverty?"

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Theodore Walker, Jr.

Theodore Walker, Jr. is Associate Professor of Ethics and Society at Southern Methodist University. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame in 1983 and his B.A. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1976.

About This Blog

Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.