I first read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider in the early 90s and it literally changed my life. I had grown up entrenched in conservative evangelicalism, but yet, when I read Scripture, Scripture seemed filled with stories of God’s passionate and preferential love for the poor and marginalized; not a concern for oneself over and above that of others. Rich Christians for me resounded with my spirit of the timeless truth that genuine peace and equality were impossible without justice, and that justice was impossible without structural change. Ron Sider gave words to my passion.
But Dr. Sider did more than just write about God’s love for the poor; he lived out what he believed. He intentionally moved into a predominantly Black neighborhood outside Philadelphia where he shared in the struggles for justice, such as helping folks register to vote. Dr. Sider, a brilliant thinker and writer, was also an activist. For instance, deeply disturbed by President Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War, he organized Evangelicals for McGovern in 1972. Then, following McGovern’s electoral loss, he led faith leaders in writing a statement that read in part:
We acknowledge our Christian responsibilities of citizenship. Therefore, we must challenge the misplaced trust of the nation in economic and military might—a proud trust that promotes a national pathology of war and violence with victimizes our neighbors at home and abroad. We must resist the temptation to make the nation and its institutions objects of near-religious loyalty.
This still resonated today. In fact, when I remember Dr. Sider I can’t help but think how much he would take joy in the work we are doing alongside domestic workers who are working for a Bill of Rights. This legislation includes worker protections that nannies and homecare workers have been denied for generations because of systemic racism.
Even today, when our struggle to achieve the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Washington DC has been set back due to politics, he would encourage us to follow our courageous domestic worker leaders and the leadership of Councilmember Elissa Silverman and email Councilmember Kenyon McDuffie to show that same kind of leadership by moving the legislation forward in his committee.
So, much of what I do personally and even much of what all of us do at the Festival Center has been influenced by the gentle, thoughtful, and fierce prophetic words of Dr. Sider, a life well lived.