Review and Reflection on “Freedom Church of the Poor” by Colleen Wessel-McCoy

Pastor Matthew Best
7 min readDec 1, 2023

This is a book I’ve had on my radar for some time. But I often held off on getting because of the price — it’s an expensive soft cover book coming in around $75. I’m not sure why it costs that much, but that’s been the going rate for the book.

Having said that, the book is a good book, especially if you are interested in Martin Luther King, Jr’s Poor People’s Campaign. This book is really a look at the history and impact of the campaign, with a lot of in-depth analysis of the campaign, the people involved, and the strategy and methods that were employed.

What is the foundation of the Poor People’s Campaign? It was really based on what King said about the coming era, “We must not consider it unpatriotic to raise basic questions about our national character…For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born. Our economy must become more person-centered than property-centered and profit-centered. Our nation must depend more on its moral power than on its military power.” (Pg. xiii). The same is still true today.

The Poor People’s Campaign kept a focus on the three main “evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism.” (Pg. xv). For King, these three evils were intimately tied together and would fall together.

For King, so much of the campaign is grounded in a theological outlook at the world and humanity. As the author of the book says, “Instead of avoiding the language of ‘poor’ and ‘poverty,’ we must challenge the idea that being poor is to be less than human. An economy that creates poverty is what denigrates human dignity.” (Pg. xx)

While the book narrates the story of the Poor People’s Campaign, it also heavily sites a plethora of resources. The Introduction alone has six pages of footnotes.

Chapter 1 is titled “King’s Vision for a Campaign of the Poor.” This chapter goes in depth into the grounding and foundation for why the Poor People’s Campaign came about. It has a heavy focus on the three evils mentioned earlier. In this, you hear King’s theology come through loudly — a theology that sees the image of God in all people. “If you treat human beings as a means to an end, you thingify those human beings. And if you will thingify persons, you will exploit them economically. And if you will exploit persons economically, you will abuse your military power to protect your economic…

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Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.