Guest columnist: ‘Poor and in a Manger’: Durham children in poverty

Dec. 25, 2012 @ 07:00 AM

“Poor and in a manger” is a line from the familiar Christmas carol “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  Those words indicate that Jesus was born not to the upper class or middle class, but in poverty. He was born in a barn feedbox “because there was no room for him in the inn.”

Jesus was a child in poverty. Today he would be among the 14,000 Durham children living in poverty.

On Jan. 24, at our Faith Summit on Child Poverty at Union Baptist Church, we will be focusing on the urgent matter of our obligation to these 14,000 children. It’s appalling that we have 27 percent of Durham children living in poverty!

What would we do if Jesus was born today in Durham? How would we treat him? Would we ignore him and say with the spiritual “Sweet little Jesus boy, we didn’t know who you was”?  Or would some of us follow a few bedraggled shepherds who say “Come, let us adore him”?

In his teaching Jesus was quite clear that he would be found among the poor. “When you feed and clothe the poor, you do this to me,” he said.

The Good Book teaches that Jesus is embodied in the children in poverty -- in Durham!

How do we respond? We can measure our response to Jesus by our response to low-income children in Durham. Pity is unacceptable. Condescension is unacceptable. Compassion is the only adequate response — coming close to the poor in an honest, open relationship.   Too many of us lack relationships with the poor.

The Jan. 24 Faith Summit on Child Poverty will be an urgent call to action -- exploring ways to build relationships with Durham’s children and families in poverty.    

Speaking at the Newtown, Conn,. interfaith service on Dec. 16, President Obama said, “Our first task is to care for our children.” Please join us for this “first task” by registering for the Faith Summit on Child Poverty at


The Rev. Mel Williams is coordinator of End Poverty Durham.