Friday, April 21, 2006

Moyers for President

... or, at least, pastor-in-chief. His remembrance of William Sloan Coffin reminds me again of how powerful his voice is and Coffin's was.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Honoring Coffin

Two questions for spring, on the doing of justice, prompted by some conversation about how one might honor the memory of William Sloan Coffin. First, there is the question of how? How do we engage in a spiritual practice of social action and protest that does not simply devolve into competing factions shouting beyond one another in endless rounds of mounting anger? We do well to keep in mind Coffin’s caution that a “politically committed spirituality contends against wrong without becoming wrongly contentious.” That must involve the deep conviction that those we oppose in the social arena are also beloved children of God, and that we must always seek to find and honor the Christ in them even as we work to achieve an often radically different vision of social arrangements.

Second, there is that question of vision. What is the vision of justice toward which we aim and on what is it grounded? Put simply, provisionally and decidedly nonprogramatically, the Biblical vision of justice, as Walter Brueggemann puts it, is this: sorting out what belongs to whom and returning it.

So, for example, in a world of plenty food belongs to those who are hungry; in an economy of abundance work belongs to those who seek jobs, wherever they come from; in the 21st century health care belongs to those who are sick, shelter belongs to those who are homeless, and clothing belongs to those who are naked; in our nation’s cities good schools belong to children left behind; in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ordination belongs to all those who are called; in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across these United States marriage belongs to those who are in love regardless of sexual orientation; in Saudi Arabia, freedom belongs to women; in Northern Ireland, in Israel, in Palestine, in Darfur, in Iraq and everywhere that plow shares still give way to swords and shields peace belongs to us all.

It is far past time for sorting this stuff out. It is far past time to move beyond religion that focuses only on the next world, that insists on an unbiblical distinction between the sacred and the secular, and that, as a result, blesses the status quo even as that status crushes millions beneath the weight of injustice, oppression, sexism, heterosexism, racism, militarism and neoconservative globalism.

It is far past time to recognize that the doing of justice is the primary expectation of the God of the Bible. Perhaps such words will honor Coffin’s memory and motivate as well.

Monday, April 17, 2006

From Yesterday's Sermon

It was perhaps fitting that William Sloan Coffin died the same week that The Nation, a publication to which he often contributed, ran an article recalling his work and that of Martin King and the Berrigan brothers and other religious leaders who toiled tirelessly for peace and justice and on behalf of the marginalized and outcast. The article noted that “Their inspiring example raises a disturbing question: Where are their counterparts now?” [1]

Look around you this morning. It is Easter. The hope they gave their lives for is reborn among us. Look at the scores of us who have come out this morning to a faith community that clearly discerns God’s calling to give voice to prophetic faith on behalf of the least of these, to practice radical hospitality among those abused by church and culture, and to celebrate joyously with everyone God’s abundant creation. Look around you this morning: we are the people we’ve been waiting for, and the risen Christ is in our midst.

Where are the Coffins, the Kings, the Berrigans today? Well, we may lack their eloquence and inspiration. Indeed, we may lack their courage and imagination. But we do not lack their hope, their faith nor their love, and we are walking the same path that they walked. For the path they walked was the way of Jesus Christ.

It is the way of the cross – for it seeks solidarity with the oppressed and persecuted and accepts the likelihood of suffering for their sake. But it is also the way of the empty tomb – for it is a way of unalterable hope and abiding faith in the good intention of the sovereign Lord of history. Thus it is the way through the doubt and despair of this time; it is the way through the fear of this time; it is the way through the violence and hatred of this time; it is the way through the darkness of this time.

You know, sometimes it feels like we are living in the absence of hope. Still, I believe with Dr. King that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.[2]

Sometimes it feels like the very air we breathe is filled with fear. Still, I believe with Rev. Coffin that the Bible has it right: “the opposite of love is not hate but fear. ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.’”[3]

Sometimes it feels like we are living in a death-dealing culture of permanent war. Still, I believe with Father Berrigan that “the God of life summons us to life; more, to be lifegivers, especially toward those who lie under the heel of the powers.”[4]

Sometimes it feels like we are living in the midnight of history. Still, I believe there is a new day coming and it breaks forth even now, even here. For though grief and mourning linger through the night, the dawn – the resurrection dawn – sings of a blessed hope.

That is the meaning of Easter. Love and justice join hands. Hope rises from the tomb. God and creation reconcile. A new day is come! Christ is risen!

[1] “Taking Back the Faith,” Dan Wakefield, (The Nation, April 24, 2006, 14-20.)

[2] This was one of King’s favorite sayings and can be found in several speeches included in A Testament of Hope. He drew it, apparently, from the writings of Theodore Parker, a 19th-century American pastor. See Rufus Borrow, Jr., “Martin Luther King, the Church and a Value-Fused Universe,” in Encounter, Christian Theological Seminary, 2005 (

[3] Credo, 27.

[4] These words of Berrigan are widely quoted but I am unsure of their original source. They can be found, among numerous other words from Berrigan, at the web site of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (