Sunday, April 16, 2006

True religion

On this Easter Sunday I want to remember once again a spiritual giant who died last week: William Sloane Coffin. You know, it occurs to me that the difference between fundamentalist and progressive religion has to do with what one considers to be the central theme of Scripture. Is the Bible primarily about purity and judgment or is it about mercy and justice? Needless to say, I hold with the mercy and justice interpretation. So did Dr. Coffin. Here are some excerpts from an article entitled, "The Legacy of William Sloane Coffin":

''Justice, not charity," was one of Coffin's constant refrains...

Coffin's contention was: ''Many of us are eager to respond to injustice, as long as we can do so without having to confront the causes of it. There's the great pitfall of charity. Handouts to needy individuals are genuine, necessary responses to injustice, but they do not necessarily face the reason for injustice. And that is why so many business and governmental leaders today are promoting charity; it is desperately needed in an economy whose prosperity is based on growing inequality. First these leaders proclaim themselves experts on matters economic, and prove it by taking the most out of the economy! Then they promote charity as if it were the work of the church, finally telling us troubled clergy to shut up and bless the economy as once we blessed the battleships."
''The churches have to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. But they have also to remember that the answer to homelessness is homes, not shelters. What the poor and downtrodden need is not piecemeal charity but wholesale justice." He taught that they need political action and structural change in society, not just a warm meal and a bed in a church basement.

Coffin quoted the biblical prophet Amos regularly: ''Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground. You who trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate." Justice, not charity. Not trickle-down economics or faith-based social services, ''but," in Amos's words, ''let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream."

Coffin called the church to translate its moral teachings into politics: ''In Scripture, there is no purely spiritual answer to slavery; no purely spiritual answer to the pain of the poor. . . . In times of oppression, if you don't translate choices of faith into political choices, you run the danger of washing your hands, like Pilate."

I wonder when we shall see his like again. May he rest in peace and may we, who have been inspired by his words and example, go and do likewise.

UPDATE: I just found the Nation's tribute to Dr. Coffin. Here's a quote:

Active to the end, Coffin explained in one of his last interviews that, "There are two major biblical imperatives: pursue justice and seek peace." Honoring those imperatives, he campaigned consistently and loudly – even as his own health failed -- for the quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

As a World War II veteran and a passionate patriot who described his arguments with U.S. foreign policies as "a lovers' quarrel," Coffin counseled his fellow citizens that, "What we shouldn't do is to believe President Bush when he says that to honor those who have died, more Americans must die. That's using examples of his failures to promote still greater failures."

"A lovers' quarrel." I understand that for I love this country so much that it truly breaks my heart to see what is happening to it.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:32 PM

    Reading about Coffin's discussion of justice versus charity reminds me very much of something an instructor of mine said. Her descrtiption of the difference between justice and charity was the following:
    Charity is pulling people out of the river. Justice is going up the river to find out how all the people are getting in the river and then doing something about it.
    Carolyn L.


New policy: Anonymous posts must be signed or they will be deleted. Pick a name, any name (it could be Paperclip or Doorknob), but identify yourself in some way. Thank you.