Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Silent Church (4) (and last for now)

This is my final post for now on the Silent  Church.


My mind has been alerted to this silence as I have recalled the heroes of the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements.  

I have thought in particular about a Rabbi – Abraham Joseph Heschel, 

two Catholic Priests – Daniel and Philip Berrigan, 

and a Protestant Minister – William Sloane Coffin.  You can read more about them below.


Of course they are four white males.  There were next to no female Rabbis or Ministers in their day.  

And I am not ignoring the great Negro leaders – Martin Luther King, Jr, Ralph Abernathy etc.  

But many of my readers have never heard of Heschel, the Berrigan brothers, or Coffin.

These four men refused to be silent in the face of injustice.  And they were willing to put their money alongside their mouths, knowing that other religious leaders would disdain or despise them, and that the civil authority could imprison them.

It is not my purpose to argue whether or not they were right.  What is important to me is that they refused to be silent.

And that was vital for the health of the nation.  In their time, and in our time, we need to hear voices other than those of the politicians, the big-business leaders, the dominant right-wing media, and the scared and small minded tea party types.

If religious leaders do not speak out -  who will?

But there is silence.  A deathly silence.

I suggest some reasons for the muteness of religion.  I may well step on some toes. So let it be.

 The Catholic Church is both circling the wagons, and turning the clock back in the face of the ephebophile scandal.

2.    Judaism (which I deeply respect) has become chiefly concerned with the State of Israel.

3.   Mainstream Protestantism is dying, and is obsessed with survival.(If you are dying - please die.  Survival is fruitless!

4.   The Anglican Communion is a “leaky old ship” and its leaders are so busy patching the leaks that they fail to notice that the ship is sinking.

5.   The Episcopal Church (my beloved Episcopal Church) is filled with old and greying worshippers (such as I), who are tired and therefore long for the simple life.

6.    American Evangelicals (I like them!)  are caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of modernity and fear.

The one exception is American Fundamentalism which is lining up to lead the “Tea Party Charge”, with its insistence on “American Exceptionalism”.

I could go on.  But my point is that organised (American) Catholicism, Judaism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, and Evangelicalism has turned away from the public market place of ideas to introspective navel gazing.

Only the Fundamentalists have a vision for our common life.  It is one which scares me.

So I will not shut up!

  William Sloane Coffin 1926-2006


2.     Rabbi Abraham Joseph Heschel 1907-1992





3.     Daniel Berrigan 1921 –

Philip Berrigan 1923-2002

1 comment:

  1. Michael -- My dear friend Valarie Kaur, who was the creator of the documentary film on post-9/11 hate crimes that I worked with while at HDS and beyond, is now finishing her J.D. at Yale Law School and has been hired by Auburn Seminary in NYC to direct a new initiative called "Groundswell," an attempt to mobilize progressive people of faith to have exactly the kind of voice you're talking about that is lacking in the American church these days. They aim to remedy your observation that "Only the Fundamentalists have a vision for our common life." Everything is still in the planning stages right now, but check them out at


    I know for sure that there is a whole community of religious people out there who feel exactly the way you do about the "niceties" of organized religion that prevent them from speaking out, and want to change that... stay tuned!!