MLK ally and spiritual progressive dies

News & Politics

81-year-old William Sloane Coffin's life is the life of the second half of the 20th Century. A progressive second half, that is.

An heir to the W & J Sloane fortune, he was a CIA agent, an organizer of the first Peace Corps trainings, the chaplain of Yale, an ally of Martin Luther King Jr. (he was a Freedom Rides organizer), president of SANE/Freeze, and opposed the Iraq War in his later years.

He's even got a permanent spot in the Doonesbury comics as the Rev. Sloan.

The Presbyterian minister occupied such a vaunted place in the progressive world the Nation recently asked, as his health was failing, who the next William Sloane Coffin would be.

(For the record, the answer the Nation comes up with seems to be, curiously enough, a Rabbi. Rabbi Michael Lerner...)

Incidentally, Lerner's Tikkun Magazine (where I once worked) interviewed Coffin a short while ago. An excerpt on good, evil and Bush's Christianity:

Tikkun: What is your understanding of the relationship between God and humankind?
WSC: God is the ultimate mystery. As St. Paul said, "Who has known the mind of God?" Like the truths of music and art, religious truths are apprehended at a deeper level than they are comprehended. Feelings being treacherous, the mind must play a critical role in the religious life, but the mind alone cannot discover God.
Personally, I think that God is not too hard to believe in, simply too good to believe in, we being strangers to such goodness.

Tikkun: What about evil?
WSC: When it comes to evil there are certainly questions I intend on addressing to God one day! But when it comes to war and violence, to the countless ways in which we hurt one another, that is our fault, not God's. In fact, when we raise our eyes to heaven and ask, "How could you let this happen?" God is addressing the exact same question to us. In other words, evil is generally the abuse of the freedom God has graciously given us.
Tikkun: What do you think of President Bush's Christianity?
WSC: I think that President Bush's God is too violent, hardly the God to whom Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel prayed. I also think that the president's God is too small. It is my fundamental religious conviction that we all belong one to another, every one of us on this planet. Religious people have to open their hearts to all people, from the Pope to the loneliest wino on earth. It is ridiculous for the president to describe Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as "the axis of evil" when all of humanity suffers infinitely more from environmental degradation, pandemic poverty, and a world awash with weapons.
Further, President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" seems reserved primarily for the rich and for the unborn; he appears to be much less interested in poor mothers. Jesus put first those whom society counted least and put last. Our president may have experienced a religious conversion, but he doesn't seem to realize that there is no personal conversion without a change in social attitudes.
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