2016-06-30
Excerpted from "Credo" by William Sloane Coffin with permission from Westminster Knox Press

Not to take sides is effectively to weigh in on the side of the stronger.


The Bible is less concerned with alleviating the effects of injustice than in eliminating the causes of it.


With spiritual arrogance goes the itch to destroy. History warns that the best is always a hair's breadth from the worst, and that heartless moralists in the corridors of power are those who start inquisitions.


Hell is truth seen too late.

When the rich take from the poor, it's called an economic plan. When the poor take from the rich, it 's called class warfare. It must be wonderful for President Bush to deplore class warfare while making sure his class wins.


Not only Christians but all Americans subscribe to the notion that "all people are created equal." But how many feel the monstrosity of inequality? I'm thinking not only of racial inequality, but also of today's excess of wealth and poverty, the absence of affordable housing that "Mr.Conservative," Senator Robert Taft, in the 1940s considered a moral imperative. (The stated goal of the 1948 Taft Housing Legislation was a decent home for every American family.

Few of us today are troubled by the way our economy flourishes not by providing necessities but by providing luxuries, and by the national goal of ending welfare as we know it, when a more just goal would be seeking to end poverty as we know it. We Christians mean well, feebly. We may be repelled by materialism, but we are caught up in it. We are troubled by widespread poverty, but we overly esteem wealth. In short, ours generally is a superficial religious identity, and a superficial religious identity is just that. Superficial.


The word "homeless " is devastating, suggesting neither comfort nor companionship, dignity nor grace, and precious little identity. To have no place is to be no place. Homelessness is nowheresville.

The separation of Church and State is a sound doctrine, but it points to an organizational separation. It is not designed to separate Christians from their politics. For our faith certainly should inform our common life, as well as our personal, more private lives.


A politically committed spirituality contends against wrong without becoming wrongly contentious. It confronts national self-righteousness without personal self-righteousness. It cherishes God's creation; it serves the poor; it is not interested in the might of a nation but in the goodness of its people.


Truth is above harmony. Those who fear disorder more than injustice invariably produce more of both.


My dream for America is to see economic justice established in an atmosphere of democratic freedom. But I am old enough to have seen how corruption works in a democracy, how the taint of it spreads bit by bit, touching one person and then another, until it is carried by a whole culture. I have seen how painfully and degradingly simple it is for leaders to deceive the people. Foreigners, for example, are often struck at how many Americans, even poor Americans, think privilege is something earned or deserved. Rarely do Americans see privilege as a form of theft.


Let me suggest that we not look overly to our political leaders. As their ethical impulses tend to be so much weaker than their political ones, in order not to stand out they'll do most anything to fit in. They 're right to think that politics is the art of the possible, but wrong to forget that politics is also the art of making possible tomorrow what seems impossible today.


Already it is by the laws and policies of this country--whether we are talking about an insane war abroad or the mental genocide that takes place in slum schools--it is by the laws and policies of this country that the consciences of people are being racked. Of course we need to be concerned for order. Without it there is chaos, and with chaos there is no justice. But today what Christians in particular need to remember is that God never stands for stability at the expense of truth, that God has no interest in any status quo whatsoever. For God does not want to freeze history, but rather to move it continually toward that ultimate goal of his kind of unity in justice and mercy.

So what the Christian community needs to do above all else is to raise up men and women of thought and of conscience, adventuresome, imaginative people capable of both joy and suffering. And most of all they must be people of courage so that when the day goes hard and cowards steal from the field, like Luther they will be able to say, "My conscience is captive to the word of God ...to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."


Our faith should quell our fears, never our courage.


It is not that the weak are virtuous. No, as power corrupts the strong, so lack of it corrupts the weak. Suspicion, intolerance, apathy--all these fruits of weakness characterize life in the slums. But truth is a liability. It can be championed only at cost. Therefore the victors of society, with more to lose, always have more to gain by avoiding truth. Therefore Jesus could say, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." And therefore we can say with a fair degree of accuracy that while the rich have given us our standards of taste it has generally been the poor who have told us what is right and wrong.

There can be no truth that passes over injustice in silence; nor can there be any moral virtue that condones it. The moral order may not exhaust the beauty of holiness, but it is an essential part of it, for in the grandeur of the prophets' vision the whole world swings on an ethical hinge. Mess with that hinge and history and even nature will feel the shock.


Too often we picture God as some immovable rock, when in fact it is God and God alone who never rests. I only quote Scripture: "He neither slumbers nor sleeps." It is God who says," Behold, I create all things new." Therefore God 's most persistent enemies must be those who are unwilling to move in new directions....If you choose, you 're sometimes wrong; but if you never choose, you 're always wrong.


We Americans are today rightly suspicious of those in high office, for the events of recent years have shown us more than we have wanted to know about the arrogance of power. But we tend to forget the degree to which the inertia of the powerless makes possible the powerful. We tend to forget that in God's eyes self-obliteration is just as wicked as self-exaltation. Both stem from the same fateful error of confusing a person 's talents with a person 's value.


Paradoxically, now that we 've become the most powerful nation in the world, we haven't the same positive in influence we once had when, as a people, we were weakest. The American way of life is not the automatic choice of other people, as frequently it has been fashioned not to the enrichment but to the detriment of theirs. And at home the hammer of freedom is so frequently divorced from the chisel of justice that the common good, often as not, is identified with the good of those in power.


Globalization of the economy, it is claimed, will "lift all boats." Today it 's becoming clear that it will "lift all yachts." It 's not doing much for those on their leaking life rafts. Yet the economy inevitably will be more globalized, only hopefully taking into account the rights of the poor and the rights of nature.


Were our government for the people ,we would have the best education in the world, universal health insurance, a decent way of financing elections, and a massive commitment to sources of clean energy.


If eternal life is on both sides of the grave, then to yearn for the future with no concern for the present is wrong. Heaven--and Hell--begin here and now, both for individuals and for nations, in what theologians call "realized eschatology." So the Spirit of God is always moving, prompting us ever more urgently to disarm the nations and empower the weak.


In his time on earth Jesus "stood tall," but not by making others cringe. He had power, but used it solely to empower others. He healed, but with no strings attached. He competed with none, loved all, even when we were least lovable, even to the point of dying for us on the cross. Walking with Jesus we can no longer be heartless, heedless in our haste to "join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street." Scales of heedlessness fall from our eyes. We see ourselves walking not alone with our Lord, but with all the peoples of the world whom we now view as fellow walkers, not as those who fall in behind. And all are marching to Zion, to the mountain of God, where--can anyone doubt it?--God will cause the nations to beat their swords into plowshares and return to the people the peace that only God could give and no nation had the right to take away.



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