Friday, April 14, 2006
William Sloan Coffin dies at age 81
I remember William Sloan Coffin from his antiwar activism on the Yale campus in the mid-60s. I was not a Yale student. I was a high school student in the New Haven suburbs actively supplementing my learning with anything politically enlightening. I often found myself on the Yale campus soaking up all the radicalism I could find. While on that quest, I came across lectures and rallies many times where Reverend Coffin was the center of activities.
About a year ago while flipping channels on the television, I came across someone interviewing him. Again, he gave me something to hold onto. He was talking about getting old, and said, "Nowadays, when I bend down to pick something up, I feel like I gotta look around to see if there is anything else that needs picking up while I'm down there."
His presence here on earth will be missed, but because he did his job so well, his words and character will live on.
-- posted by Nancy Shia
The following is the National Council of Churches article about the passing of William Sloan Coffin:
New York, April 13, 2006 -- The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., who died Wednesday at 81, "was no ordinary man and he leaves no ordinary hole," said the general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA.
"To my generation, he was a hero," said the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar last night.
Recalling Coffin's comment to his former Yale student and Watergate conspirator Jeb Stuart Magruder that he had "lost his moral compass," Edgar said, "That is what Bill Coffin was for many of us: our moral compass."
Edgar recalled Coffin's long career as a civil rights leader, peace activist, pastor and ecumenist.
From 1977 to 1987, Coffin was pastor of The Riverside Church in Manhattan. The church is directly across the street from The Interchurch Center that houses the National Council of Churches New York office, and Coffin was pastor and friend to many NCC staff. In 1979, when U.S. embassy personnel were taken hostage by radical students in Iran, Coffin and NCC President M. William Howard led a delegation to Teheran to conduct Christmas services for the hostages.
"Bill never lost an opportunity to witness for peace," Edgar said.
The full text of Edgar's statement follows:
William Sloane Coffin Jr. was no ordinary man and he leaves no ordinary hole. He was full of mystifying contrasts that made him endlessly fascinating and difficult to describe. He was a CIA agent who became an international peace activist. He was a scion of old money, but he made his life with the ordinary. He was a legendary liberal but a life-long friend of George H.W. Bush. He could be righteously angry at injustice or war mongering, but masked it behind a Cheshire cat grin. He could be prophetically stern, but riotously funny. He could intone profound theological insights, but sweeten them with his working class New York accent.
To my generation, Bill Coffin was a hero. When he was chaplain of Yale University in the sixties, he organized freedom rides in the South and by 1967 was leading students in civil disobedience against the Vietnam War. When one of his students – the future pastor, Jeb Stuart Magruder – became entangled in Watergate, Bill told him he had lost his moral compass. That is what Bill Coffin was for many of us: our moral compass. He once said, “God loves you the way you are, but he knows you can do better.”
Bill never lost an opportunity to witness for peace. In 1979, during the Iran hostage crisis, he and National Council of Churches President M. William Howard led an NCC delegation to Iran to bring Christmas worship to the U.S. hostages.
He was pastor of Riverside Church from 1977 to 1987. People who worshipped at Riverside in those years say his most memorable sermon may have been the Sunday after his son was killed in an automobile accident. He rejected the notion that his son's death, or any other tragedy, was God's will. “God,” he said, “is crying, too.” When Bill left Riverside, it was to become president of SANE/FREEZE (now Peace Action), the largest peace and justice organization in the United States.
Bill Coffin led a full and remarkable life, and he would not want us to think of his death as premature or tragic. But that doesn't make it any easier to think of a world without him. We can allow ourselves a few tears. And we remember, in our grief, Bill's assurance that God is crying, too.
Monday, April 10, 2006
DC Immigrants March for Inalienable Rights
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On Monday, April 10th, people began gathering as early as noon in Malcolm X Park at 16th and Euclid Streets, N.W. The march was scheduled to step off at 4pm. The mood was upbeat, almost festive, thanks to the sounds and vibes of the Rhythm Workers Union, and many others who brought song and dance to rally and demonstration. While the Rhythm Workers Union played on the north side of the park, Arabs and Arab-Americans gathered on the south side to march in solidarity, along with bringing closer attention to the rightwing abuse of Arab and Muslim immigrants.
At the same time, People for the American Way were passing out American flags to people entering the park at 16th near Florida Avenue. The weather was beautiful. Immigrant families with small children gathered with longtime community activists to march to the mall for immigrant rights
Going down 16th Street, the march took up all lanes. Traffic was stopped from I Street, NW to Euclid Street, NW along 16th Street. Chants and slogans expressed determination of people living and working here to stay here.
The symbol most prevalent in the march was the American flag. The message is we are all Americans. We are a country of immigrants.
This is a call for justice from those who heretofore have been kept silent due lack of "immigration status". The time is now for them to claim that status. This sleeping giant has been awaken. The message is simple and just: No human being should be called “illegal”.