Sunday, June 20, 2021


I always understood the underpinning of my father's religious faith to be rooted in his dedication to deeply-held socialist values (I use the small "s" advisedly). At the time of my birth, in the mid-1930s, he was the incumbent of a "slum" parish in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north of England. His flock consisted mainly of the working poor--coalminers and their families who had a hard time making ends meet. He was not only their pastoral mentor, he was the vocal advocate for the economic improvement of their lives. A "high" churchman, he loved ritual and ceremony, but more than these he loved his pastoral work and the responsibilities he knew came with it.

These thoughts occur to me on Father's Day (though there was no such thing in England, when I was growing up...) because I have been reading in the newspaper about the conference of the Southern Baptist Convention and the very narrow advantage of the already deeply conservative leadership over their aggressively ultra-conservative challengers. My father would not have recognized the "Christianity" espoused by either of these groups. Even accounting for his understanding and acknowledgement of the psychological and moral complexity of his fellow human beings--and indeed his own!--he would have been hard put to understand the continuing support of these loudly self-professed believers in Jesus and his gospels for a political leader whose most salient features are his lack of human empathy, his shameless dishonesty, his incessant lies and his undisputed moral turpitude.

More even than this, however, my father would be dismayed by a form of Christianity that lacked compassion for the economically and socially disadvantaged--predominantly people of color in this white-first society. The Southern Baptist convention was dominated, the newspeper report suggested, by a virulent storm of meretricious outrage directed at "critical race theory", its intellectual complexities insultingly reduced to the hated acronym, CRT. If I understand it right, critical race theory embraces an acknowledgment of the deplorable history of the repression of Black people in this country and an attempt to address its persistence in the form of institutional racism with fresh, analytical integrity. In my view, a noble, long overdue and necessary goal.

The socialism that my father embraced is widely accepted in Europe as the norm today: a health care system that provides coverage for every citizen, a safety net that addresses the needs of the disadvantaged and the unemployed, a retirement system that assures the security of the aging populations. He would have found it incomprehensible that American working people--and an established curch!--would be so hostile to a form of government that addressed such basic human needs. His reading of the Bible responded to a Christ whose qualities were mercy and compassion, who preached love and abhored hatred and exclusion in all its forms.

This is the heritage my father left to me, in the way I view the world. And this is the father's heritage I would wish to leave to my own children and grandchildren. It is no longer, in my case, a heritage of Christian faith, but rather a belief in mutual respect for the dignity of every human being and a sense of shared responsibility for our common welfare, of obligation to do what we can to constantly improve the quality of life for all of us.

1 comment:

Marie Smith said...

Well said Peter. I wish everyone felt the same.