Winter 2003
Volume 7 Number 2
 

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 Page 5 Continued

“It’s unusual for African American churches to be detached from social issues and from politics,” Soaries explained. “In the main, to be African American and Christian is to have a very passionate and coherent mixture of what we might call social and spiritual emphases. In large measure this is because the African American Christian experience on this continent is the only major strand of Christianity in two thousand years that was born for social reasons…. Every other strand of Christianity was born in response to theological propositions. You know, over whether Mary was the mother of Jesus or the mother of God, over issues like icons in the church, the role of Scripture over and against the role of the church, papal infallibility, baptism by immersion, or the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Until you get to the Black church, where the issue was over having to sit in the balcony.

William H. Gray III (PTS Class of 1970), president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, is an ordained minister and represented Pennsylvania from 1978 to 1991 in the U.S. House of Representatives. In an interview with Princeton Seminary while he was in Congress, Gray spoke about issues of faith and politics, saying, “A public official...must listen to his constituency, but must also be prepared to provide moral leadership in a vacuum. Public life involves difficult ethical questions; you can’t separate your faith from those questions. That doesn’t mean that we can legislate creed or doctrine. That would be intolerable. But as people of faith, we must raise the ethical issues of justice, compassion, and liberty, which are deeply rooted in the biblical witness. That biblical witness informs my life in Congress as much as my preaching in the church.”

“The Black church always saw itself as being on its way to heaven, but fighting for justice on earth, in America—so much so that the Black church missed the Enlightenment,” he laughed. “So the whole debate over the social gospel versus biblical literalism missed the Black church. The Black church loved Rauschenbusch and Moody [two theologians, one a proponent of the social gospel, the other a conservative evangelical]. It never chose sides. It has always been ‘conservative’ on the moral side, which comes from a particular understanding of biblical interpretation. And it has always been ‘progressive’ on the social side, which has to do with feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, setting the captive free.”

In other words, Soaries’s campaign for office was a natural extension of his ministry, which takes place within a tradition committed to an integration of the political, the social, and the ecclesiastical.

The Reformed tradition, stretching back to Calvin, has various models to which it looks for guidance on these issues of faith and politics. Abraham Kuyper—a 19th-century Dutchman, who was a theologian, founder of the Free University of Amsterdam, and prime minister of the Netherlands—is an example of a Reformed way to integrate the two.

In October the Seminary’s annual Abraham Kuyper Award for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life was presented to Andrew Young, a well-known Civil Rights activist and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, mayor of Atlanta, and U.S. congressman.

“Kupyer is significant to Princeton for at least two reasons,” says Max Stackhouse, PTS professor of Christian ethics. “First, there were many Dutch Reformed immigrants to the New York-New Jersey area who then joined local Presbyterian churches. So there’s a historical connection to our geography—including the Nassau family [after whom Princeton’s main street is named], who were Dutch Reformed Presbyterians. Second, the Kuyper award gives us the chance to recognize one of the many significant Reformed streams since Calvin—from various Dutch, Scottish, Puritan, and increasingly African and Asian examples to Schleiermacher and Barth—that contribute to our understanding of the relationship between faith and politics.”

Both Soaries and Forrester said they benefited from exposure to this tradition.

Continued on Page 6
 

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