Giving a Shout for Freedom, Part III:
Michael B. Friedland, History Department, Boston College
This paper was presented at the Sixties Generations conference, March 1993, Fairfax, VA.
President Lyndon Johnson agreed to meet with two groups of clerical representatives the following day and discuss his civil rights strategy. The first meeting was less than cordial. Bishop Moore demanded to know what was taking the President so long to draft a voting rights bill and send it to Congress, in language so hostile and blunt that one reporter described it as verging on rudeness. Johnson replied that he had to be extremely careful about the wording of the bill to insure its safe passage through Congress, and then proceeded to remind the ministers of all he had done on behalf of civil rights. The conversation drifted to more general topics, and by the time the ministers had left, many of them derided the meeting as a "snow job." 77 The second group, led by the Reverends Joseph Ellwanger, Eugene Carson Blake, and other National Council of Churches representative was less contentious, and they had a lengthy talk concerning the need for federal intervention in Selma, but the President's comments elicited little praise from the majority of clergy when they were told about the meeting at the Church of the Reformation later that day. Others were angry not only at the President, but at the racial makeup of the delegations, for out of sixteen clergymen, only two had been black. "We didn't come 1,500 miles to be jeered at," shouted a black minister from Minneapolis at the afternoon meeting as the second group returned from the White House. "I think you have been pleased with the prestige of being appointed to a committee to talk to the President.... Whose fight is this anyway?" 78
Despite the march's success, as well as the efforts of the "new breed" of clergy to show their compassion through action, 79 the question asked by the black minister was to be heard in various forms throughout the rest of the decade. At the same time a white "backlash" against increased civil rights demands developed (Bishop Paul Moore, Jr., was confronted with a sharp drop in contributions from local Episcopal churches for his support of fair employment practices and open housing), black militants were moving away from the goals of integration. 80 Advocates of black power demanded black control of the civil rights movement, expunging sympathetic whites from administrative and staff positions in formerly interracial organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality, thus alienating many former supporters in the white community, including clergy. At the same time, many activists in the pulpits found themselves increasingly disturbed with the Johnson Administration's escalation of the war in Southeast Asia. What had been almost a sideshow during the Kennedy era had become, in the minds of Johnson, his aides, and many Americans after 1965, a test of strength between the forces of international Communism and the American will to contain those same forces.
Most Americans viewed the war in the same terms, and as American bombing and the numbers of American troops in Vietnam escalated, those who questioned the war were denounced as seditious if not as traitors. Social activists among the clergy, disturbed both by the carnage and by the attacks on the right to dissent, held a press conference at the United Nations Church Center on October 25, 1965 to protest the charges of Communism directed at antiwar demonstrators. Pleased with the interest shown in the conference, the leading clergymen, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, and Lutheran pastor Richard Neuhaus decided to organize themselves as Clergy Concerned About Vietnam. By February 1966, CCAV included such luminaries as the Reverend John C. Bennett, president of Union Theological Seminary, Rabbi Balfour Brickner, director of Interfaith Activities for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the Reverends William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and Robert McAfee Brown. The goals of the new group were moderate: a continuation of the bombing halt and the beginning of negotiations for an end to the war; indeed, they praised the President for his initiation of the former and his expressed interest in the latter. They did not call for immediate withdrawal, nor did they advocate civil disobedience. Significantly, none of the members of the national committee were clergymen at the parish level; they were editors of religious journals, denominational heads, college chaplains, professors of theology, and leaders of national religious groups, giving them a level of freedom that rank-and-file clergy did not enjoy. 81
By the end of 1966, some of the most prominent liberal churchpeople in the country had joined what was now known as Clergy And Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, including Malcolm Boyd (who was a member of the national committee) and Paul Moore. The executive committee of CALCAV announced an "Education-Action Mobilization" in Washington, D.C., to protest the war, and invited ministers, priests, and rabbis from throughout the nation to come to the capital and participate in workshops, meet with government officials, and take part in an interfaith vigil for peace. 82
The Washington Mobilization in early 1967 broke no records for massive demonstrations, but what it lacked in numbers it made up for in commitment. Two thousand and four hundred clerics, seminarians, nuns, churchwomen, and laypersons from forty-seven states and Canada gathered in the basement and halls of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church on January 30, cluttering the floor with bedrolls and sleeping bags. But despite the confusion, there was a clarity of purpose as to why they were there. The next day, the participants marched silently in front of the White House. No slogans, no banners, no placards surfaced among the demonstrators, for the organizers had made it clear that the protest was to be one of discipline and moderation, befitting both an act of penance and the desire of CALCAV's members to reach out to the American middle class. After the vigil, the marchers divided up into small groups to meet with their senators and representatives. The visit to Capitol Hill was almost uniformly discouraging, for most of the participants in the mobilization received the "general impression that most of the congressmen feel powerless to determine the direction in which the nation will go," having "abdicated that responsibility" when they passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. More moving was the church service at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church that evening, where the congregation heard addresses by Coffin, the Reverend John F. Cronin, assistant director of the U.S. Catholic Conference's Social Action Department, and meditations by Rabbi Heschel, who sounded like an Old Testament prophet himself, lamenting the wrongs of his nation, and prayers by the church's pastor, the Reverend George M. Docherty, as well as those by Bishop Paul Moore, Jr., and the Reverend Donald Campion. 83 "Roman Catholics, Jews and numerous varieties of Protestants sang, prayed and worshiped together in penitence, in shared suffering and in a common commitment to peace," wrote one reporter. "Unity on this occasion was no designed formality; it was a vital experience." 84 Coffin felt the same way, recalling the number of small peace rallies he had attended where counter-demonstrators vastly outnumbered the antiwar protestors. In Washington, however, "we were deeply moved just to be jammed one against another in the pews, an experience of solidarity which contrasted so sharply with others we had all shared.... Now instead of feeling alone and isolated, we were all together in the church...." 85
The following year, CALCAV published In the Name of America, a compilation of published articles on the American conduct of the war juxtaposed with selections from the Hague and Geneva Conventions, "Nuremberg Principles," and Department of Army field manuals concerning the international rules governing warfare and treatment of civilians. The report was not intended as a legal brief, wrote Robert McAfee Brown, Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, president of the American Jewish Congress, and the Reverend John Sheerin, editor of Catholic World in their introduction to the work, but as a basis for showing how "our nation must be judged guilty of having broken almost every established agreement for standards of decency in time of war." They had decided to compile the evidence because any citizen "who knows of wrongs committed in the name of his country, and remains silent, is thereby implicated in the perpetuation of those wrongs." 86 Signers of the document included Bennett, Heschel, Bishop Paul Moore, Jr., Harvey Cox and Martin Luther King, Jr. All were worried about what the destruction of moral restraints would do to American citizens at home. If Americans did not take international law seriously when it did not work to our advantage militarily, they asked, "how can we be surprised if members of minority groups do not take domestic law seriously when it works to their civilian disadvantage" and riot in the streets of Newark and Detroit? In the final analysis, "[e]thics cannot be determined by geography." 87
In order to further underscore their conviction that the war was eroding moral values, CALCAV sponsored a second Washington Mobilization in early February 1968. Twenty-five hundred participants sat or stood in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church on the morning of February 5, listening to speeches and meditations by Coffin, who chaired the assembly, Bennett, the Reverend Robert Drinan, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, and Malcolm Boyd. The Episcopal playwright-priest had spent a considerable amount of time traveling around the country, participating in several teach-ins against the war, and had once been hit in the head with a baseball thrown at him as he addressed students at the University of Oregon. He had also journeyed to Czechoslovakia in 1967 with other Americans, including Dave Dellinger, editor of
Liberation, and Tom Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society, to discuss the issues of nationalism surrounding the war with Vietnamese representatives of the National Liberation Front and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. 88
The most moving part of the mobilization was a prayer vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on February 6. CALCAV had wanted to hold a memorial service in the amphitheater for those killed in the war, but the United States Army refused permission. On a cold winter day, twenty-five hundred people, including Boyd, stood on the steps at the tomb to take part in the silent vigil, bowing their heads as Martin Luther King, Jr., intoned, "In this period of absolute silence, let us pray." As silence reigned on the steps below the tomb, the participants could hear the sounds of the changing of the guard, rifles clattering and heels clicking. The silence lasted several minutes until Rabbi Heschel's baritone voice carried above the crowd the words of Christ crucified, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"). "Let us go in peace," said Bishop James P. Shannon, concluding the service, and the thousands of people quietly left the cemetery, each carrying a small American flag. In the distance, apart from the crowd, two men carried a Torah and a crucifix. 89
Still the war dragged on into 1969. Boyd took part in a public demonstration against the war in late 1969. Along with the Right Reverend Daniel Corrigan, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, a handful of other priests, and some laypeople from religious peace organizations, he entered the Pentagon in full vestments to celebrate a Peace Mass in one of the building's main hallways. All forty were arrested for disturbing the peace and brought to jail. Boyd also found time to write letters to draft boards on behalf of Yale students who found that their religious beliefs were incompatible with any participation in war. 90
By the spring of 1970, however, a student's safety was not assured by remaining out of uniform. When Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia in April, students on dozens of campuses held demonstrations protesting the widening of the war. On May 4, National Guard troops at Kent State, Ohio, fired on a crowd of students, killing four. While several colleges and universities were temporarily shut down to forestall further violence, large crowds gathered in major cities, including Washington, D.C., on May 9 to protest the killings. 91 Bishop Moore, who had been the Suffragan Bishop of that city since 1964, was standing in the yet unfinished Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City, being installed as the Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of New York in a two hour ceremony marked for its grandeur. The mood of the two thousand in attendance was somber, as was that of the three bishops at the altar: Moore, Horace Donegan, and J. Stuart Wetmore, Bishop and Suffragan Bishop, respectively, of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. During the offertory, Donegan asked for a minute of silence for the students killed at Kent State and "for those who have given their lives in Cambodia. Let us pray that unity and peace and understanding will be restored to our beloved country." Wetmore read a statement that had been drafted by all three bishops, calling on the churches to exert whatever influence they had to convince the federal government of the right to dissent and to halt the invasion, "which has already undercut the chances for serious negotiations on disarmament and the settlement of the Indochina war." "At this moment," Moore sadly noted,
In order to get a firsthand look at the politics surrounding the debacle in South Vietnam, Moore traveled to Saigon in the summer of 1970 to meet with members of the neutralist "third force" who hoped to form a coalition government independent of the NLF and the corrupt South Vietnamese government of Nguyen Van Thieu. Returning from his visit, he glowingly described the sentiments of those "thoughtful people" who wanted a neutral, provisional government to undertake the necessary reforms to bring stability and peace to South Vietnam. Moore's distrust of the Thieu regime was further strengthened when he participated in a nonviolent march to the U.S. Embassy with a group of Vietnamese students which was tear-gassed by South Vietnamese security forces. 93
A week after his return to the United States, Moore received a lengthy letter from his former Marine battalion commander under whom he had served at Guadalcanal, who "could not understand how a good Marine could have done such a thing" as meet with members of the underground peace movement of South Vietnam. Moore recalled that the only other time a grenade had been thrown in his direction was when he was fighting in the Solomon Islands; at both times he felt that he was fighting for "freedom, peace, and the dignity of the individual." 94 "The trip was a great business," he wrote "Mal," "reminiscent of the Mississippi days in the courage of the Peace people and the bland apathy of our government and the sadistic fascism of the S. Vietnamese govt.--like the local law enforcement types in our South only far worse." 95
With no end to the war in sight, Clergy and Laity Concerned continued to solicit support for its antiwar activities into the 1970s. Boyd, along with a thousand clergy and laypersons, participated in a Washington demonstration in May 1970 to protest the invasion of Cambodia, and donated money from his writing and speaking appearances to organizations such as CALCAV. 96 When several Protestant denominations undertook a major evangelical campaign, Key 73, Boyd was outraged at the emphasis of Billy Graham and other leaders on mass conversion and their unwillingness to confront the moral inequities of Vietnam:
Yet once the Paris Peace Accords had been signed in January 1973 and American troops were withdrawn, most Americans, including the clergy, were trying to put the conflict out of their mind. But the churches could not ignore the fact that the social changes unleashed by the protest movements of the 1960s would shortly come to affect their own policies, even those of the traditionally staid Episcopal Church. When three retired or resigned bishops announced in 1974 that they had decided to ordain three women deacons to the priesthood, the Episcopal hierarchy was rocked by divisions. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was none other than the conservative former Bishop of Mississippi, John Allin. Not surprisingly, Paul Moore, who had become the Episcopal Bishop of New York upon the retirement of Bishop Donegan in May 1972, sided with the more liberal clergymen, and fought for the proper legislation which was passed by the House of Bishops in 1976 by a vote of two-thirds, making the ordination of women legal in the Episcopal Church. 98
The denomination was further split over the subject of ordaining homosexuals, and while bishops, including Moore, struggled with the question of whether to ordain an openly-professed gay or lesbian priest, Malcolm Boyd announced publicly that he was a homosexual. 99 The poet, writer, and "celebrity" and "prince of the church" was "treated like a leper," according to Boyd's colleague, the Reverend Fred Fenton of St. Augustine-by-the-Sea in Santa Monica. 100 Understandably upset at the treatment accorded him, Boyd withdrew from public life. 101
Moore continued to be an activist bishop into the 1980s. In 1982, he traveled to Moscow to work for nuclear disarmament; later in the decade, he went to Washington, D.C., to criticize the Reagan Administration's Central American policies. But the most important facet of his work was helping the destitute and the downtrodden of New York City and assailing those whom he felt were not doing enough. "The churches, the Episcopal churches, feel very comfortable doing social service. They really feel good about having people sleep in the basement. But they use up all their energy doing that and not getting
furious at the city, the mayor, the governor, for not providing housing," he noted. "So all their energy goes into the symptoms and not the causes. We're still a long way from using what power we have in the church to shove the government around." 102 When Mayor Edward Koch suggested in 1981 that churches and synagogues take in ten homeless people each, Moore attacked the idea as "naive and dangerous" because it took away the responsibility of public housing from the government. "Housing should not be given as charity," he explained. "Housing is a right." On Easter Sunday, 1989, Moore preached his last major sermon before taking a leave of absence that June, after which he officially retired in October of that year. 103 In October 1991, he was awarded the Freedom of Worship Award, one of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medals, in a ceremony at the Roosevelt home in Hyde Park. 104
The Reverend Malcolm Boyd did not remain away for the church for long. In 1981, he moved to California, where he joined the staff of St. Augustine-by-the-Sea as parish priest, encouraged to do so by his ecclesiastical superior and friend in New York, Bishop Moore. 105 Still at St. Augustine-by-the-Sea, Boyd continues to write, conduct an AIDs ministry and workshops, and write a bi-monthly advice column for Modern Maturity. An important focus of his life is to make the church more inclusive. "I would like a change in the environment so that a great many gay and lesbian priests could come out of their closets and find acceptance," he recently told a reporter. 106
Acceptance. In a way, events had come full circle for both Malcolm Boyd and Paul Moore, Jr. The playwright-priest had spent most of his adult life, certainly all of his life as a man of the cloth, in seeking acceptance, and it was only after he and hundreds more joined the fight for the rights of minorities and the right of dissent, that society had changed enough to begin to tolerate, if not always accept, homosexuality. In the struggle for civil rights for blacks and a greater tolerance for people of other races, Boyd helped achieve civil rights for homosexuals and a greater degree of tolerance for gays and lesbians. For Moore, the shift was less dramatic. He had begun his ecclesiastical career as an inner-city priest in New Jersey, dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, and crime; by the time of his retirement as Bishop of New York, he was spending most of his energies combatting the widespread use of crack and other drug problems, poverty, homelessness, and AIDs. The fact that both had met with presidents and civil rights leaders in between seemed to matter less than the fact that they had challenged both the worldly and the ecclesiastical establishment, even that of the staid Episcopal Church, and, by upholding what they considered to be the message of the gospel, had helped make the secular and the sacred societies more inclusive for a wider range of people.
Michael B. Friedland is Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Boston College, from which institution he received his Ph.D. in American (U.S.) History in May 1993, and where he currently teaches courses in contemporary United States political and diplomatic history. His dissertation, "To Proclaim the Acceptable Year of the Lord: Social Activism and Ecumenical Cooperation Among White Clergy in the Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements of the 1950s and 1960s" is soon to be published by the University of North Carolina Press. This is his first published article.