You are on page 1of 7


video Click here for audio [REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: When a news story dominates the headlines be it a mass shooting, a natural disaster, or some other catalyzing event it tends to motivate people to spring into action. A lot of good can get done that way. But then the TV cameras move on, life returns to normal for most of us, and the chance for lasting change quickly slips away. Thats why its been so inspiring to see the activism sparked by the Newtown massacre and other instances of gun violence continue and even grow. I see it as a case of vast numbers of Americans saying simply, Enough! Enough of this. And refusing to allow the inaction of our legislators frustrate them into surrender. One great example of this refusal to give up will be on display this weekend in New York City, as the Middle Collegiate Church observes Martin Luther King Day and honors Dr. Kings principles of nonviolence on Sunday by literally turning a gun into a plowshare. Now, I want someone other than myself to talk about how thats done, and so Im very happy to be joined by the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, who is the Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate. Dr. Lewis, welcome to State of Belief Radio! [REV. DR. JACQUI LEWIS, GUEST]: Thank you so much! Im so glad to be here. Thanks for asking me. [WG]: Tell us about the events planned for this Sunday the 19th. [JL]: Well, every year for 30 years now, the Middle Collegiate Church has done an amazing celebration of Martin Luther Kings life. My predecessor Gordon Dragt and me, both of us, were really deeply impacted by Kings assassination hes about 20 years older than I am, but I was about 9 when King was killed, and felt really called to ministry around a ministry of reconciliation and justice. And Gordon had that same kind of experience. And so Middle Church just really believes in honoring this day, honoring Kings legacy. Weve also been deeply committed to anti-gun violence. You know, I grew up in Chicago, so shootings on playgrounds and shootings in alleys and shootings in city streets really marked my childhood. That violence just stunned me. And when the shootings happened at Newtown, when the shootings happened in Aurora - and quite frankly, when Trayvon Martin was killed - our congregation got

really activated around how every single life that is cut down by gun violence, unnecessarily, is a life too many; and that we really need to turn our attention to it. So we were looking for something to do - last year at this time we organized with PICO a big, anti-gun violence sabbath, where some 450 congregations participated on Kings Day weekend: Jewish congregations, Muslim congregations and Christians. And PICO was going to be doing such a sabbath again this March. But this weekend, we decided to invite a man named Mike Martin, whose URL is called raw, and Mike lives in Colorado and so got very activated around the Aurora killings, and he literally takes rifles and guns and just saws them with his electronic equipment, and beats them and reshapes them into quote-unquote ploughshares that are pieces of art. So were so excited that hes going to be able to be with us in worship in the morning; well present the gun as a symbol of the violence we do with guns and also with poverty and as we leave children behind, and doing a teach-in all afternoon. Hes going to keep working on it, and about four oclock well have the piece of art - the ploughshare - that were going to make a gift to Mayor DiBlasios office. [WG]: Thats great. Are you doing a sermon, as usual, on that Sunday? [JL]: Oh, absolutely! In fact, our gospel choir is singing a freedom song medley and an African song about freedom; our Middle Church choir is doing spirituals in honor of Dr. Kings Day; were going to close with Precious Lord, which is actually the song that - I dont know if you know the story, Rev. Gaddy, but when King was leaning over the balcony down in Memphis, he said to the musician that was going to accompany him that evening, Play Precious Lord for me tonight. Play Precious Lord, and play it pretty. So were going to close our worship with that, and one of our artists, Titus Burgess of Little Mermaid and 30 Rock is going to sing an original composition, Love is an Action, a song that he was inspired to write because of Kings amazing legacy. [WG]: My goodness. Well, what are you going to say? [JL]: Thats a great - thank you, let me pre-preach a little bit. You know, reverend, this text about turning swords into ploughshares is so important to the Hebrew people that both Micah and Isaiah quote it. Its a beautiful metaphor of turning the tools we have for making war into tools for peace. And I was working on my sermon earlier this week, and one of the things I realized is that we, each of us, is a tool that can be a tool for making war or making peace. And the Jewish concept of Shalom is not just about the absence of war; it is about wholeness and healing it is about justice and everyone being treated with dignity; it is about everyone having enough. So Im going to talk about how we can be tools so that we can make sure that there is Shalom in the land; that every child has a safe place to learn and grow; that they are guaranteed the right to life because we manage gun control in our nation; that every mom that wants to has an ability to

learn along with their child and earn a living wage, so they can send them off to college; that students that have been to college can have their debt pardoned and be able to go to school and grow and be successful citizens; that immigrant families are put back together as opposed to ripped apart - Im going to try to talk a 360 peace plan. [WG]: Thats great. What then is going to follow in that teach-in session? [JL]: Were going to first hear some music from our babies - because we think our children are the future - and theyre going to sing some music theyve been working on about freedom and justice. Were going to do a talk about how race is underneath many of the social issues that impact us, and were focusing on five issues: were focusing on gun violence, criminal justice, economic inequality, education disparity, and healthcare. So well do a little talk about the interrelatedness of those issues. Some of our artists are going to do a dramatic reading of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, a short version of that. And one of our dancers is going to do an improv to that. And people all over the country will be able to livestream that at, that first hour and 15 minutes or so of teaching. One of our seniors from the Gray Panthers is going to talk about human rights as we close that first hour and 15 minutes, and were going to give people instruction so they can go have this talk in their own faith communities or in their own community centers. Well give them questions that they can use for the conversation, and those questions will be on our website. So were having a teach-in thats not just about Middle Church, but we hope that it becomes a city-wide event, and that people from around the country will join us. [WG]: Well, thats wonderful. Jacqui, do you get the sense that we may be turning a corner as a society - that were beginning to reach a critical mass of people no longer willing to stand by in the face of this ever-growing injustice and inequality? [JL]: I really do. Im an eternal optimist - maybe a pathological optimist, I dont know - but I really do believe that in the main, most people are people of good will, and most people share a dream - rooted in the American dream, but not limited by the American dream - that we can hold hands together and be brothers and sisters; that theres enough resources to share so that everyone has enough; that the unique particularity of racial, ethnic identity and sexual orientation and gender are gifts from God, and that we can celebrate those gifts. And I think that most people are looking for a way to do that. Theres such a narrative of fear, in our country, for the other. And I do believe that we have gotten tired of that story, and were ready to write a new one. And that the new one is rooted in the old one, and the old story is - the psalmist says it this way, each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made. The writer of Genesis

says were all created in the image of God. There is some old story that the prophets Isaiah and Micah are reminding Gods people of, and many of us in pulpits this Sunday are going to preach love and justice and acceptance, and I hope that well preach it all year long; that we wont wait for big days like King Day to do so. [WG]: Yeah. You know, you and Middle Collegiate Church have a long history of working for social justice, and I want to ask you about some of your other ongoing initiatives that the church is involved in, because you speak with such moral authority, and not all of our listeners know you and understand where that authority comes from. And I want them to know that were not just talking about preaching; were talking about doing. And so tell us some of the ongoing initiatives that your church is involved in. [JL]: Thank you so much for that generous question. People can find out about us at middle I think our website tells the story of our history. My predecessor was the place - the pastor - for a community dying of AIDS in the 1980s. This Middle Church was the place where Jewish people and Black people and Christian people and White people brought their families to mourn and grieve. One of the Middle Church members started a thing called the Celebrate Life Meal in 1985, so the people living with HIV-AIDS could come and have a hot meal and social services, and have dignity. To be treated with respect, and un-stigmatize the disease in those days. Weve been doing gay unions for as long as that - since 1985 - in this place, honoring couples. I remember when I first got here the Marlboro Man - the original actor, the Marlboro Man - his names Ken, and his partner, Rudy, celebrated their 55th anniversary in this place. And we did their funerals in this place. A Navy Lieutenant and an actor who had to be underground in California and pretend like they dated women - and we honored their relationship, and so many other relationships. We worked tirelessly for marriage equality until it was law; and when it was law, we did three marriages on the next Sunday in our sanctuary. One of my colleagues and I were walking through City Hall watching couples do their blessings and just blessing them when the law was passed. We have worked for racial justice for decades, and every year we offer a conference for people who are trying to learn how to grow multiracial congregations, because we believe that all churches should embrace the diversity of Gods people in their midst. And we need tools and skills in order to do so. So racial justice, economic justice - weve been feeding people for 25 years, first in the Celebrate Life Meal, and now with a thing called the Soul Food Truck that two of our members donated so that we could serve hot meals to the people who are hungry in Thompkins Square Park every Sunday. We believe that God has called us to be doers of justice, and so this is what we do.

[WG]: Thats where the enthusiasm, thats where the sense of authority comes from - its all of one piece, and you are a person who can preach what you do, and thats a great thing. Let me ask you one other question about Sunday - it sounds like such a great day - but I want to ask you if you had your way, what do you want people who participate on Sunday - what do you want them to feel or think when they leave after this is all over? [JL]: Thats wonderful. One of Kings - I am a Kingphile, I love his writing. You know, so much more than just the I Have A Dream Speech, just a great writer. But that expression of us being inextricably connected together, inextricably connected in this kind of human web of life - that he gets, actually, from Howard Thurman and other writers - I want people to leave feeling that when a chid is hungry, their stomach will growl. When a child is shot to death, that they grieve. When a kid cant get a job when they graduate from college and cant begin to have a successful life because theyre just burdened with debt, that they actually feel grief. I want us to feel like we are human family, and that there is no issue too great that we cant work on it together. That we can learn about them, become educated about them, and create strategies to heal our own soul, and to heal the world. Its ambitious. But it is not beyond us. [WG]: The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. Jacqui, Ive got to ask you one other question. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything weve talked about, and it may not be important to anybody but me, but why do you spell Jacqui J-a-c-q-u-i? [JL]: Why do I do that? Because I was a fourth-grader in Chicago in a classroom full of Jackies. And I thought, Man, whats up with that? Everybody was Jackie, and my nine-year-old mind turned to, Well, its got a q in it anyway! So I just started writing it that way, and it makes me feel a little bit less among the crowd. [WG]: Well, thats great! Well, this Sunday, January 19th, the community in which Jacqui Lewis is the pastor, the Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, is celebrating of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a graphic enactment of the biblical call to beat swords into plowshares, and then continuing Dr. Kings legacy of opposing both violence and injustice, theyll be offering a workshop that will be helpful to all who attend.

Dr. Lewis, I cant tell you how much of a pleasure it is to talk with you, and to listen to some of your vision, and to learn what your congregation has been doing in such a - not just impressive, but effective way for hurting people. I appreciate your taking the time to talk to us today on State of Belief Radio, and I hope we can talk again. [JL]: I hope so. Thank you so much for the kindness of giving us this space to talk about this, and your listeners can find us at Thank you.

State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America the most religiously diverse country in the world while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes. Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong wrong for America and bad for religion. Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world. Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizens Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana. In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief

radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes. Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBCs The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBCs Nightly News and Dateline, PBSs Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPANs Washington Journal, ABCs World News, and CNNs American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets. While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forums Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the conventions Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77. Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

You might also like