Saturday, September 26, 2009

Spiritual Interlude: Forrest Church, R.I.P.

Years ago I taught U.S. history. In reading about the deism (and unitarian proclivities) of many of our nation's founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine, I became curious to know about this somewhat mysterious denomination called Unitarianism that Jefferson was supposed to sympathize with. I was looking up histories of it in the public library and stumbled across the books of The Rev. Forrest Church, who had been the minister at All Souls Church in NYC for years and years.

He seemed to know a lot about U.S. history and could convey it passionately and clearly. I took to his writing. His book God and Other Famous Liberals aimed to recapture notions of God, the flag, and family values for the left and liberalism. Church argued convincingly that "God" can be a liberating and non-sectarian notion, while liberation itself can be patriotic. His dad was the Democratic senator Frank Church from Idaho, who similarly wrote a book defending Second Amendment rights from a liberal standpoint (esp. for women). Anyway, I recommend God and Other Famous Liberals, as well as Forrest Church's edited compilation of founding documents relating to the separation of church and state. As I write this, I notice that the Beacon Press edition of The Jefferson Bible is within arm's reach, with an introduction by Church.

All this is why I am sad to learn he died three days ago. But I am not surprised. I knew he had been suffering from cancer. He wrote a book about confronting death, and had a healthy agnosticism about the life hereafter. Life before death is what's truly meaningful, and it was a comfort sometimes to know there was a man-of-the-cloth who bothered to articulate that.

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