As one has too many occasions to note, history has many ironies in the fire. In the context of those Danish cartoons and the violent reaction of some Muslims, a reader takes the occasion to quote back to me what I wrote in “Our American Babylon” in the December 2005 issue of F IRST T HINGS :
To God and to its five million citizens, the Kingdom of Denmark "matters" as much as the United States of America. But the Kingdom of Denmark is not, insofar as we can measure consequence, as consequential for human history as is, for better and for worse, the United States.
Big Bill Jones is dead. Those of us a certain age keep an eye on the leaves hanging on our branch of the tree of life, wondering which will fall next. That’s one of the reasons I hang out with Avery Cardinal Dulles, age 87, who seems to be attached where the sap flows strong.
The Rev. William A. Jones was for more than forty years pastor of Bethany Baptist, a huge church in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, the largest black community in New York. As best I remember, we first met in 1962 in a protest against the exclusion of blacks from major construction unions in the city. We spent the night in jail, and he was excellent company. It would not be our last time to be arrested together.
Bill was a bear of a man, with a musical voice that rumbled a couple of octaves below middle C. He remained very much a man of the conventional left, viewing Rudolph Giuliani as a fascist or worse, and given to elegantly outrageous homiletical riffs on Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush as Pharaohs. Along with Martin Luther King, Jr., he led the break with the National Baptist Convention to form the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which now has about two million members.
In the 1960s wars over the public schools in New York, there was much nasty rhetoric of a racist and anti-Semitic nature. (Jews were, not without reason, perceived as being in control of the school system.) At my mainly black parish of St. John the Evangelist, I preached a sermon in which I cautioned against both anti-black and anti-Semitic prejudice, and the New York Times picked up on the anti-Semitic part of what I said. Bill Jones was outraged that I had broken ranks. We remained friends, but it was not the same after that.
Martin King at his very best may have been the greatest master of black preaching I have ever heard. For steady greatness, nobody was more reliable than Gardner Taylor of Concord Baptist in Brooklyn. Bill Jones was in their class, as those who knew him from “Bethany Hour,” broadcast in hundreds of cities, can testify. He was big and ebullient. He didn’t have a theological bone in his body but he loved Jesus. More precisely, I think he loved the Bible stories of which Jesus was the hero.
I regret that we lost touch in recent years. There was a roughness about him. I once called him “God’s gangster,” and he wore the title with pride. But I suppose I remember him chiefly as a man greatly amused by the ways of the world, and by his place in it. William A. Jones. Requiescat in pace .
“Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative.” That’s a February 8 headline in the New York Times . It might more accurately read, “Evangelical Leaders Decline to Join Global Warming Initiative.”
I have commented in F IRST T HINGS on the efforts of Ted Haggard and Richard Cizik to align the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and evangelicalism more broadly, with the dubious science behind the fear of global warming. Heavy-weights such as Charles Colson, James Dobson, and Richard Land, along with many others, publicly cautioned against risking the public credibility of evangelicals by identifying with the fashionable cause.
Of the eighty-six evangelicals who signed the statement about which the Times is enthusiastic, the most prominent is Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven Life . Haggard and Cizik say they personally favor the statement but did not sign lest it appear to commit the NAE.
For a very careful evaluation of the arguments pro and con the fear of global warming, see Thomas Derr’s article "Strange Science" ; in the November 2004 issue of F IRST T HINGS . It is gratifying that, the Times report to the contrary, the effective leadership of American evangelicalism has declined to jump aboard the global warming bandwagon.
It is perhaps worth noting that the Evangelical Climate Initiative is funded to the tune of what the Times describes as “several hundred thousand dollars” by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation. The funders undoubtedly appreciate the value of useful evangelicals.
Readers say they have asked for Father Neuhaus’s new book, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth , only to be told that it is not yet available. We’re confused, too. Basic Books has finished books in the warehouse and they’ve been made available for several book signings here in Manhattan. The latest word is that they will be in the stores by March 31. And, of course, they can be ordered in advance from Amazon. We apologize for the confusion.