Most of you reading this won't know who Fr. Jim Williams is, which is truly a shame. At St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, my church home in Austin, he is one of the "retired" clergy. I put retired in quotes because Jim's been a pretty busy fellow. He's also one of my heroes.
One of my most deeply-held beliefs is that if you proclaim to be a follower of the teachings of Christ, you must do your best to live those teachings. Furthermore, a commitment to social justice and helping those less fortunate is a value that transcends religion. I have known people of good will who are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and atheist; all of them honor the commandment to care for the widow and orphan. Fr. Jim is one of my heroes because not only because he is a great exemplar of these values, but because his life is a testimony to them.
I am writing this note because, as we observe the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's historic March on Washington, many are upset and offended because Glenn Beck is having a rally on the Mall this day. I am mentioning Rev. Williams specifically in this context because he was there. He is the one person I know personally who was a living witness to that day. Moreover, Jim--as an American Baptist minister in those days--helped plant one of the first integrated churches in Beaumont, Texas. Such a thing would have been dangerous for anyone; I imagine for a white Baptist minister in Texas at the height of the Civil Rights struggle, it is a risk I cannot imagine.
So, this weekend in particular, I salute Rev. Jim Williams, and I salute the many thousands who drew strength from Dr. King's words and inspiration from them, and in so doing changed--and continue to change--our society for the better. And I would be completely remiss if I didn't also salute a forgotten hero of the March: Bayard Rustin, the gay black man who organized it. Despite the fact that he'd been forced out of the leadership of the movement because of his sexual orientation. Because of such people, nothing Glenn Beck will do Saturday will in anyway diminish the meaning of the event that took place 47 years ago.
Hear Fr. Williams speak of his involvement in the civil rights movement here.
For an added bonus, listen to the late Jean Shepherd's radio essay on the March from 1963.