Riverside Church's Pulpit Shared by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Rev. James Forbes

Mark Johnson

“When thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees…” Samuel 5:24.

The self-chastising mayor of New York City used the bully-pulpit of Riverside Church to rally opposing parties around a commitment to education yesterday morning. One price for doing so was to lend himself as object lesson to Rev. Jim Forbes “parable clinic” on Paul’s chastisement to the Corinthians for their misconstruing of the common good.

Mayor Bill de Blasio apologized for failing to frame his concerns about charter schools in a way that deepened the concern and capacity of all approaches to schooling to innovate and advance the growth of children. He acknowledged that charter schools have had and will have contributions to make to that end. Citing Paul Tillich, on missing the point, and pointing to the role of Riverside Church in the history of progressive agenda he returned to a campaign theme of unity, having been bruised by criticism of what to some looked like a political vendetta in his criticism of charter schools in general. Enjoying access to a “pulpit” that was filmed by national media and broadcast as news, de Blasio combined humility with  passion in a way that echoed preaching (to the choir perhaps – standing between the two ranks of the chorus before the congregation of Riverside Church on a Sunday morning in Lent) and that demonstrated an appreciation for the role and power of the Church to unite people for the common good.

Rev. Dr. James Forbes, long the senior pastor and recently returned as the interim while Riverside continues its search for a senior pastor, was as ever the master of ceremonies and of homiletics. He very graciously introduced a long list of honored guests to the service (there was something approaching an Easter outing of politicians in the congregation, at least through the de Blasio portion of the service). And he forewarned the Mayor that his portion of the service would make something of an object lesson of politicians in his message. (Mayor de Blasio slipped out after his remarks but the sermon was live-streamed and may be available on line soon. Former Mayor David Dinkins and Congressman Charlie Rangel were among those who stayed through the end of the service.)

Preacher Forbes characterized the church at Corinth as not unlike the Halls of Congress in Washington, D.C. today, a community of babble with little memory of the expectation and power of serving the common good. Using a Pauline parable of the body and the clear argument of scripture, from Corinthians 12:1-12, Rev. Forbes reminded the congregation (in the sanctuary and beyond) about the role of diversity in achieving the common good. Using his own body as the model for the object lesson, we were treated to a reminder that, as in medicine where bruises and embolisms must receive our special attention when they are incurred, in society the abuse of wealth and power similarly wound the body politic at risk to the organic well-being of the whole community. (An aside on the injuries of racism, which Rev. Forbes thought best to reframe and rename as “tribalism”, drew a standing ovation as the congregation endorsed with “Amens” and applause the altar call to political participation in the progressive agenda outlined by de Blasio on behalf of ALL CHILDREN, all who suffer and are lost, all who make up the commons, for the common good.)

In the spirit of CLBSJ, Rev. Forbes and Riverside Church “make biblical studies and social analysis accessible to the seminary, the sanctuary and the streets.”

See the story in Monday’s New York Times: http://nyti.ms/1gfXvDb

charter schools Congressman Charlie Rangel Corinthians 12 Mayor Bill de Blasio Mayor David Dinkins Paul Tillich Rev. James Forbes Riverside Church The New York Times