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This Week: Riverside Church
12.26.03
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ANNOUNCER: Tonight on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS...

Its soaring belfry is a New York landmark. Its twenty-ton bells a resounding summons. And its leader is a man with a mission.

FORBES: And I thought Eugene Ormandy and Tchaikovsky had somehow conspired because I thought I heard, "Jim Forbes, don't you know I have called you? Jim Forbes, don't you know I have called you? Yes, oh yes, I have called you..."

ANNOUNCER: From historic Riverside Church, James Forbes, Jr. calls for all faiths to hear each other across the divide of intolerance.

FORBES: It does not matter which of the traditions you come from. In those traditions there is a spiritual reserve, made especially for times like these.

ANNOUNCER: And challenges America and America's leaders to get with it.

FORBES: Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, a special edition of NOW. James Forbes, Jr., Speaking to Power.

All that tonight on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, the weekly newsmagazine from PBS.

ANNOUNCER: From our studios in New York, Bill Moyers.

MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. This, for Christians, is the season to celebrate the birth of Jesus with "Peace on earth, goodwill to all." Elusive goals, even among Christians themselves. Almost daily we're reminded that people who pray to the same God and read the same scripture come to very different conclusions about what to value and how to vote.

Right now American Christians are sharply divided over a critical social, political, and theological challenge — how to live with religious diversity in an increasingly pluralistic and polarized world. On his recent visit to London, President Bush — sho is an evangelical Christian — said he believes Christians and Muslims 'worship the same God.' That brought immediate rebuke from some of his strongest supporters.

One leader of the largest American protestant denomination said, "The President is wrong," and reminded him that he is commander-in-chief, not theologian-in-chief. Get used to this. Eighty percent of Americans — four out of five — say they are Christians. So how they come down on the big issues affects us all.

Over the past twenty years, conservative and fundamentalist Christians have been front and center in politics and the media; I have myself done more than a score of documentaries and reports on the Religious Right. But faith, like democracy, wears many faces. And in this broadcast, you're about to meet a man who uses the same language of faith as the Religious Right, but sees democracy differently. You will be hearing a lot from him in the years ahead. This special edition of NOW was produced by Kathleen Hughes.

MOYERS: Within days of the terrorist attack of 9/11, the American religious right took to the airwaves. The Reverend Jerry Fallwell said it could have been God's judgment on America.

JERRY FALWELL: I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen."

MOYERS: In the months ahead one conservative Christian preacher after another denounced Islam as an impostor faith.

JERRY VINES: Ladies and gentleman, all religions are not equally true. All religions are not the same.

MOYERS: The founder of the Christian Coalition warned President Bush not to be duped.

PAT ROBERTSON: I've taken issue with our esteemed President in regard to his stand in saying that Islam is a peaceful religion…it's just not.

MOYERS: A prominent right wing pundit called for a holy war on Muslims. She wrote, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

MOYERS: Despite their powerful megaphone in the press, those angry voices on the right did not speak for all Christians. There was a different Christian response here at New York City's historic Riverside Church. Only five days after the atrocities of 9/11, the Reverend James Forbes Jr. asked people of all faiths to join in contemplation and meditation.

FORBES [in sermon]: It does not matter which of the traditions you come from. In those traditions there is a spiritual reserve. Made especially for times like these.

BUDDHIST [in sermon]: It is the absence of the hatred that leads to peace….

MOYERS: A packed church heard a call for believers to hear each other across the serious divide of religious intolerance…and to affirm that each of the great faiths, in its own way, reflects the universal revelation of God.

FORBES [in sermon]: In times like these we need to respect one another, we need to join with one another, we need to pray with one another. In order that we may discern a path that leads us to a more hopeful future than the misery and dread suffering death of the last few days.

FORBES: Jesus revealed the capacity to affirm your own tradition, and at the same time, to reach out to those of other traditions. His first sermon said, "be careful living with nationalistic narrowness. Because that does not discern the broadness of the heart of God."

MOYERS: What is your response to people who say that in your embrace of other faiths you are overlooking the reality that there is a virulent strain of extreme Islam that wants to do us harm?

FORBES: There are members of the Islamic faith who are committed to achieving their ends by any means necessary. And that includes violence. And I abhor that violence. There are Christians who are a part of negative experiences. I mean, we even remember the Klan. Good old Americans. But they were bent on destroying certain other people. As long as we can acknowledge that violence and terror are equal opportunity visitors, and that they visit all our traditions, at least we are not naďve in regards to the only bad people are bad people of other traditions.

MOYERS: It may not have been the most popular message of the day. But New Yorkers are used to hearing something different from Riverside Church. Its challenge to orthodox thinking is as much a landmark here as the soaring belfry. From its location high above the Hudson River on the city's Upper West Side, with Harlem and Columbia University as neighbors, prophetic voices have long been speaking to power.

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

MOYERS: Martin Luther King preached here five times during the civil rights movement and exactly one year before his assassination, came back to call for an end to the Vietnam war.

COFFIN: Sisters and brothers…

MOYERS: During the l980s, William Sloane Coffin, then the senior minister, led Riverside to confront the nuclear arms race and to open its doors to refugees from political oppression in Central America.

COFFIN: I hereby solemnly and joyfully declare Riverside a sanctuary church. Praise the Lord.

MOYERS: Now it is James Forbes who challenges the nation and its leaders and answers those fundamentalists who claim only they know the mind of God.

FORBES [in sermon]: Stop saying oh, I, I got my orders from God, don't you use my name that way! In fact, God is saying I need a lawyer. These people doing all these things in my name!

Is there a lawyer in the house?! These people are, are, are saying I said it…this is fraudulent! I did not say it! And if I said it, I didn't mean it in the spirit that they think I meant it!

MOYERS: The spirit of Forbes' vision begins with his sermons. But it extends throughout the church. Riverside's congregation is one of the nation's most diverse. Black, brown, white, rich and poor, young and old….

DICK BUTLER: You go there on any Sunday morning, and you see all shapes, sizes, colors walking down the aisle.

MOYERS: The 2400 member congregation is aligned officially with two Protestant denominations, American Baptist USA and the United Church of Church. But in practice it's non-sectarian, anyone can join who affirms faith in Christ.

BARBARA BUTLER: I love that feeling that within this building, there are many approaches to God. God has created us all, and God knows what's in the heart of each of us.

MOYERS: It's a vision the people here say is too rarely represented on the national stage.

KAREN STONE: America's perception is that Christians are really far right. Because that's what's on television. That's what is shown in the media.

JOE HOUGH: And I think it's really hard, very hard, for someone like Jim Forbes to get the kind of hearing he deserves, but he does represent a lot of us who are Christians in the United States.

FORBES: What is God thinking about in these times of war, widening gap between the haves and the have nots? What is God thinking about when there are trends away from parity, equality and justice? God's heart aches and it is a sin to be silent.

FORBES: God bless you. Hello Sadie, you are here.

SADIE: And I know you were preaching to me.

FORBES: Oh bless you, bless you Sadie.

WOMAN: Every time I'm in New York, I come.

FORBES: We welcome you.

WOMAN: It's wonderful to hear your sermon and see you on the pulpit.

FORBES: Well thank you.

MOYERS: I've stood in the vestibule on Sundays and I see people coming with all kinds of needs. Do they come for political opinions from their pastor? Or do they come for a message from another place?

FORBES: I think they come because they would like to believe that there is a God who not only cares, but that can make a difference for them. Second, I think they come for expression of a faith that challenges the nation, that challenges economic, social and political policies. And I believe that one without the other would not quite be Riverside Church.

FORBES [in sermon: Ron Givens, where are you, raise your hand, are you there in the back? There's Ron. Ron, walk about halfway down the aisle, so I can tell them something about you. Ron Givens has been without employment, and he has told me that he hasn't been hungry during that time, that God made a way out of no way. He is one of our ushers, and last night at an usher's meeting we had, he announced what, what did you say? You got a job!

MOYERS: James Forbes, celebrated as the preacher's preacher, has had his own share of ups and downs. He was born in 1935 in Raleigh, North Carolina, the son of deeply religious parents.

Forbes: This is the Providence Holy Church where my father was the pastor for many years, and this is the church where I grew up and attended Sunday school and sang in the junior choir.

MOYERS: His father earned a living as a candy salesman while serving a growing congregation.

FORBES: My father I remember as a man who used his hands for service. My daddy's old church was falling down and he had a crow bar. He started ripping off the planks off the church to say whether we're ready or not, this church has got to come down and I'm going to build a new church here.

This is the cornerstone Providence United Holy Church. Rebuilt 1957, Dr. J. A. Forbes, Minister. This is Forbes stairstep.

MOYERS: James Forbes Jr. was the eldest of eight.

The family lived in a 3-bedroom house on Raleigh's Bloodworth Street. His mother was a domestic for a white family on the other side of town. Her name was Mabel.

FORBES: I remember our table at home when we sat down to eat dinner, we had a ritual. Mom would say, "Are all the children in?" And if there was a child not present, we had to prepare a plate for that child and put it in the oven before we could say grace and our Bible verses and then eat.

Now, that's the image of God for me. Because I think of God as Momma Eternal, who before I can eat asks, "Are all the children in?"

MOYERS: Each August, Forbes and his wife Bettye attend a family reunion in Raleigh. They gather to worship at a Baptist church.

DAVID FORBES: I'm going to ask once again if the Forbes aggregation will please stand.

MOYERS: The pastor is Forbes' younger brother David.

All the Forbes children were taught by their parents that to be a Christian was to serve the community. And the community was the church.

FORBES: Church was the center of your social life. Church was the place where you developed your talent. This was the life. And every major holiday, there was a church festival, a convention, somewhere or another, designed to keep you out of mischief. But also, to keep you in a context where the values of the church, and your associates, were all of a common mind about what righteousness looks like, and what holiness looks like.

MOYERS: But beyond the intimate circles of family and church were the crude realities of the segregated south.

FORBES: From start to end, the predicate of race seemed to insinuate itself into almost everything and also the sense that we were a kind of spoiled batch of cookies. God made the other cookies, they were all right. But those of us that stayed in the oven so long that our pigmentation was dark, we were second class form of citizen. Now we didn't believe it. But the power of the circumstances made it necessary to cope with that perception.

MOYERS: In spite of the inequities, all eight Forbes children went on to college. Though he'd been told many times that he had the makings of a preacher, James Jr. went off to Howard University intent on becoming a doctor.

FORBES: The reason I wanted to be a doctor was I think I liked science. And I also liked people. And I thought science and people, nothing better than medicine. It also helped that my high school teacher that I was in love with Miss Suzy Vic Perry, bless her heart. She was the wife of my family doctor, Nelson Perry. So I figured she liked Doc Perry, she'd like me too as a doctor. But I went because I thought that's what I wanted to do. But more than that, I have always wanted to be a healer.

MOYERS: By his junior year, Forbes was wrestling with his choice. Then, there came a moment that remains vivid nearly 50 years later.

FORBES: I put on my music, Tchaikovsky Symphony in F-minor. As a high-class Howard University student I had this classical taste. So when I put on the music I was soothed by it, you know? It's that Tchaikovsky piece that… And I put that on. I'm feeling better until it got to the sections that… And I thought Eugene Ormandy and Tchaikovsky had somehow conspired because I thought I heard, "Jim Forbes, don't you know I have called you? Jim Forbes, don't you know I have called you? Yes, oh, yes, I have called you."

And I decided, no, this… I'm hallucinating. I'm thinking this, but then the music gets more bombas… And it was almost as if they said, "This is your destiny. Get with it, buddy." It was that night that I decided, "Okay, I've been trying to go in medicine. But I think God wants me to be a healer but a healer of a different sort. Healing body, mind and spirit. Healing individuals and maybe healing in the culture as well."

MOYERS: Forbes went on to finish his degree in Chemistry and returned to North Carolina. It was 1957. He wanted to go to Duke University's Divinity School but was told blacks were not welcome there.

He wound up, instead, studying at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, right across the street from Riverside Church.

But he was far from ready to preach at Riverside. So once he earned his graduate degree in theology, he went home again to Raleigh, to work briefly in his father's church.

The civil rights movement was in full swing and younger brother David Forbes was organizing sit-ins at Woolworth's department store where blacks had not been allowed to eat at the public counter.

FORBES: The old Woolworth was right up the street from here. Whenever we went by there, we always had to get our meal at the window at the end of the counter and I remember going to buy my first meal where I could sit at the counter. When I came into the store and sat down, there was a white woman who had just received her meal. As immediately upon my sitting down, she got up and ran out of the store.

And I cannot tell you now whether I ever put in my order. But I can tell you this: I got up and went back to South Bloodworth Street. And this is what I wrote:

"Why did she move when I sat down? Surely she could not tell so soon that my Saturday bath had worn away, or that savage passion had pushed me for a rape. Perhaps it was the cash she carried in her purse. She could not risk a theft so early in the month. And who knows that on tomorrow t'would fall her lot to drink her coffee from a cup my darkened hands had clutched? So horrible was that moment, I too should have run away, for prejudice has the odor of a dying beast. Whether racist or rapist, both fall in the savage class. And the greatest theft of all is to rob one's right to be."

MOYERS: James Forbes could have had no earthly idea then that his experiences were preparing him for the day when he would step into one of the most preeminent pulpits in America, following in the footsteps of one of the country's greatest preachers, Harry Emerson Fosdick.

HOUGH: Fosdick was a prophetic preacher much in line with the old American Social Gospel tradition.

MOYERS: What do you mean, prophetic?

HOUGH: Prophetic means that you are saying things aren't right in the body politic. The poor aren't getting their fair share. Labor's not getting its fair share. Child labor's wrong. These kind of commentaries, based on the notions of fairness and righteousness, as it appears in the Bible.

MOYERS: Fosdick became a national figure in 1922 with a sermon called "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" He argued that a narrow, literal reading of the Bible was giving the Christian story a bad rap.

MOYERS: He was at war with the fundamentalists.

HOUGH: He was indeed.

MOYERS: Yeah, the fundamentalists believed, did they not, that God had dictated the Bible…

HOUGH: Word by word.

MOYERS: Fosdick's liberal vision of the Christian experience brought him to the attention of one of the richest men in America, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who along with some other kindred modern souls were talking about building a new church. Rockefeller wanted Fosdick as his minister.

HOUGH: Well my understanding is that he recruited him rather aggressively. Apparently Rockefeller said, "I want you to come and I want you to be the founding minister of this church, up on Morningside Heights." And…but Fosdick said, "Well, I don't know how in the world I'm gonna interpret to people the fact that with what I say, I'm pastor to the richest man in America."

And Rockefeller apparently said, "Well, if you think you've got a problem, think how I'm going to explain to my friends on Wall Street that you're my pastor."

MOYERS: It took six years and more than $26 million dollars to build the new church. Teams of architects and artisans had traveled to Europe to study the great cathedrals. They were most impressed with the massive gothic cathedral just outside Paris at Chartres.

But where the old church featured soaring medieval spires, the new was thoroughly modern American.

John Cook is a leading authority on religious architecture. Retired now from Yale University, he is writing a book about Riverside Church.

COOK: What we're really in is a New York skyscraper in a gothic dress. The steel construction of the building provides the tower which looks traditional. And then the tower has many floors and they all serve purposes of church education, office space, administration. And the way in which they bring that tower into this space and they put it all together to be a gothic dress is nevertheless a New York skyscraper and it is crackerjack full.

MOYERS: On October 5th 1930 the doors opened for the first Sunday service. Six thousand people tried to crowd into the new church. And late arrivals had to stand in the street.

COOK: And people were rushing up this walk to go into this door because it was the anticipated experience of the new Riverside.

MOYERS: If they looked closely, they saw images familiar to Christians.

COOK: The symbolism of the evangelists surround the Christ figure. An angel, a lion, a bull and an eagle, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

MOYERS: And the Kings of Israel, David and Solomon. There were others not so familiar.

COOK: In that arch above, all those small figures that appear in those areas include, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed.

MOYERS: One panel is devoted to scientists, including Albert Einstein who traveled all the way from Germany to see his likeness. And Charles Darwin, whose theories on evolution were driving fundamentalists crazy.

Inside, more surprises: Bach, DaVinci and, next to each other, Abraham Lincoln and Booker T. Washington.

COOK: those figures were to personify the church's interest in making the African-American community equal in the society. And that was 1930s.

MOYERS: All part of the new church's witness to the revolutionary notion that science, learning, piety and faith could serve the spiritual and intellectual hungers of diverse people worshipping under the same vaulted Christian roof.

COOK: They weren't trying to slice doctrine or exclude people because of beliefs or unbeliefs. They were trying to talk about a gospel that enveloped the world.

MOYERS: It was an ecumenical vision, radical for its time. And a far cry from the Pentecostal tradition in which James Forbes had been raised. Pentecostals experience what they call the "Baptism with the Holy Spirit," a phenomenon they trace back to the early church, when believers were said to be given an inexplicable ability to prophesy, heal, even "speak in tongues."

MOYERS: What's the most important thing that you would like outsiders to know about Pentecostals?

FORBES: They believe that the world is not just the context of physical space and time. It's a spirit world. And Pentecostals believe that the spirit is real, as real as breathing. And that the spirit walks with us and talks with us and tells us when we're doing wrong, comforts us when we need forgiveness. And that the Pentecostal believes that it is not just a concept. But that you can feel it. You can feel it on your tongue. You can feel it when you shiver.

MOYERS: Feel?

FORBES: You feel. You feel…

MOYERS: The what?

FORBES: The spirit.

MOYERS: You said it sits on your tongue?

FORBES: Yeah.

MOYERS: What do Pentecostals mean by speaking in tongues?

FORBES: That the spirit sometimes want to talk. But the spirit does not necessarily have to check with your mind. Doesn't have to check with your lungs. The spirit has the capacity to animate and activate the linguistic centers of your being so that you begin to speak almost as if you can shut down your normal speaking equipment and let the spirit operate. The Pentecostals believe that God does that.

MOYERS: What happened after you were ordained and went home to work in your father's church?

FORBES: Well, when I went home to work in my father's church, I discovered that the Pentecostal tradition as I had been nurtured in had a problem with me. And the problem was that I, for all of my understanding of the spirit, did not speak in tongues.

MOYERS: You never had?

FORBES: I had never spoken in tongues. And I was pastoring. They said, "Well, he's pastor because his dad is the bishop and gave him a church. But how can he help us get the blessing when he doesn't have the blessing himself?"

That experience has had more to do with who I have become than anything else.

MOYERS: How so?

FORBES: That was getting me ready for my ministry because religious folks do that all the time. They go around judging other people by their standards and are not prepared to believe that people have to define what their relationship is with God. That was God's way of preparing me for an ecumenical mission, an interfaith mission.

MOYERS: In 1987, when Riverside's popular senior minister William Sloane Coffin announced his resignation, the church's commitment to its ecumenical mission would be put to the test.

James Forbes by then had been teaching for eleven years right across the street at his alma mater, Union Theological Seminary. But when the search committee called on him to be Riverside's first African-American pastor, there were raised eyebrows.

RICK STONE: If nothing else, Jim Forbes is the son of a Pentecostal bishop. And Jim Forbes is black. He was not particularly welcome when he came here. Certainly not by a lot of people.

MOYERS: Rick and Karen Stone joined Riverside eight years ago. He's president of the church council and a corporate attorney. She's a professional opera singer and a member of the church choir.

KAREN STONE: Jim Forbes' race, his color, is who he is. You cannot separate it. It gives him a different vision of America. And that's one of the things we struggle with.

FORBES [in sermon]: All is not well between God and those who call ourselves the people of God.

MOYERS: When you came in 1989 to lead this historic church, you were perceived by some people as an outsider. A black Pentecostal. And many people feared you were gonna turn this church founded by the Rockefellers into a Pentecostal place where people would speak in tongues. They were worried that you would turn it into a southern black church.

FORBES: Or a holy roller church or something like that. Yes, I think there were people who were nervous about that. And there probably are people who still are nervous. What's he got up his sleeve?

FORBES [in sermon]: And now God is saying I've got a mission, I will not let America go, I will renew that nation. I am going to give it a spiritual awakening. And God wants to know, does this congregation want to be part of what will bring God's heart? I want to know are you ready?

RICK STONE: The first time I sat in our service and heard somebody clap, I was incredibly offended. I had never heard anyone clap during the solemnity of a worship service.

BARBARA BUTLER: When it first started, it really bothered me…

MOYERS: Barbara Butler has been a member of Riverside for 30 years.

BARBARA BUTLER: Because to me, applause is applauding performance.

FORBES [in sermon]: Everybody right now, will you lean this way? Lean towards love!

MOYERS: I heard your sermon when you said that God has something to say and his people are not listening. And you broke out into a rap song.

FORBES: Well, you know, I rap from time to time.

FORBES [in sermon]:
WEALTHY GETTING RICHER
POOR ARE GETTING POORER
WITH RATS AND HOMELESS
LIVING IN THE SEWER

HOUSING PRICES
GOING SKY HIGH
NOTHING TO RENT
AND CAN'T AFFORD TO BUY

BARBARA BUTLER: I thought that when Jim started talking about... kind of in rap. It wasn't that I'm against rap.

FORBES [in sermon]:
SPOUSAL, PARENTAL,
SYSTEMS ABUSE
SOMETIMES YOU WONDER
WHAT'S THE USE?

BARBARA BUTLER: But I felt a little bit that he was playing a little bit to the audience.

NOW I DON'T NEED
TO BE UNCOUTH
WHAT I'M ASKING FOR
IS TELL ME THE TRUTH

WHAT TIME IS IT Y'ALL?!
NO TIME FOR FOOLISHNESS!

BARBARA BUTLER: I came to the conclusion a number of years ago. I go to church to worship God. That's why I'm there. And so the rule of thumb is, if you can go along with around 80 percent of the service, then consider yourself lucky. So I can.

MOYERS: Is Riverside a microcosm of what is happening in America? When you came it was 60 percent white and 40 percent black. Now, I believe it's just reversed. It's 60 percent black and 40 percent…

FORBES: And maybe even going towards 30 percent White and 70 percent Black with respect to membership, though when you worship there, it looks pretty even. It's amazing to me when I look at my congregation and see a congregation that is so different from most of the congregations in this nation, how on earth for the last 14 years under the leadership of a black man, you still have a church where white folks in the choir and white folks in the usher board. White folks in the congregation sit with black folks and Asian people and Latinos. So, all I think is it is not the prevailing trend today, but it could be more of a challenge that could be embraced.

MOYERS: Do you think race is more powerful in America today than class?

FORBES: Oh no. The issue of money and material possessions and the symbols of class are more powerful. The truth is they are interwoven, of course, in the history of our nation. But the real issue that's facing the nation now is how do we justify a corporate officer making through his stock and his options and his salary a thousand times more as head of the corporation than the lowest paid member? How do you deal with that?

And when you look at the consequences of this disproportion that means that poverty is a weapon of mass destruction, and yet in our capitalist society to raise questions about the freedom of some to enjoy an inordinate proportion of the resources while others die for lack of basic subsistence necessities, that's gonna be a hard conversation to have.

If God were our consultant about economic reality, would God say, "Well, all I can say, it's just a free enterprise system. Let it work and everything is gonna be all right"? No. God would say, "You gotta look at that again."

MOYERS: Riverside has never fled from the conflicts of the time — religious or secular, spiritual or political. It's widely known as a peace church, an activist congregation, sending delegations to advocate human rights and religious freedom in troubled places from Central America to South Africa. In 1985, the congregation took a stand on one of the most divisive issues in Christendom, declaring homosexuals to be "equal members of the body of Christ." And in 1997, the church council sanctioned gay marriage.

DICK BUTLER: Not everybody at Riverside is happy about the prominence of gays and lesbians here. But the important thing is that under Bill Coffin, and now under Jim Forbes, the leadership of the church has said, "This is okay."

MOYERS: Dick Butler joined Riverside in 1970 with his wife Barbara and their three children.

DICK BUTLER: One of the things that I remember is my son, the oldest child coming home from college, and in a very offhanded way say that his roommate was gay.

And you know, that took me aback. And I said, "He is? Is that a problem for you?" He says, "No." He said, "We've talked about it. And I'm not, he is, and that's okay." And I thought, "That's okay? My God, I've been struggling with this all my life, and for you just to, you know, dismiss it as okay, that really shook me."

And so, one of the things that Riverside did for me was to show me some role models of people who were gay, and it was at Riverside that I really came to deal with that whole issue. And, yeah, and come out.

BARBARA BUTLER: When he came out and we separated, there was still very much a place for us in the church. Wasn't a situation where one of us had to leave. And I thought, "Well, I'm not leaving." I mean, there wasn't any need to.

MOYERS: We're talking about deep theological differences over civil unions, marriage… Many Christians believe the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin. You take the absolutely opposite position. So can that breach be healed? Do you have anything in common with those people on that theological divide?

FORBES: Yes. The first thing I have in common is that when a person who is homophobic speaks to me I understand it because I was too. And the second thing is that I think they want to please God and I do too. So, all right, all right, we are moving together.

For an example, in a sermon I preach that parents who were against gay kids, when a mother found out that one of her kids was gay it was amazing how that mother said, "Well, this is my child. And I don't want anybody messing over my child." And mothers turned around when they had gay kids to say, "We need a world in which the difference in sexual orientation should not mean that my child will be singled out for abuse or attack."

And I says, and just say maybe God thought that all of God's children that God had made are gonna be straight. And then one day God discovered that one of these children that God had made actually is gay. And what's God's attitude? "Too bad"? Oh, no.

I think that the God who understands that out of the created order that I have, there's some gay people and there's some straight people. And then there's some that are in between, bisexual and, you know? I think the God that Jesus reveals to me would prefer that special attention be given to the child that was different especially if that difference had occasioned rejection, humiliation and ostracism.

MOYERS: Homecoming Sunday at Riverside… when the church celebrates its religious AND social commitments. More than 83 groups of volunteers from within the church sponsor everything from youth basketball to campaigns for global justice and peace. They're known as lay ministries.

After services, each ministry sets up a table in the cafeteria to get the word out.

WOMAN: We put on educational forums dealing with international peace and justice issues.

MOYERS: Jim Forbes' own barber, Dennis Thomas, runs one of the projects. Eight years ago, while Forbes was getting his hair cut at Thomas's barber shop just a few blocks from the church, in Harlem, the two of them hatched a plan to get people off welfare and into work. Now Dennis Thomas trains barbers for free in the basement of the church.

THOMAS: So I wanted to give something to my church. And this is what I'm doing. I'm helping Dr. Forbes give something back to the community. That's what I'm doing. It's my job. He's doing his preaching, I'm doing my teaching people how to cut hair.

MOYERS: Over the last three years, says Thomas, he has seen more and more people line up to take his classes. Riverside officials say there's also been more demand for food from the church pantry and clothing from the thrift shop.

On Monday mornings, the homeless show up for a shower. Barbara Butler runs the shower project.

BARBARA BUTLER: The impetus for starting this program was the realization that sleeping on a park bench is one thing but where do you bathe? And get your clothes washed?

HOMELESS WOMAN: I thought I had a job lined up but that fell through so in the interim I'm living in my car but this is a great program for me because it allows me to have a shower every week and do my wash which is very, very important to me. I mean, personally, that's something that's very important to me.

BARBARA BUTLER: People get a basket and in the basket is a bath towel, a soap, shampoo, conditioner, a small deodorant toothbrush, toothpaste. Deodorant.

WOMAN: Look at this. Shave creams. We haven't had that. Wow.

BARBARA BUTLER: And lotion if they need it. T-shirt and underwear and socks.

MOYERS: Mark has been homeless for more than a year. He says he works several part-time jobs, as a bouncer in bars and as a writer for Web sites. He came to Riverside after two other religious based programs put conditions on their help.

MARK: Both of them have very strict rules about attending religious services and things like that, and I just had to tell them that, you know, that was not for me. So here they don't have that same type of requirement.

BARBARA BUTLER: When people come to Shower Project, or come to the food pantry, or come to any of these social services that we provide, it's never expected, well, we expect to see you in church on Sunday. That would never be said.

MOYERS: You won't hear much about faith-based charity at Riverside, but from the pulpit the call for faith based justice is loud and clear. They still talk about the first sermon James Forbes preached here. He called on the congregation to "release your song."

Today there's a call for a new song to challenge what the Bible describes as the "principalities and powers. It's in Forbes' recent sermon: "Politics, Plumb Lines and Politicians."

FORBES [in sermon]: We are called upon to hold the plumb line up against policies of our nation. And not as an un-American.

MOYERS: What's a plumb line?

FORBES: Well, you know a plumb line is a little metallic thing, like a spinning top. And it has a narrow point, and you tie a string to it. And the weight of it allows a builder to see whether the builder is building a straight and sure line. It becomes a symbol of a certain set of principles by which you can measure whether we are keeping faith with the principles upon which the nation was built. It's a measuring device.

FORBES [in sermon]: It's not an act of unpatriotic negation to love your nation well enough to tell the truth about it.

MOYERS: President Bush considers himself a good Christian. You believe yourself to be a good Christian. What is it about President Bush's policies that you find offensive to your Christian sensibilities?

FORBES: The first is the swagger and the tone. I'm a southern boy, black man, who used to see people walk around like they had the power to decide who should live and who should die. Everything in my spirit is in revulsion against the domination empire-building. Against the reliance upon a kind of braggadocious prideful arrogance. The shock and awe in Baghdad looked like it was not coming from God's assignment. It felt like it was the prideful way of saying, "You mess with us, we're going to show you who we are."

There was something ungodly about the use of firepower in that way.

Secondly, the policies say we are trying to export democracy around the world. Yet the Homeland Securities Act and the Patriot Act ends up making us more vulnerable, while at the same time robbing us of the liberties that our founding documents provided for us.

And also, a handful of people, there may be 50 of them, or 100 for whom oil interests, economic contract interests are supporting their interests, selling down the river the concerns and the well-being of the masses of the people of the nation. To take a whole nation, and set policies which upon examination are primarily for the interest of the few rich people, something is not right about that.

FORBES [in sermon]: You may all be seated. Vice President Cheney, Govenor Pataki, Governor McGreevey , Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Clinton, on behalf of the officers, staff and members of the Riverside Church, I welcome you to this sacred space...

MOYERS: To observe the 2nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the high and mighty gathered at Riverside. It was a memorial service to honor the New York and New Jersey Port Authority employees who had perished in the World Trade Center. Forbes also hoped it would lead to a conversation between his community and official Washington. At the end of the service, he and the Vice President left together.

FORBES: As I walked out I told him, "We would like to have some dialogue with you because we want to be supportive of our nation's policies too."

MOYERS: What did he say?

FORBES: He did not say anything. I would like to have that conversation the leadership of our nation. And I'd like for the peace churches to have a conference.

To say, "Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, these churches think they had a conversation with God just fairly recently. And that God had quite a different vision than you. When you talked to God what did he say?"

FORBES [in sermon]: When Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, one of the temptations was the devil took him on a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, all this I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.

I fear that the ideology informing the present policies of the nation are coming from some people who took the devil up on it, who said, "You elite, you handful of people with your special interests, if you act quickly all the kingdoms of the world, their oil, their land, their money, their resources, I will give it to you."

Jesus said no. But somebody helping to set policies in this nation got duped by the devil and said yes! And the policy is moving in that direction.

FORBES: The church perhaps is the only institution in the nation that can ask: Okay, how are your policies squaring up, not only with the principles of the Bible, but with the principles found in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Everybody else is scared to do it. The Church had better be afraid not to do it.

FORBES [in sermon]: Riverside, many churches all over the world are not so sure that peace is possible, that a new quality of democracy can arise. But if one congregation stands up for peace, who knows? We can start a standing ovation for peace in the world. Let's get ready to move!


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