Pitts challenges UCC to make headlines for social justice
Written by Jeff Woodard
July 2, 2011

Maybe we do the predictable things we do more often than we’re aware.

Maybe we’re just not crazy enough.

That suggestion was lifted up by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., during his keynote address Saturday morning to General Synod 28.

“It turns out that history is replete with trials and accomplishments of crazy people,” said Pitts, who won a Pulitzer for commentary in 2004 with the Miami Herald.

“From George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi to (Motown founder) Berry Gordy igniting cultural revolution with a $700 loan, there have always been those who are just crazy enough to confound expectation and overcome long odds,” said Pitts.

“People confuse ‘crazy’ with ‘can’t be done’ or ‘don’t know how.’ And they think ‘can’t be done’ is an expression that means ‘never tried to do it and we should accept it the way it is.’”

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts challenged General Synod 28 participants to make headlines on behalf of social justice concerns. (Photo Scott Griessel)

Speaking on the podium between two large-screen images of photos taken from the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Pitts said he marvels each time he views them.

“I have always found these pictures of immense value to me when imagining the possibilities,” said Pitts. “There is something humbling in these images; these clusters of stars, these swirling masses of gases, these spiraling galaxies. These images represent the smallest corner of God’s possibilities.”

Pitts read in its entirety a Herald column he wrote nine years ago about a friend, the Rev. David Bowers, who refocused his ministry toward reducing the alarming murder rate among young people in Washington, D.C.

“Some people think this preacher was a chapter short of a complete Bible, if you get my drift,” Pitts said to laughter. “I told him he was crazy, and he said, ‘You’re right.’ Then I told him that Martin Luther King Jr. was crazy, too.”

Pitts cited Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, James Earl Jones – even Moses – as among those who’ve overcome great odds. “Sometimes we obsess about our impediments and overlook our possibilities. Everyone has an impediment to overcome – it can either define you or spur you on.”

Pitts said organized religion has a way of taking God and putting him into a box.

“It has a tendency to imprison him in the littleness of human imagination. We seem to have this idea of a God that we have created in our own image; a God that stretches only to our own likes and dislikes; a God who thinks what we think, wants what we want, sees as we see, and does as we do."

To consider those images of the swirling cosmos is to recognize that if God is what we say God is, he is God over all of that and an infinity more. He is the Creator of creation itself, and therefore, by definition, cannot be contained within the boxes that you and I construct for him.”

Pitts’ emotional tone elevated when he decried a world where “the only thing growing faster than poverty is the lack of compassion for those trapped in it.”

“We live in a world where the inability to reason has become a badge of honor, and people are proud to parade their ignorance and call it truth,” said Pitts. “When did it become possible for a Glenn Beck to declare that preaching a social gospel – which, for my money, is the only kind of gospel worth preaching – is a sign of communism and totalitarianism? When did it become possible for him to say that and not be drowned out by protests of people of faith who get up every day and serve the betterment of society?"

Pitts also lashed out at the reality that wars are somehow financed and tax breaks are afforded multi-national corporations and multi-million-dollar individuals.“But there is never money enough to provide health care for a child growing up on the other side of town,” said Pitts to applause.

“But here’s the best question,” concluded Pitts. “What are people of faith going to do about it? I submit to you that the beginning of an answer comes with the courage to imagine.”

 

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