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A dangerous, healing sermon

A dangerous, healing sermon

Fifty years ago, the Rev. William Holmes stood in the pulpit of his Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, and spoke hard truths to his community and avoided comfortable platitudes.

Many, if not most, sermons fade from memory by Sunday lunch, but people in Dallas still talk about one the Rev. William Holmes gave there 50 years ago, just after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

While he didn’t blame Dallas for the crime itself, Holmes unflinchingly described the city as an incubator for political extremism and incivility, the kind of place where many worried an assassination might occur.

The sermon made the CBS News anchored by Walter Cronkite and brought the young Methodist pastor death threats, forcing him and his family to go into hiding under police protection.

In short, all hell broke loose because of the tough love Holmes preached in Dallas two days after Kennedy’s killing there….

…On Nov. 22, 1963, Holmes and his wife, Nancy, had joined the crowd at the Dallas Trade Mart, awaiting a luncheon with President Kennedy and the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.

At age 34, Holmes had a Master of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology at Dallas’ Southern Methodist University and had done post-graduate work at Union Seminary in New York, where he studied with Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich….

…That same afternoon Holmes began working on the sermon he would give on Sunday, Nov. 24, at Northaven. He got a call from a friend at the National Council of Churches, who said he hoped the Dallas clergy would respond to the assassination with more than “pious platitudes and sentimental phrases.”

Holmes offered neither when he stepped to the pulpit at Northaven.

This week, when we are mindful of the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, PA and the price he is paying in his own church for the sake of conscience, it’s good to remember another Methodist pastor whose words are prophetic fifty years later.

H/T Duke University Call and Response blog.


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