Published on Monday, March 24, 2003 by the New York Times
Bishop Moore Takes to Pulpit to Condemn War
by Thomas Lueck
In a weekend of strident antiwar protest, it seemed a poignant reminder of past struggles as retired Bishop Paul Moore Jr. returned to the pulpit last night at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.
Bishop Moore, 83, is the retired Episcopal bishop of New York, a post he held for 17 turbulent years.
But rather than dwell on the past, Bishop Moore, who is struggling against advanced cancer in his lungs and brain, aimed squarely at the war in Iraq and at President Bush.
"It appears we have two types of religion here," the bishop said. "One is a solitary Texas politician who says, `I talk to Jesus, and I am right'; the other involves millions of people of all faiths who disagree."
"I think it is terrifying," he said. "I believe it will lead to a terrible crack in the whole culture we have come to know."
Bishop Moore had to be helped to the pulpit by two assistants, his 6-foot-4-inch frame stooped and fragile because of the advanced stage of his illness.
It was a sermon widely anticipated by social advocates and clergymen across the city. Delivered as part of a vespers service that normally attracts no more than 150 each Sunday night, the sermon was delivered to an audience that easily exceeded 1,000.
"I felt I had to be here," said James White, a Manhattan lawyer who first encountered Bishop Moore when Mr. White was an undergraduate at Harvard in 1967 protesting the Vietnam War.
"He came to campus and stood up for us," said Mr. White, who came to Manhattan for the vespers service from his home in Teaneck, N.J.
Since Harvard, Mr. White said, he has followed Bishop Moore's sermons and writing on social issues, and has been "deeply inspired by his leadership."
As bishop, he railed against poverty, corporate greed, racism, nuclear arms, military spending and war. He clashed repeatedly with Mayor Edward I. Koch over the city's policies on the homeless, and performed the first ordination of a declared homosexual as an Episcopal priest.
Bishop Moore has led an active retirement, delivering occasional sermons at St. John the Divine and other Episcopal churches, and speaking out in other forums. In a 1997 memoir, "Presences: A Bishop's Life in the City" (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux) he said his concerns about some social problems, including homelessness, had grown during the 1990's.
He was asked to deliver last night's sermon more than a month ago by officials of St. John the Divine.
"He insisted that his subject be peace," said the Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, dean of the cathedral.
Some of those in the audience had long personal ties to Bishop Moore, and, like him, long experience in civil rights and other social causes of the last 40 years.
"He has provided a critical voice of consistency, a deep sense of justice," said Rabbi Balfour Brickner, senior rabbi emeritus at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan.
Because of Bishop Moore's failing health, Rabbi Brickner said, "This may be the last you hear of a great man."
But as he prepared for last night's sermon surrounded by other clergy in a cathedral anteroom, Bishop Moore placed his hands on the shoulder of a reporter as he retrieved a spare written copy of his sermon, and said he would be happy to speak about the war, or on other subjects, whenever asked.
"Just ask me," Bishop Moore said, "and I'll give you a speech."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company