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" Born Again Radical" by Don Benedict

(Pilgrim Press)

Review by John Gabree

Though its opponents like to pretend otherwise, the movement for social justice in this country has been far more deeply inspired by the moral teachings of Jesus Christ than by the social science of Karl Marx. Don Benedict, though perhaps more persistent than most, typifies the social activist whose commitment to peace and to economic and racial justice is built on religious faith.

"Born Again Radical" is Don Benedict's autobiography. It is not the work of a contemplative spirit, locked away in the safety of the institutionalized church. Rather it is record of the activities of a radical Christian advocate for the rights of the disadvantaged and oppressed. As such, it is a practical handbook of the ins and outs of organizing and agitating, but it will be disappointing to anyone seeking a clearer understanding of the spiritual underpinnings of Christian activism.

Benedict is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ. He was one of the founders of a storefront missionary movement, first in the East Harlem Province Parish in late '40s and later in Cleveland, that inspired young seminary graduates to serve the needs of the urban poor. Later, as head of the venerable Chicago City Missionary Society, he forged innovative programs using theater, publishing, education curricula, community organizations, and so on, to focus attention on the chronic inner-city need for jobs and housing.

Benedict finds the connection between the gospel and politics, between the gospel and democracy. He believes that Christinanity looks at decisions from the standpoint of those who will be victimized. "And democracy," he says, "in guaranteeing for the victims a right to speak and participate politically, educates the whole society in self-discipline and justice," which he takes to be a higher Christian ideal than charity, "and looks to informed human reason for decision." He argues that Christians should be involved in politics not because they possess better remedies for the problems of poverty and racism than nonbelievers, but because the model of the Kingdom of God to which they subscribe helps give proper dimension to political debate. (1982)

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