Today, after a two-year hiatus, I returned for lunch to a Korean restaurant on West 32nd Street, New York’s so-called “Koreatown.”

Last time: great food. This time: C-minus. What changed in two years? The chef, no doubt. Maybe new financial realities. Or maybe the change was in me.

In the Manhattan restaurant scene, it’s no big deal. I have plenty of choices. They have plenty of customers. But in human relationships and in institutions like churches that are based on human relationships, we need feedback loops and the self-correction they make possible.

We need to know the C-minus experiences – not to get punished for them, but to do better next time. We need to observe the impact we are having – and learn to do it in real time. Failures happen, and they are a great teacher. But we hurt people when we miss the mark and don’t see it.


Q: Do you think the mainline church will ever have the courage to speak out against religious extremism?

A: From what I read and hear, mainline leaders already do speak out against religious extremism. They just don’t get heard.

From a public statement standpoint, there is no such thing as “the mainline church.” Never has been. Except when giants like William Sloan Coffin get quoted a lot, we haven’t had a single voice who could speak as forcefully as, say, a Billy Graham or a Pope. We have seven denominations, each with dozens of regional judicatories, each with dozens of congregations.

That’s one issue: the absence of a single voice. Another is lack of focus. We have tended to have public opinions about almost everything, which reduces our ability to be heard on a few overarching issues. Our approach – call it “cause du jour” – saps our voice of urgency. We did better during the Civil Rights era.

Rather than expect time on CNN, our clergy should identify the one or two critical moral issues on which a progressive Christian perspective must be heard, and then speak boldly to it from the pulpit. I’d recommend income disparities and religious extremism. You might have another idea. The point is: we need to stop opining about everything and focus laser-like attention on the critical.

Photo: Man reading on Broadway