William Stringfellow

American theologian

William Stringfellow, born Frank William Stringfellow, (April 26, 1928 – March 2, 1985) was an American lay theologian, lawyer and social activist.

The Christian is an incessant revolutionary. He is always, everywhere in revolt—not for himself but for humanity.



An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (1973)

  • Let it be plain that, as a biblical term, “heaven” is not a site in the galaxies any more that “hell” is located in the bowels of the earth. Rather it is that estate of self-knowledge and reconciliation and hope—that vocation, really; that blessedness—to which every human being and the whole of creation is called to live here in this world, aspires to live here, and by the virtue of Christ is enabled to enter upon here.
    • p. 43
  • This otherworldliness or antiworldliness is actually conformity to the world with a vengeance. And, for professed Christians, it is the most ignominious possible apostasy.
    • p. 44
  • Kierkegaard cautioned that the crisis for biblical faith concerning conformity to the world, in one form or another, occurs wherever the anomaly of an established church appears. In the United States, the Constantinian Accommodation has been marvelously proliferated. Practically all churches and sects are, in effect, established and, in turn, conformed to the dominant social philosophy or secular ideology or civic religion. Biblical faith, here, in consequence, is strenuously distorted and persistently ridiculed—in the name of God, of course.
    • p. 46
  • The Bible deals with the sanctification of the actual history of nations and of human beings in this world as it is while that history is being lived.
    • p. 47
  • The unique aspect of biblical faith is that immediate, mundane history is beheld, affirmed, and lived as the true story of the redemption of time and Creation. Biblical ethics constitute a sacramental participation in history as it happens. ... In this saga, time is transcended within the events of a single day—today—so that all that is past, from the first day, is consummated and is anticipated; so that today is esteemed in its real dignity, as if it were the first day, as if it were the last day, as if it were the only day, as if today and eternity were one.
    • pp. 47-48
  • In this story, there is no other place actually known to human beings, except this world as it is—the place where life is at once being lived; there are no other places for which to search or yearn or hope—no utopia, no paradise, no otherworldly afterlife.
    • p. 48
  • Babylon's fallenness is expressed consummately in Babylon's delusion that she is, or is becoming, Jerusalem. ... This is the vanity of every principality—and notable for a nation—that the principality is sovereign in history; which is to say, that it presumes it is the power in relation to which the moral significance of everything and everyone else is determined.
    • p. 51
  • The moral pretenses of Imperial Rome, the millennial claims of Nazism, the arrogance of Marxist dogma, the anxious insistence that America be "number one" among nations are all versions of Babylon's idolatry. All share in this grandiose view of the nation by which the principality assumes the place of God in the world.
    • p. 51
  • Churchly enterprises ... are vainglorious about reputation, status, prosperity, success; they are eager to conform, solicitous of patronage from the political regime, derisive of the biblical witness, accommodated to American culture. ... It is not that such "churches" have abandoned the gospel they once upheld and have become acculturated and conformed, but that they have been from their origins American cultural productions or Babylonian shrines.
    • p. 59
  • While Babylon represents the principality in bondage to death in time—and time is actually a form of that bondage—Jerusalem means the emancipation of human life in a society from the rule of death and breaks through time, transcends time, anticipates within time the abolition of time.
    • p. 60
  • If a congregation somewhere comes to life as Jerusalem at some hour, that carries no necessary implications for either the past or the future of that congregation. The Jerusalem occurrence is sufficient unto itself. There is—then and there—a transfiguration in which the momentary coincides with the eternal, the innocuous becomes momentous and the great is recognized as trivial, the end of history is revealed as the fulfillment of life here and now, and the whole of creation is beheld as sanctified.
    • pp. 60-61

William Stringfellow: Essential Writings (2013)

Orbis Books

"Jesus the Criminal" (1969)

Sermon at Cornell University, October 1969
  • The mark of the Christian is, simply, that he is a matured and freed human being. The direct political implication of this risen character of the Christian is that ... the Christian is an incessant revolutionary. He is always, everywhere in revolt—not for himself but for humanity.
    • p. 64
  • The Christian as revolutionary is constantly welcoming the gift of human life, for himself and for all men, by exposing, opposing, and overturning all that betrays, entraps, or attempts to kill human life.
    • p. 64
  • The ecclesiastical authorities, for all practical purposes, acted as servants of the State in the confrontation with Jesus. In one version, the chief priest protests: "Caesar is our king, we have no other king but Caesar." In the dispute over jurisdiction between Pilate and Herod, they warn: "If you release him, you will not be Caesar's friend." The ecclesiastics were, practically speaking, surrogates of the State. That is an all-too-familiar situation for chief priests to be found in.
    • pp. 65-66
  • Christ as King means humanity free from bondage to ideologies and institutions, free from revolutionary causes as well, free from idolatry of Caesar, and, not the least of it, free from religion which tries to disguise such slavery as virtuous.
    • p. 67
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