The Great Christian Task of our Time:

Prophetic Voices From Christian History Speak

Gary G. Kohls, MD

“A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone's skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that?” -- Bishop Oscar Romero, El Salvador, 1978

“It is very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world: a very spiritualized word, a word without any commitment to history, a word that can sound in any part of the world because it belongs to no part of the world. A word like that creates no problems. What starts conflicts and persecutions, what marks the genuine church, is the word that, burning like the word of the prophets, proclaims and accuses. This is the hard service of the word. But God’s spirit goes with the prophet, with the preacher, for he is Christ, who keeps on proclaiming His reign to the people of all times.” -- Oscar Romero

“The prophet courageously challenges oppressive social structures of which the church may be an integral part. The prophet is the end result of the best in the tradition and spirituality of the church, which soon, sadly, drives him or her out.” -- J. Milton Yinger, 1946

"One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the U.S. around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better." -- Daniel Berrigan

"The duty of the Christian at this time is to do the one task God has imposed upon us in this world today. The task is to work for the total abolition of war. There can be no question that unless war is abolished, the world will remain constantly in a state of madness…The church [meaning all Christians] must lead the way on the road to the abolition of war…Peace is to be preached and nonviolence is to be explained and practiced." -- Thomas Merton

 “A fundamental difference between priests and prophets is that priests are keepers of their community’s status quo—their orthodoxy, rituals, attitudes toward women, homosexuality, etc.  By doing this, they help stabilize their congregation’s way of life.  Prophets don't care about beliefs or rituals; they only care about behavior.  This always pits them against the priests and institutions, since effective prophets only seem to show up when that status quo seems, to the prophet, morally inadequate—like Amos telling the people that God didn’t care about their sacrifices, etc.; God only cares about the inadequacy or immorality of their behavior toward others: selling the poor for silver, the needy for a pair of shoes, etc.” -- Unitarian Universalist Pastor Davidson Loehr, 2010

"It may well be that the greatest tragedy of this period of social change is not the glaring noisiness of the so-called bad people, but the silence of the so-called good people." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

 "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to an evil is rather a courageous confrontation with evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems, I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But, they asked, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The followers of Christ have been called to peace. And they must not only have peace but also make it. His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. In so doing they overcome evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.”-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose: but I cannot make that choice in security.” -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from a letter written in 1939 to Reinhold Niebuhr.

"The church that preaches the gospel in all of its fullness, except as it applies to the great social ills of the day, is failing to preach the gospel." -- Martin Luther

"War is the greatest plague that can afflict humanity; it destroys religions, it destroys states, it destroys families. Any scourge is preferable to it." -- Martin Luther

"A church that cannot take a firm stand against war is a church which does not deserve to be believed." -- Harvey Cox, American Baptist theologian at Harvard Divinity School

"We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we do about peace - more about killing than we do about living." -- WWII General Omar Bradley

"The test of the sincerity of one's prayer is the willingness to labor on its behalf." -- St. John Chrysostom

“Praying for peace is like praying for a weedless garden. Nothing will happen until you get your hands dirty.” -- John K. Stoner, co-founder of Every Church A Peace Church (

"You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul." -- Gandhi

“If any preacher tells you that personal salvation can be achieved without first paying attention to social justice, you may know by this sign alone that you are listening to a false prophet.” -- Sydney Harris

"You Christians have vested interests in unjust structures that create victims, to whom you then can pour out your hearts in charity." -- Karl Marx

“War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” -- John F. Kennedy

“If you see injustice and say nothing, you have taken the side of the oppressor." -- South African Anglican Archbishop Desmund Tutu.

"When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint, but when I ask why people should be hungry, they call me a communist." -- Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camara

 “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” -- Abraham Lincoln

”The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who during time of great moral crisis maintained their neutrality.” -- Dante

"Beginning with Constantine, Christianity triumphed at the level of the state and soon began persecutions (against the enemies of the state) similar to those in which the early Christians were victims. Like so many previous religious and political enterprises, Christianity suffered persecution while it was weak and became the persecutor as soon as it gained strength. " -- Rene Girard, The Scapegoat

“A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.” -- Aristotle

"Military power is as corrupting to the man who possesses it as it is pitiless to its victims. Violence is just as devastating to the soul of the perpetrator as it is to the body and souls of those who are victims of it" -- American Friends (Quakers) Service Committee

"Where there is mercy, there is the Christ. And where there is cruelty, there is the satanic." -- Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy

"To care for a thing as if it were a thing is reality,
To care for a thing as if it was a person is illusion.
To care for a person as if he or she was a thing is violence,
To care for a person as if he or she was a person is justice,

And to care for a person as if he or she was yourself is love." -- Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy

"The most profoundly creative way to overcome enemies is to make them our friends. But this involves a series of painful acts, a constant decision never to achieve our goals by destroying or humiliating others." -- Dom Paulo Cardinal Arns 

“The great Christian task of our time is this: The church must lead the way on the road to nonviolent settlement of difficulties and toward the gradual abolition of war as the way of settling international or civil disputes. Christians must become active in every possible way, mobilizing all their resources for the fight against war. Peace is to be preached, nonviolence is to be explained as a practical method, and not left to be mocked as an outlet for crackpots who want to make a show of themselves. Prayer and sacrifice must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like all weapons, they must be used with deliberate aim: not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and war. This implies that we are also willing to sacrifice and restrain our own instinct for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people. We may never succeed in this campaign, but whether we succeed or not, the duty is evident. It is the great Christian task of our time. Everything else is secondary, for the survival of the human race itself depends upon it." -- Thomas Merton