William Sloane Coffin, the former Yale University chaplain who was a leading liberal during the 1960s and 1970s, received an award from Union Theological Seminary this month, making what may be one of his last public appearances.
“Your voice has been a trumpet of justice,” the seminary’s president, Joseph Hough Jr., said in presenting the award to Coffin, now 79 and increasingly frail.
Though affected by a stroke and requiring a wheelchair, Coffin made a joke about the difficulty of walking without assistance -- “an old football wound,” he said. He then stood unassisted and delivered a fiery speech that addressed the perils of militarism, nuclear arms and current U.S. foreign policy.
Calling war “humanity’s most chronic and incurable disease,” Coffin took the Bush administration to task, accusing it of hubris following the war in Iraq. “Powerful nations,” he said, “have always to be reminded of Ezekiel’s lament over proud Tyre: ‘Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.’ ”
“Dissent is not disloyal,” Coffin said. “What is unpatriotic is subservience. Apathy in the face of evil is morally unacceptable.”
Coffin was Yale’s chaplain for 18 years, beginning in 1958. During that tenure, Coffin was arrested and convicted as a Freedom Rider in Alabama, a conviction eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.