Here at the Episcopal Church at Cornell, a number of us have been getting more and more excited exploring the bracing theological vision of William Stringfellow, who was a lay theologian and lawyer by training, close friend of Daniel Berrigan (Berrigan was at Stringfellow's house when the FBI 'caught' him for his anti-war activities), and biblical theologian of the highest order.
In the sixties when he visited the United States and was given a tour of Harlem where Stringfellow did much of his theological/legal work, Karl Barth declared that Stringfellow was the voice to whom American Christians ought to be listening.
More recently, Rowan Williams, one the finest English language theologians of our time, suggested that Stringfellow, who had a mere semester's worth of formal theological training, was one the most important American theologian of the past fifty years, a writer of "astonishing originality and power."
Significantly, Stringfellow's work has been even more influential among legals minds. Anthony McThenia, retired professor of law at Washington and Lee Law School, is one of Stringfellow's greatest interpreters, editing a remarkable volume entitled Radical Christian and Exemplary Lawyer. In that volume is, among others, a wonderful essay by Emily Fowler Hartigan of St. Mary's Law School in San Antonio on the profound and lasting impact Stringfellow's thought has had on her own practice of law.
Stringfellow is not easy--he is prophetic and at times overwhelmingly so, and he was a quite complicated man. Openly gay, a defender of the Episcopal Bishop James Pike at his heresy trial in the 60's, and a resolutely biblical theologian who rarely discussed more scholarly forms of thought, he thought that if you wanted to find Jesus, you should go to hell first to look for him!
But for those of us who believe that the practice and study of law has theological, political, and ethical implications, for those of us who are progressive yet unwilling to hand the language of religion over to the voices of nationalist, exclusionary, and politically reactionary forces, we could hardly ask for a more powerful interlocutor. Here at Cornell where Stringfellow's papers are housed, a number of us, including faculty, are beginning to think the time is perfectly ripe for a rediscovery of this remarkable voice--a thinker who was committed to thinking about the law in all its messiness and richness; the practice of law as more than a job. It is, he thought, a vocation, and we might hope that this will continue be a topic for conversation for all who believe that the law has healing resources to convey.