The day was Thursday, October 15, 1964. The St. Louis Cardinals were playing host to the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. The Cardinals had scraped their way to the National league pennant thanks to a late September 10-game losing streak by the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees were seeking to ride the final wave of their 1950s dynasty built by Mantle, Maris, Ford, and Berra. And sitting in the seats watching that game were Scott Field Bailey and John Hines. They were in St. Louis for the 63rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Two days later John Hines would be elected the 22nd Presiding Bishop.
Like the Cardinals, Hines was an underdog. Both Hines and Bailey were convinced that night as they watched the game that he would not be elected; his friend Stephen Bayne, just coming off of a five year term as the first Executive Officer of the Anglican Communion, seemed to be a shoe-in for the position.1 But history or providence intervened. The Cardinals won and so did John Hines.
Today we celebrate the legacy, the passion, the vision, the tenacity of our founder. John Hines is best known for his work as presiding bishop leading the Episcopal Church through the racial tensions of the 1960s and assuring that we were on the right side of history. But he is perhaps best remembered here in Austin for founding St. Stephen’s Episcopal School and our own Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest.
Hines looked around the church in 1950 and decided that it needed “a new kind of theological school.” Always the bold orator, Hines called for a “revolutionary seminary” that would turn out “mature men of God instead of adolescents” (GOF, 147). Seeking to mirror Hines’ own humility, I will not dwell on what his statement suggests about the other Episcopal seminaries.
From his early days as rector of St. Paul’s in Augusta, GA, Hines took on the pressing social issues of his day. A child of the south, born in 1910, he knew that racism was the besetting sin of the nation. But he also spoke out for the inclusion of women in church leadership and for all who were poor, downtrodden, and without voice.
Any of those issues are worthy of a sermon, but I want to focus my comments on a particular Christian virtue that Hines embodied so well – the virtue of magnanimity. As my ethics students will know, “Magnanimity … is the aspiration of the spirit to great things” 2 Thomas Aquinas describes it as “the courage to seek what is great and become worthy of it.” 3 The opposite of magnanimity is pusillanimity – a word that almost onomatopoetically connotes the stench of a constricted and petty life. Pusillanimous people give great energy to trifling matters and end up with minds and hearts that have never been stretched to embrace something vast. They thus seek what’s easy instead of what’s right.
John Hines was a magnanimous soul, who, though born in South Carolina, developed Texas-sized ambitions for the church. He displayed a winning clarity about the path of justice, though he was very aware that being clear and being easy are quite different things. He had little patience with those who wanted a comfortable church. He lamented once that “The Church carries too much dead weight. Too many people are scheming stowaways on the Ship of the Church. They are seeking salvation without working … [or] paying fares” (GOF, 114).
To be in the church for Hines is to be called to action. He didn’t much like the idea of a Bishop’s chair because he thought bishops could best do their work standing up. He once asked, “Can you imagine Amos sitting down and saying ‘woe to them that are at ease in Zion’?” (GOF, 157). John Hines’ vision of discipleship can be well summarized in the words of Jesus that we read this morning:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up theircross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-25)
I would imagine that most of us hear these words as a call to the individual Christian. We each, individually, need to be willing to take up our cross, follow Jesus, lose our life to find it. But Hines applied this logic to the church. The Episcopal Church, in particular, needed to be ready to take up its cross and lose its life in order to save its life.
He made this clear in his words to General Convention in 1970:
[T]he Body of Christ must be prepared to offer itself up for the sake of the healing and the solidarity of the whole human family, whatever its religious or racial identities. Especially must the Body of Christ risk its own life in bearing and sharing the burdens of those who are being exploited, humiliated, and disinherited! 4
The call to “offer itself up,” to “risk its own life” is a corporate call for the church. You can imagine that this was not a message that resonated well with those church leaders who wanted to keep up Sunday attendance and who wanted to entice large givers to their capital campaigns. It was well known that Hines was not much of an administrator or fundraiser, partly because he was ready to lose the church in order to find it. This is scary business and not everyone appreciated his all-too-literal reading of Jesus’ words.
The thing about John Hines is that he was something of a biblicist in the best kind of way. He had no time for those who sought to explain away Jesus’ hard teachings by adding a thousand common sense qualifiers to explain what Jesus must have really meant or why its just unrealistic to follow Jesus’ words too closely. Hines’ theology was the simple gospel. This is not to say he was simplistic, only that he was straightforward in his desire to follow the way of Christ. This is how his theological orthodoxy met up with social progressivism.
He saw racism and he knew that this is not how Jesus would treat people. He saw poverty and he knew this is not how Jesus wanted people to live. He saw modern warfare and called it “inimical” to the “ethics of Jesus Christ.” He had the confidence of a man who did not seek comfort by making Jesus more complicated than he was. He eschewed the self-serving conditions, provisos, and stipulations that allow most of us to encounter Jesus and then return to the life we were living.
Remembering John Hines is a way to resist the ubiquitous temptations of pusillanimity that often come to us today in the form of “shiny objects.” The “shiny object syndrome” – our ability to be easily distracted from substance by means of spectacle – leads us to set aside our magnanimity – our great aspirations for social change – in order to chase petty victories and argue over contrived concerns. Recent shiny objects include anchor babies, Benghazi, the debt ceiling, Donald Trump’s hair, Donald Trump.
The trend among some southern police forces to add “in God we trust” decals to their patrol cars strikes me as a prime instance of shiny object sleight-of- hand. The problem with the decal is not that it affirms God (as an aside, I’m all for trusting God). The problem is that the decal functions as a diversion from the significant, painful, and necessary conversations we need to be having about police tactics, racial bias, and the growing mistrust of law enforcement. Instead of addressing these issues of substance, we are arguing about decals. We grow small minded and give great energy to petty matters.
To be a magnanimous church, a church willing to open wide its heart for the sake of the world will require the kind of tenacity that John Hines displayed. It will require active resistance to the trivializing or our political discourse. And it will mean making some people angry. But if we were afraid of making people angry, we wouldn’t be celebrating John Hines.
The victory of the ’64 Cardinals proved a turning point in baseball – both because it put an end to the Yankees dynasty and because it proved the wisdom of the National League’s willingness to sign Black and Latino baseball players. The Yankees general manager, George Weiss, would only sign white players and seemed to want only white fans. On the other hand, the Cardinals owner, Gussie Busch, was willing to sign anyone who would help him win. By 1964 the Cardinals had assembled a team that included several black athletes, two of whom would be future hall of famers – Bob Gibson and Lou Brock.
Bob Gibson was pitching Game 7 of the series on just two days rest after pitching a complete game victory in Game 5. Scott Field Bailey and John Hines looked on from the stands. By the time he got to the ninth inning Gibson was visibly spent, and he gave up two runs – putting the tying run on deck. But his manager, Johnny Keane, did not pull him out. Bob Gibson pitched the team to a 7-5 victory and a World Series Title. Keane later defended his decision to let Gibson finish the game by saying, “I had a commitment to his heart.”5
In a moment of magnanimity Keane knew, consciously or unconsciously, that the right thing to do, not just for his team but for baseball and for Bob Gibson and for African-American athletes and for the dim hope of some kind of equality, was to let Gibson bring down the Yankees. That night in October of 1964 John Hines witnessed greatness from an African American pitcher, as well as magnanimity from the St. Louis manager, and he went on to lead the Episcopal Church with his own large-hearted aspirations for justice which we rightly celebrate today. Amen.
1. Kenneth Kesselus, Granite on Fire, 194-197.
2. Josef Pieper, cited in Paul Wadell, Happiness and the Christian Moral Life, 61.
3. Thomas Aquinas, cited in Paul Wadell, Happiness and the Christian Moral Life, 61.
4. “John Hines—The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice,” The Episcopal Archives, http://www.episcopalarchives.org/Afro-Anglican_history/exhibit/leadership/hines.php, accessed Oct 7, 2015.
5. James E. B. Breslin, “Damned Yankees,” New York Times, August 14, 1994, review of David Halberstam, October 1964; https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/15/home/halberstam-october.html.