William Stringfellow (1928–1985)
FRANK S. ALEXANDER
William Stringfellow spoke to the world in which he lived. His actions and his words were set in a context of community and conflict, of power and pretension, of advocacy and authority, of opportunity and oppression. His words and his deeds, however, were not designed to confront or to condemn, but simply to understand that context biblically. In his own words, he sought “to understand America biblically … not to construe the Bible Americanly.”1 With his intentionally awkward grammar, this graduate of Harvard Law School made poignant his passion for understanding not the gospel in light of our lives, but our lives in light of the gospel.
In a world coming of age in the aftermath of World War II and Hiroshima, Stringfellow himself came of age as he completed law school and went to work for an East Harlem Protestant parish in 1956. For the next three decades until his death in 1985, he sought to interpret the American experiences of the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s in light of the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. He was present in the poverty and racism of Harlem. His voice was raised in criticism of the McCarthy hearings. He was active in the civil rights movement. He was charged with harboring Daniel Berrigan, a fugitive during the antiwar movement. He represented the Episcopal priests charged with the illegal ordination of women. He served as a warden in the local government of his community. Though he happened to be a lawyer, an active Episcopalian, and certainly an advocate, he recoiled from the common label given to him of a prophet. Stringfellow's response to scripture was a sense of calling to his vocation as a Christian, no more and no less.
The author of sixteen books and more than one hundred essays,2 Stringfellow wrote as one more concerned with communicating his message than with proving his sources. With the exception of his first extensive law review article,3 Stringfellow rarely included footnotes, bibliogra-