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Interview with Walter Burghardt

Interviewed by Floyd Brown


Floyd Brown: Father, I can easily understand how you got such a just recognition and that recognition of course is being one of the best speakers in the nation. That was a marvelous message that you brought us. Are we being evangelized today, as they were in the book of Luke, by the poor or are we growing wider apart it seems?

Walter Burghardt: Iím not sure that even in the book of Luke, that is, in New Testament times, there was a sense of being evangelized by the poor. Iím not sure of that. But today itís taken a long time for us to come around to that. Because, well, as I was growing up and even into my, what I laughingly call, my mature years, I felt that in going out to the poor we were the ones who were giving something, and indeed we were, but we were never aware of the possibilities that something is happening to us. I think there is a fresh awareness of that in our time. But that is still not enough. Not enough.

Brown: I share those thoughts with you as I taught a Sunday school class one time. A high school Sunday school class. I got more attention when I went out on Sunday morning and did something good for somebody. We had a few moments of worship and then we painted an office or something for someone or some charitable organization and it was a great day for everybody that we were giving something. You just completed a brand new book and you just released it, Preaching the Just Word, and in that does it address these kinds of issues?

Burghardt: But itís not out yet. It will be out next month from the Yale University Press, Preaching the Just Word, which is the title given to it by the Yale editors. Happily it happens to be the title of my project, Preaching the Just Word. But to your question. Yes, I go into great detail on who the poor were in biblical times. Itís not just the economically poor. Itís all those who are marginalized, who are less fortunate than their brothers and sisters. So I give that a great deal of attention. For example, in my third chapter which I call "The Cry of the Poor", the poor I take up are children in our time. One out of every four children in the United States is growing up under the poverty line. One out of every four!

Brown: Thatís tragic.

Burghardt: And, of course, the children have no lobby so that politicians donít have to worry how they vote. Second, the elderly.

Brown: I wondered about that. In your talk you mentioned widows and orphans. Today itís single parents and children who are deprived in our society and theyíre making a political issue of it these days in what theyíre doing. Where do you see us going on this issue?

Burghardt: It looks to me as if, well President Clinton has promised that even though he has approved and signed the welfare bill, there are some parts of it that heís not happy with and heís going to do something about it.

Brown: Talking about in our society today, where are we going with the issue. Are we just going to deal with it as a political issue or are we going to address it as a real need? Whoís really giving us the word, aside from you Father, in your book?

Burghardt: There are a good many of us, but Iím afraid that what the sociologist wrote; Robert Bellah, has been insisting on for the last two decades. He says from his experience and his research, we are experiencing in the United States a resurgent of late 19th century rugged individualism.

The prize is to the swift, the shrewd, the savage, and the devil take the hind-most. I am responsible to myself alone. Not that everybody is like this, but itís a growing plague in our society.

Brown: Wow, thereís a danger there. Thank you, Father. Weíve really enjoyed your talk. Father Burghardt, again itís a real pleasure to have you and thank you very, very much for joining us.

Burghardt: My privilege.