Chane embraces ‘radical’ label while building interfaith bridges


Jessica White | Staff Writer

From rock ‘n’ roll artist to student activist to eighth Episcopal bishop of Washington D.C., the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane is used to having “radical” attached to his name.

During the late 1960s after touring with his band, Chane returned to school and joined the Students for a Democratic Society — a left-wing student organization that criticized racial discrimination, economic inequality and the United States political system. In 1968, SDS leaders decided to transition from nonviolent protesting to more violent and confrontational action, leading to the group’s Weather Underground faction that pledged a violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Chane then left the SDS to enter seminary and pursue peaceful ways to help others during the heated time.

As the Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C., from 2002 to 2011, Chane held his radical title by prominently advocating for same-sex marriage and prioritizing Muslim outreach. In 2006, he extended a controversial invitation to former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami to speak at Washington National Cathedral, and he has continued to focus on Christian-Muslim dialogue since his retirement.

Chane will discuss what it means to be a radical — theologically and in his own journey — at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy. He said he will look at the term from various perspectives, because he thinks it is often misused.

“Based on what we know to be a better understanding of the word, would people today consider what I’ve done as radical?” he said. “Would you consider me as a radical?”

One of the biggest radicals in Christian history is Jesus Christ, Chane said, yet he is praised while other radicals are condemned. He questions whether Jesus is indeed a radical based on the core meaning of the word, and if so, whether Jesus is a man who would be seen or accepted in today’s institutionalized churches.

In theological references, Chane said he will focus on the Christian perspective, but the examples can be understood and used by other traditions too. He will look at institutionalized religion as a whole and raise criticisms from today’s youth that he heard regularly in conversations while he was bishop.

“My talk may ruffle some feathers,” he said. “It’s not designed to do that; it’s designed to get people to think.”

He said he hopes people will raise equally challenging questions, because if there is no response, then he has failed — no matter how well written the lecture.

“Just don’t serve any fruits or vegetables; I’m not as quick to dodge as I used to be,” said Chane, who has not been a victim of someone throwing something at him because of a speech, but has seen shoes thrown at a colleague.

Chane embraces his radical label, but he said that is a secondary issue.

“The issue is how can we work together given our theological common elements to create a better environment for conversation, where we can continue to make a change for the better,” he said. “Governments are in a position where they’re not talking to one another right now, but we can still do hard work to try to build bridges.”