A recent publication from the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA introduced a feature entitled “Everyday Prophets” with these words: “In a sense, you could say that all our graduates are prophets. After all, as a seminary, we’re in the business of training our students to discern where God is working and to join that work with hearts, minds, hands, and voices. Here are a few stories about the everyday prophets among us and the incredibly varied witness they offer.” Ed Bacon’s was one of those stories.
In 1967, college student Ed Bacon 79T shook hands with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Atlanta airport baggage claim. This chance encounter “shifted the tectonic plates of my life,” he says. King’s assassination less than a year later “profoundly impacted” Bacon, spurring him to delve more deeply into the civil rights leader’s teachings on prophetic Christianity and nonviolence.
As the Vietnam War began, Bacon was at law school at Vanderbilt, but he continued to study King, as well as Thomas Merton, calling them “my 20th century prophetic north stars.” The writings and theology of both men inspired Bacon to make the most radical decision of his life: become a conscientious objector, leave law school, and pursue ordained ministry.
Bacon has served as rector of the 4,000-member All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, since 1995. During his twenty-year tenure, the effects of his brief interaction with Dr. King have reverberated within his congregation and the wider community.
Candler professor Ellen Ott Marshall attended All Saints when she lived in Pasadena. “With every feature of his life and ministry, Ed reaches out to persons wounded by wrathful and exclusivist religious language and brings them back into God’s loving embrace,” she says. “What is, perhaps, most remarkable about his ministry is that he proclaims this radically inclusive love not only for those on the margins, but also to those who marginalize them.”
In 2009, Oprah Winfrey invited Bacon to appear in the spirituality segment of her “Best Life” series. During the segment, Bacon addressed a caller who identified as gay, telling him, “Being gay is a gift from God.”
The comment was so controversial that Winfrey asked Bacon back to explain himself, which he gladly did. “It is so important for every human being to understand that he or she is a gift from God, and particularly people who are marginalized and victimized in our culture,” he said. “Gay and lesbian people are clearly outcasts in many areas of our life, and it is so important for them to understand that when God made them, God said, ‘You are good.’”
Bacon puts those words into action. He is a founder of the groups Beyond Inclusion and Claiming the Blessing, an organization of gay and straight Episcopalians working for LGBT equality at local and national levels, including within the church.
Another expression of Bacon’s call to “articulate the Christian faith in non-bigoted ways” is his dedication to interfaith work. Bacon has led All Saints to start New Vision Partners, a non-profit resource center that forms ministry partnerships with interfaith colleagues; Transformational Journeys, trips that transform participants through challenging encounters with other local and global communities; and the Abrahamic Interfaith Peacemaking Initiative.
Bacon relies on a daily hour-long practice of prayer and contemplation to keep him “inspired, empowered, and energized.” During that time, he says that God’s Spirit takes him deep below the choppy waters of his surface life and equips him to love.
That love is both the call and the response for Bacon. “My heart breaks when I see systems destroying the lives of those who are marginalized,” Bacon says. “I feel called to give my life to turning the human race into the human family.”
[Claire Asbury Lennox — Candler School of Theology]