The Common Good

Rebel pastor Gordon Cosby left lasting mark on mainstream Christianity

Date: April 5, 2013

The Rev. Gordon Cosby spent much of his 95 years bucking mainstream Christianity, first by welcoming women, people of color and the poor as leaders and then by creating a hugely influential church with no actual physical church, no denomination and very few people.

But as a constellation of major faith leaders prepare for a service on Saturday in memory of Rev. Cosby, who died March 20, many remembered the rebellious pastor for his lasting influence on the mainstream Christian culture even as he rejected it.

They include Jubilee Housing, which provides affordable housing; Potter’s House bookstore in Adams Morgan; Christ House, a medical facility for the homeless; For the Love of Children tutoring; Sitar Arts Center; and many others. Rev. Cosby was considered a mentor to key figures, including Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, one of the country’s best-known evangelical progressives; writer and former Bill Clinton adviser the Rev. Tony Campolo; affordable housing icon Jim Rouse; and Dean Snyder of Foundry United Methodist Church, where Saturday’s memorial service will be held.

“Others have said that Gordon and the Church of the Savior have had a greater impact on the Protestant church in America over the past 50 years than any other institution or movement,” Snyder wrote in a piece for The Washington Post. “Sometimes the Church of the Savior under Gordon’s leadership seemed to me the Protestant equivalent of a Catholic religious order.”