Neuhaus' Times

Young Neuhaus’ interest in matters of religion became more pronounced as he grew older.  He began attending a Lutheran boarding school in Nebraska called Concordia Seward College, in 1951.  His rebellious behavior caused authorities to ask him to leave that school, which he did.  He subsequently found his way South to Texas, where he operated a gas station for a brief period.  Returning to school at Concordia Lutheran College in Austin Texas, he graduated in 1956.  He then moved to St. Louis Missouri and attended Concordia Seminary, where he received his B.A. and MDiv in 1960. 

Neuhaus’ early ministry was spent in New York, first upstate, then, in 1961 he was called to serve as pastor at St. John the Evangelist Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, New York.   He remained pastor of the predominantly working class African American and Hispanic congregation until 1978.  Because he was unable to collect a pastor’s salary at St. John’s, he took a job as a chaplain at King’s County Hospital in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn.  As Neuhaus biographer Randy Boyagoda notes, “the chaplaincy proved profoundly affecting to the young Neuhaus, exposing him to some of the darkest realities of urban life and human suffering, while also revealing the surprising dignities of birth and death in a place where a great deal of both took place.”[1]   In one instance, a woman close to death was brought into the hospital with shards of glass still in her face from an unknown trauma.  Neuhaus and a hospital intern picked the shards of glass from the woman’s face, “I put the diamonds in a small plastic bag and kept them for years,” he later wrote.[2] 

It was during this time that Neuhaus became involved in civil rights activities, the antiwar movement, and other liberal political activities of the 1960s.  In 1965, Neuhaus responded to a comment by President Lyndon Johnson expressing surprise that anyone “would feel toward his country in a way that was not consistent with the national interest.”  Johnson’s comment was made as a criticism of the antiwar protests that were spreading throughout the nation as he escalated the war in Vietnam.  A few days later, Neuhaus was attending a conference of religious leaders from various denominations who met to discuss foreign policy in Vietnam and stated “It concerns us that the President should be amazed by dissent.”  When the comment was reprinted in the New York Times, Neuhaus gained national prominence in the growing antiwar movement as he was also becoming increasingly involved in the civil rights movement.  He became increasingly engaged in ecumenical and interfaith work, more involved with prominent figures in the media and in policy and political circles.  He also began writing and publishing at a remarkably rapid and voluminous pace.  Neuhaus praised in particular the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and sought to interpret the civil rights movement in light of Christian teaching.  He preached from the pulpit on the importance of supporting civil rights.  He attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 and become involved with the Lutheran Human Relations Association of America, a group advocating integration.[3]  


[1] Randy Boyagoda, Richard John Neuhaus, A Life in the Public Square (New York: Image Books, 2015), 95.

[2] Quoted in Boyagoda, Richard John Neuhaus, 96.

[3] Boyagoda, Richard Neuhaus, chapter 8.

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