Parker Palmer's Foreword to "The Sword of the Lord"

Parker PalmerForeword to The Sword of the Lord. I met Andrew Himes in 2004 through his masterful film, Voices in Wartime, a profound exploration of the experience of war. As someone who has long wished to be in creative dialogue with “the other”—with people who see the world quite differently from me—I knew that I had a great deal to learn from Andrew. How did he morph from his 1970s incarnation as an anti-war activist who treated soldiers as perpetrators of evil to a peace-maker who created a documentary (and, eventually, the Voices Education Project), that gives soldiers a chance to speak their hearts about horrors most of us could neither imagine nor endure?

The answer to that question is, I suspect, buried deep in the mysterious alchemy of the human soul, in that spiritual process by which our inner darkness is somehow, sometimes, turned to light. So I cannot tell you how Andrew Himes was transformed from a hard-headed radical full of hostility toward soldiers into an open-hearted channel for compassionate understanding. But I can tell you that with this book he has worked yet another alchemical transformation—and this time on a topic even closer to the bone.

Andrew grew up in one of the first families of American fundamentalism. So in telling the story of his family, as he does in this book, he is also writing a partial history of fundamentalism in America. His grandfather was John R. Rice, publisher and editor of The Sword of the Lord, a national paper that helped define the American fundamentalist movement. For John R. Rice and his family, people like Bob Jones Sr. and Billy Graham were not just names in the news, but close allies, sometime dinner guests, and regular conversation partners. And Jerry Falwell was not a distant specter on the American religious and political landscape, but a dear friend who preached at John R. Rice’s funeral.

By the time his grandfather died, Andrew had rejected the faith of his childhood, and rejected it with a flourish. As a college student in the 1970s, he publicly ridiculed The Sword of the Lord at every opportunity; embraced the revolutionary ideologies of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Mao Zedong; and, as he writes, supported by considerable evidence, “tried (and failed) to overthrow the imperialist bourgeoisie.” And yet the story told in this book is not self-righteous, resentful, or vengeful. It is, instead, a story of redemption, a personal adaptation of South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Today, our national discourse across religious and political lines is in a serious state of disrepair. Key to restoring our civic community is the capacity to disagree with our opponents—and disagree vigorously, if need be—without denying or denigrating their humanity. The deeply human story Andrew Himes tells in this book blows away cardboard caricatures that are easy to despise and replaces them with portraits of flesh-and-blood people whose humanity can be seen and appreciated, all the while offering an inside account of a pivotal era in American history.

Andrew went from worshipping his grandfather to hating him to loving him. So the arc of this story has ancient and archetypal power: it moves from the neediness that leads us to cling to false gods, to the anger that fuels rebellion and individuation, to the love that strives for understanding and communion. In an era when religion and politics have contributed to the fragmentation of American society, we need more and more people with the courage to take this version of what Joseph Campbell called “the hero’s journey.”

What Andrew Himes has done in the microcosm of his family is what we must do in the macrocosm of the world—if democracy is to thrive and the deepest religious impulse is to be honored: he has told the truth in love. He has told it in a way that maintains his own integrity while honoring the integrity of his family. “Here,” he says, “is what I have learned from my post-fundamentalist family: Honor truth. Love well. Live your faith.”

If more and more of us would go and do likewise, our world would be well-served.

— Parker J. Palmer
(author of Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness, Let Your Life Speak, and The Courage to Teach)