“Religion is worship and social action. It is both existential and worldly.”
In this sermon of October 30, 1966, Rabbi Olan starts from the difference between priests and prophets. He sees priests as experts in “private faith” and ritual practice, in contrast to prophets, who stand in the door of the Temple and admonish the people to let religion inform every aspect of their lives, with special attention to issues of social justice.
At the same time, he sets up a second opposition between “religionists” and secularists, and expresses concern that those for whom “religion is a private affair” have ceded the struggle for social justice to those who do not believe in God. For Rabbi Olan, “there is danger in this either/or position,” because he believes that a brotherhood and sisterhood that includes all people, one that is “moral and righteous”, can only come from faith in “the Being of all Beings”.
He then makes his case for the urgency of reform by referring to the self-study “Goals for Dallas”, which found that there were shocking discrepancies between rich and poor and between white people and people of color in the city of Dallas in 1966. In order to address those discrepancies, Rabbi Olan said that religion must become “the Conscience of the City”, the phrase that was later widely used to describe Olan himself in his prophetic role.
Thirty-seven years earlier Rabbi Olan had begun his rabbinical career just as the Great Depression was beginning. “Troubled by the misery of the people, I delivered… a sermon on the injustices and consequent suffering of our society. It was God’s law of justice and love which was needed to restore sanity and decency to life.” That is the same voice that we hear in today’s sermon.
*Written by Frances M. Olan and Lionel S. Joseph*