Walter Wink, Presente!
Walter Wink, 76, one of the most creative and influential scholars of our day, died peacefully at his home in Sandisfield in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts on May 10, 2012. His health had been declining since he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.
Wink was born in Dallas, Texas. He was a graduate of Southern Methodist University, after which he received Master of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was assigned as pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Hitchcock, Texas for five years. Then, for nine years, he served at Union Seminary as professor of New Testament, followed by becoming professor of biblical interpretation (1976-2005) at Auburn Theological Seminary, also in New York City. Outspoken against the Vietnam war, from 1967 to 1976 he served on the national steering committee of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam.
Wink became a prolific author of prize-winning and widely studied books. He wrote 16 books and hundreds of articles in the fields of biblical interpretation, war and peace, and nonviolence.
“Peace Is the Way” booksigning in Nyack, NY (2000).His acclaimed trilogy on “the principalities and powers,” The Powers – Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament; Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces that Determine Human Existence; and Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination – has been of continuing influence. Engaging the Powers was completed during a sabbatical when Wink received a coveted Peace Fellowship from the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Other books include The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man; When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation and the Healing of Nations; The Powers That Be;Transforming Bible Study; and several books that are now out of print. He also edited Peace Is The Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a compilation of 60 essays by different writers, selected from more than 80 years of articles in Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) publications.
Walter Wink in Lesotho preparing for
nonviolence workshop (1988).His booklet Homosexuality and the Bible, reprinted numerous times by FOR, has been studied extensively in many churches and church bodies and distributed by the tens of thousands. Wink joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1973, and together with Jo Clare Hartsig edited a regular column in FOR’s national magazine, Fellowship. “Nonviolence in the Arena” highlighted everyday examples of nonviolence in action, and appeared for a decade, ending in late 2005.
After his first visit to South Africa in 1986, with his wife June Keener Wink, Walter wrote Jesus’ Third Way: Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa. With the book not allowed in apartheid South Africa, Wink and FOR printed a version of the book named simply Jesus’ Third Way and printed with a plain brown cover. The 3,200 names and addresses of all English-speaking clergy and church workers in South Africa were obtained, after which several New England churches set up committees whose members hand-addressed and mailed the book to each of the 3,200 persons – an inventive way to nonviolently deal with the principalities and powers.
Lesotho 1988 nonviolence workshop: role-playing of Matthew 5:40.On a return trip to South Africa in 1988 sponsored by the South African Council of Churches and FOR, Wink was expelled for not having a proper visa, but only after he and I had held a nonviolence training workshop in Lesotho, an independent republic governed by black South Africans, completely surrounded by the then-apartheid state of South Africa.
Wink’s breakthrough insights about the contemporary meaning of the principalities and powers, and Jesus’ third way of dealing with the enemy/oppressor – neither fight nor flight but nonviolent resistance – spoke powerfully to the struggle and transformation experienced in the self-giving love of Jesus. This found eager audiences in churches, retreat centers, peace and justice groups, and in many places – East and West Germany; Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England; South Korea; Palestine; Aotearoa New Zealand; Chile, Mexico, and throughout the Americas. Walter’s wife June, dancer and potter, traveled with him and was an integral part of the workshops that integrated mind, body, and spirit in the experience of the participants. In 2006 they were honored with FOR’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Award. (Interview here.)
Speaking in 2000 at FOR’s People’s Campaign for Nonviolence.No remembrance of Walter Wink is complete without highlighting his commitment to the way of prayer as essential to deeply rooted activism. “Nonviolence is an aperture open to God,” he writes. “It is intercession in action.” He continues (in The Powers That Be):
…the struggle against evil can make us evil, and no amount of good intentions automatically prevents its happening. The whole armor of God that Ephesians 6:10-20 counsels us to put on is crafted specifically to protect us against that contagion of evil within our own souls, and its metals are all forged in prayer.
Walter Wink is survived by his wife June, his brother Richard, a daughter Rebecca, sons Steve and Chris, stepsons Kim and Kurt and eight grandchildren. Plans for a memorial service are to be announced. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Rev. Richard Deats is editor emeritus of Fellowshipmagazine. Author of several books and the bookletActive Nonviolence Across the World, Deats has led nonviolence workshops around the globe, including in southern Africa with Walter Wink during the apartheid era.