Fighting for Social Justice, by David Burgess

David Burgess does not go gentle into fights. At 84--after working for 14 years with farm workers and laborers in the South, spending 11 years in the Foreign Service (mostly in Asia), 11 years with UNICEF (some in Asia) and 11 years as an inner-city pastor in Newark, New Jersey--he strives now, with characteristic fervor, for low-income housing in Benicia, California, where he has been for, yes, 11 years.

Burgess once wrote: "Instead of receiving the full loaf of the Christian gospel in words and deeds, the dispossessed migrants, tenant farmers and sharecroppers . . . too often have received the stone of paternalism, Christian charity." That statement offers an indication of the kind of social views that have motivated him throughout his life.

Burgess's autobiography surprises one with its candor and its twists, turns and bumps. On the surface, the story of his life seems to embody an outmoded ecumenical (or "social gospel") cliché. He was born in China of missionary parents and remembers playing in the courtyard of the Peking YMCA. He entered Union Theological Seminary in 1940 and almost went to prison during the first months he was there. He had affiliated himself with the "Union Eight," who opposed the first peacetime draft.