Updated June 7, 2010, with memorial service information.
Rev. Dr. George Riley Edwards, known for his peacemaking efforts and public leadership against war, died June 2, outside his home in Louisville, Ky. He had celebrated his 90th birthday in February.
“For generations, George Edwards has inspired all of us as a mentor, who possessed a burning regard for justice and mercy. With prophetic imagination, he touched numerous lives and ministered compassionately to the hurting and tearing fabric of our social order,” said President Dean K. Thompson.
Dr. Edwards (BD ’51) was Professor Emeritus at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He retired in 1985 after serving 27 years as Professor of New Testament Studies. As a Patterson scholar during his studies at Louisville Seminary, and as an instructor in New Testament Greek while earning a doctorate at Duke University, Edwards prepared himself to meet the challenge of teaching theological students. He said, “I did not consider my academic vocation to be something apart from ecclesiastical and social responsibilities.”
“He was a profound teacher of the biblical faith. He taught his students, and all of us, that Christ identifies mercifully with every victim of injustice, and that they have been called to despise injustice as Christ despises injustice. We are his debtors,” Thompson said.
Edwards was ordained in 1951 in North Carolina and served several small churches in rural areas and blue-collar communities. He ministered to Tlinget Indians in Alaska and helped to establish a predominantly black congregation in Louisville at the request of the Presbytery.
Yet, it was Edwards’ teaching and mentoring that became a legacy of encouragement and inspiration to his students, who still tell stories about his provocative lessons and the way he challenged them to get involved.
Edwards said his commitment to peace and justice was first expressed during his senior year in college, when he took a stand for peace and registered as a conscientious objector during World War II. His assignments took him to the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the state mental hospital at Williamsburg, Va., and to a malaria experimental unit at a New York hospital, where he was tested with various malaria treatments. After the war he participated in relief work in Italy, sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.
Throughout 60 years of ministry, Edwards lived courageously for peace and justice. He was a founding member of and an active participant in the Louisville Chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, begun in 1975. His numerous books address theological ethics and issues of violence, militarism, and oppression of humanity. His tireless efforts against the death penalty have moved persons and institutions, including his home congregation, Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, to help release from prison wrongly accused individuals. Many Louisville Seminary graduates have inspired their own congregations to similar activism as a result of Edwards’ example.
“He was a man of great and lasting significance for the Presbyterian Church and for our community,” said Professor Johanna Bos, a senior member of the Seminary faculty, who taught alongside Edwards for seven years. “His was one of the first voices in the church to be raised for full inclusion of those who do not share their sexual orientation with the dominant majority. I had the privilege of sharing in a few of his many endeavors, and those like me, who joined him for part of the way on his path, can only be grateful for what he taught, for his outspokenness and courage, his refusal to compromise with evil, and the inspiration that his example will continue to be for carrying on the work of peace and justice in the church and the world.”
Upon his retirement, Louisville Seminary appointed him Professor Emeritus of New Testament and established the Edwards Peacemaking Lectureship to honor George and his spouse, Jean, for faithful leadership in Christian efforts for peace and social justice by augmenting the Seminary’s curriculum in areas related to peacemaking and Christian ethics. In 2006, he was honored with the Seminary’s Distinguished Alum Award.
In addition to his spouse, George Edwards is survived by their three children, John, of Louisville, Ky., and Virginia Edwards-Menz and the Rev. Riley Edwards-Raudonat, both of Germany, and six grandchildren.
Update: Memorial Service Information
A memorial service is planned 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 15, 2010 in the Caldwell Chapel at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 1044 Alta Vista Road. A reception in the Winn Center will follow.
Contributions in his loving memory may be sent to: Central Presbyterian Church, 318 W. Kentucky St., Louisville, KY 40203, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, 1044 Alta Vista Road, Louisville, KY 40205, The Justice Resource Center, 115 Steedly Dr., Louisville, KY 40214, The Fellowship of Reconciliation, 2236 Kaelin Ave., Louisville, KY 40205 (or Box 271, Nyack, NY 10960).
“George and Jean Edwards: Living Peace”, by Mary Jo Harrod in Mosaic Magazine (Summer 2005), including alum tributes in their entirety listed by alum graduation year.
"Outspoken activist the Rev. George Edwards dies” by Peter Smith, Courier-Journal, June 3, 2010.
“Well-known Louisville peace activist, author and Presbyterian minister dies” by Melissa Swan, WHAS TV NEWS, June 3, 2010, including video clip.
"Paths to Peace: My final evening with peacemaker George Edwards" by Terry Taylor, Executive Director of Interfaith Paths to Peace, June 4, 2010.
" Edwards' 'bigger dreams'", editorial by Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky
"Edwards 'was a justice teacher'", Courier-Journal Reader Letter by Carla Wallace, Prospect, Kentucky