The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, with so many Americans who are inspired by a vision of a more just society, mourns the death of Bob Edgar. While the long arc of Bob’s public service might be described with terms such as lawmaker or progressive leader, the words of another clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., more accurately describe him as a “drum major for justice.” Given the tone with which Bob talked about his family, you would also have to warmly define his life with words like “father,” “husband,” “grandfather,” “son,” or “brother.”
Bob was a Methodist minister who pushed for liberal reforms as a six-term Pennsylvania congressman, a leader of American churches, and President of the citizens lobby known as Common Cause.
Bob dedicated his life to the cause and calling of social justice. As a young minister, he helped start Philadelphia’s first homeless shelter for women. Later as a young “Watergate baby” congressman, Bob led efforts to increase benefits for veterans and improve public transportation. He also authored the community “Right to Know” provision of Super Fund legislation to clean up toxic sites. As a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, he labored on issues around Agent Orange and readjustment counseling centers to treat post traumatic stress disorder. Bob served his country’s need for answers and perhaps moral clarity while a member of the congressional committee that investigated the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
After leaving Congress, as the ecumenical leader of the National Council of Churches, Bob, like the biblical prophets he invoked, spoke to the need to surmount economic disparities while calling upon member churches to emphasize aid to the poor. As the much beloved President of Common Cause, he fought for public funding of political campaigns at all levels, election reforms that make voting more accurate, secure and accessible, improved ethics at all levels of government, redistricting reform and a diverse and open media.
Bob’s legacy of words and work over his lifetime and trying moments in American history are personally inspiring and vocationally instructive for all of those who seek for “justice to run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” He leaves behind a legacy of social justice that will enrich our country for generations to come.