Reflecting on the life of Gerald E. Forshey 1932-2008

Reverend Jerry Forshey was always fun to talk to. I first met him at an Abraham Salon–an interfaith discussion of Bruce Feilor’s book Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths. Our interfaith discussion group had been groping our way with the book–and with each other–as we tried to figure out how reach out to people of other faiths, discuss this book, and at the same time get a view of other religious traditions from within our own.

When Rev. Forshey sat down with the group, it just seemed natural for him to expedite the discussion. He brought Abraham up to our level very quickly. While the story is a little different depending on who is telling it, in all three faith traditions, Moslem, Jewish and Christian, Abraham intends to sacrifice his son, believing it to be in obedience to the will of God. “How have you experienced a call to do the will of God?”, Forshey asked the group. Then began a fascinating view into the life stories of everyone present, and Abraham was no longer a shadowy figure from thousands of years ago, but someone who had the same conflicts about doing the right thing as we do in our own time.

Rev. Forshey couldn’t always meet with the group, because of cancer treatments that took some time to recover from, but whenever I had a chance to hear his remarks, he always had something pithy to say. When a fundamentalist preacher claimed Katrina was proof of the wrath of God against New Orleans, Forshey pointed to three consecutive tropical storms that devastated the preacher’s own neck of the woods. What better proof of divine displeasure with that type of theology, Forshey pointed out, tongue in cheek.

The rest you can read about in the papers–about Forshey’s love of justice, and his work with the African American community. About his teaching and his interest in religious themes in American film. About the time he spend in a Mississippi jail as a result of his faith. And of course you could always find him at the center of any inter-faith tolerance issues. The Trib wrote a nice obit and so did the Sun Times. You can even find out about the books he wrote on religion in American film, now out of print.

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An added note: does anyone remember which classes Dr. Forshey taught at Daley, and when?

Reading all these newspaper accounts about Daley and Malcolm X colleges, opera, art, …..brought back an old memory of a conversation with a professor at Daley college.  I remember perhaps a field trip to the opera house, which turned out to be closed temporarily, then a migration to the old library at Michigan and Randolph that is now the cultural center. Could it have been Dr. Forshey who first introduced us to this incredible building, with its two breathtaking stained glass domes?

I also remember asking what happened to the Malcolm X students that had been part of the startup of that college in the West Side African American neighborhood.  The professor’s reply: they joined the middle class. Interesting  juxtaposition with Obama’s Trinity church’s “disavowal of the pursuit of middleclassness”.

My transcript doesn’t show the professor’s name, only the course number, Humanities 201, Fall semester 1988. Could it be that the Abraham book group was not my first meeting with Dr. Forshey?

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Sorry about the lengthy quotations, but I know these won’t stay online for long.

Said the Trib on 5-22-08:

Rev. Gerald E. Forshey, an activist Methodist pastor who regularly questioned church hierarchy and once spent five days in a Mississippi jail for trying to integrate local congregations, was also a film and art scholar who taught in the City Colleges of Chicago.

Rev. Forshey, 75, died of cancer at his La Grange home Saturday, May 17, said his wife, Florence.

Rev. Forshey came to Chicago in 1958 as pastor of Armitage Avenue Methodist Church. He also served a number of Chicago’s United Methodist congregations, including as an associate pastor at St. Mark United Methodist Church in the Chatham neighborhood.

In 1963, Rev. Forshey was among 12 people, four of them Chicago-area Methodist ministers, arrested in Jackson, Miss., for trying to lead blacks into three local churches.

“For him, justice was the issue whether it was in the church or on the public square,” said Rev. Philip Blackwell, senior pastor of the Chicago Temple.

In the late 1960s, Rev. Forshey was an outspoken member of a group of clergy called the Renewal Caucus that sought to effect change in the Methodist church from within. One offshoot of this group met regularly to consult on appointments made by the church’s bishop.

“This group had come to trust each other in a way we did not trust the bureaucracy,” said Rev. Martin Deppe, a friend and colleague.

“Within the church, we pushed for a level of flexibility. [Rev. Forshey] was the philosopher, he was the prod, he was the one who made us nervous.”

Rev. Forshey’s activism covered a breadth of issues as illustrated by the many protest buttons he collected over the years. “ERA, Welfare Rights, Indian Power, Anti-Gambling. Here’s one that says, ‘I’m not sure why I’m wearing this button,’ ” his wife said as she looked them over.

The perpetually disheveled Rev. Forshey cut a distinct figure among his fellow ministers. “He was the least genteel Methodist minister I knew,” said Roy Larson, former religion editor at the Sun-Times.

Seeking to create a church without walls, Rev. Forshey started the Church of the New City in the 1970s, which met at the University of Illinois at Chicago for a couple of years before disbanding, his wife said.

By this time, he was on his way to a doctorate in the humanities from the University of Chicago and a teaching career. He taught for many years at Malcolm X College and Richard J. Daley College before retiring about 10 years ago.

Rev. Forshey was born in Long Beach Calif., and grew up in Reno. While at University of California Los Angeles, he became close to leaders of his Methodist church and decided to join the clergy, getting a master of divinity degree from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

A lifelong fan of art, film and opera, he was drawn to Chicago by the local cultural scene, his wife said. Enthralled by metaphor, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on symbolism within cinematic religious spectaculars like “Ben Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” and filled his home with artwork depicting Don Quixote.

Last year, Rev. Forshey led a group on an art appreciation tour of Italy. He could discuss any number of works in great depth and length. “We’d still be there if we hadn’t had a co-leader with a watch,” said Blackwell, who was on the trip.

“His theology was very deep, a lot had to do with the redemptive nature of our imagination, that we could imagine things could be different,” Blackwell said.

In addition to his wife, Rev. Forshey is survived by a brother, Ron.

Visitation is set for 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Hitzeman Funeral Home, 9445 W. 31st St., Brookfield. A memorial service will be at 5 p.m. Sunday at First United Corporation Methodist Church of Chicago, 77 W. Washington St.

And the Sun Times 5-20-08:

The Rev. Gerald Forshey’s dreams were simply too big and too broad for one lifetime.

Activist civil rights preacher. Film critic. Professor of philosophy. Historian.

“He was a full-of-life, complex, intelligent, learned person,” said his wife of 50 years, Florence Forshey. “He responded to and loved people. He believed in causes, and when he believed in causes, he was never afraid of confrontation.”

The Rev. Forshey, a man who would stand alone if that’s what it took, died Saturday at his home in La Grange after a long struggle with cancer, friends and family said. He was 75.

He was born in Long Beach, Calif. His father was a casino pit boss and his mother a homemaker who taught her children to love God and to treat all people equally, said his brother, Ron Forshey, of Carson City, Nev.

The Rev. Forshey received his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Los Angeles and a master of divinity degree from Iliff School of Theology in Denver, said his good friend and former Sun-Times reporter Roy Larson.

The Rev. Forshey came to Chicago entranced by the big city and all it had to offer, his brother said. He pastored at Methodist churches with both predominantly black and white congregations.

He believed strongly in social justice, his friends said. In 1963, he traveled with other Chicago area Methodist ministers to Jackson, Miss., to protest an all-white Methodist church there. He spent a night in jail for his efforts.

To his friends, the Rev. Forshey was a Renaissance man with a wide range of interests and passions. He taught philosophy and other subjects at Chicago area colleges.

In addition to his wife and brother, survivors include six nieces and nephews. Visitation is from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at Hitzeman Funeral Home, 9445 W. 31st St., in Brookfield. A memorial service will be at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, in Chicago.

You can also find tucked away on page 6 of the “Minutes of Regular Meeting Illinois Gaming Board December 6, 2001”:

Gerald E. Forshey, Ph.D., was present to discuss the Board’s accomplishments in turning down the Emerald application, issuing a $7.2 million dollar fine to Grand Victoria for its criminal connections, and affirmatively exploring the issues of problem gamblers and their vulnerability. Mr. Forshey stated that the Board has a history of which it can be proud. However, the Board’s task has been made more difficult by the September 11th crisis and its contirbution to a rising recession, which caused all types of programs in the state to be downsized due to loss of revenue. Mr. Forshey stated that many people are now more cautious about spending, which diminishes the sales tax. Mr. Forshey stated that the gambling industry has been using the crisis to press for new access, including putting slot machines in racetracks and taverns, increasing space on the barges, and offer a variety of new ways to create jobs and taxes. Mr. Forshey asked the Board how many jobs are needed before someone going bankrupt and putting a dozen employees out of work becomes a benefit. Mr. Forshey asked how many tax dollars are needed in order to turn a suicide into a benefit. Mr. Forshey stated that right and wrong are defined by utilitarianism by numbers and assigning numbers to pleasure-like taxes-and pains-like suicide. When the bill to allow riverboat gambling was originally passed, its original purpose was to save the river towns and support economic development. Mr. Forshey stated that in time, the tax revenues became addictive, and when Governor Ryan announced his support for the current bill, he announced that it was for taxes, changing the original intent of the law. Mr. Forshey stated that he recognized that this is not the business of the Board, but it is the atmosphere in which the board exists. Mr. Forshey stated that the state legislature used its power recklesssly by passing a law that benefitted one corporation and disregarded the public interest. Mr. Forshey stated that the state legislature stripped the Board of its powers to regulate, but the Board stood tall, taking the responsibility where the political system does not want to. Mr. Forshey stated that he believes that the Board’s responsibilities are three-fold: (1) to regulate the industry by allocating licenses; (2) to keep out people that give the appearance of impropriety in order to protect the general public from losing their confidence; and (3) to protect the afflicted from themselves and the industry. Mr. Forshey stated that he was concerned about Administrator Parenti’s comments, which he concluded meant that Administrator Parenti wanted to maximize tax revenues for the State in order to fulfill his “fiduciary obligation” to taxpayers. Mr. Forshey encouraged the Board to “take back” its license and open the license up to competitive bidding.

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One Response to “Reflecting on the life of Gerald E. Forshey 1932-2008”

  1. Patricia A. Atherton,PhD Says:

    I would like to offer my condolences to Florence Forshey on the loss of her husband. He was pastor of an African American Methodist Episcopal Church at 83rd and St. Lawrence in Chicago. While there he provided comfort to my mother in the months before her death and preached the sermon for her fruneral. I still have a copy of his beautiful touching , poetic sermon. He was a mountain od compassion and sensitivity. Please forward this to his wife.


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