Reflections on the Life of Rev. Phil Lawson

by David Hartsough, Sherri Maurin & Rev. Brian Woodson

David Hartsough

Phil Lawson is a lifelong peace and justice activist who works for the radical transformation of our society, towards one where every person can live with dignity. He is willing to struggle and even go to jail for his beliefs. Because he lives by the values and principles of nonviolence in his own life, Phil is an example of what a good Christian pastor should be. In the struggle to build a just and peaceful society and world, he has helped the church to become a headlight instead of a taillight. His longstanding work for real immigration reform is a model for how the churches can stand on the right side of justice. Phil’s commitment in establishing the Interfaith Tent in support of the Occupy movement in Oakland is a great example of his relentless persistence. He has that sparkle in his eye, and you know that he means what he says and that hope will always have the last word.

Sherri Maurin

I have long had a deep admiration for my friend, Phil Lawson, and his continued commitment to nonviolence for more than 60 years. He began that path in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, learning from Bayard Rustin, and another of my close friends, George Houser. Phil has worked tirelessly for justice in all areas — racial discrimination, fair housing, immigration, just wages, and many more.

I most recently have had the privilege of working with him in the Interfaith Tent of Occupy Oakland where he led the way for discussions between those who proposed a “Diversity of Tactics” and those with deep commitments to nonviolence, as practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  He also facilitated, with Rev. Deb Lee, a widely diverse discussion group using A Force More Powerful, a video based on six of the stories from a book by the same name.

I particularly appreciate Phil’s deep compassion, approachability and availability.  He always willingly participates in actions, and gives voice to the voiceless. Most recently he has been a part of the National Council of Elders — veterans of the Civil Rights, Women’s, Peace, Environmental, LGBTQ, Immigrant Justice, labor rights and other movements of the last 60 years — who work with the diverse peoples of our nation to transform our country into a more democratic, just and compassionate society, a more perfect union.

Rev. Brian Woodson

When asked to pen a few thoughts about Phil Lawson, the first word that came to my mind was sagacity. The Rev. Dr. Phil Lawson has the ability to see deeply into the heart of our social and societal malevolence. He speaks truth to power with a gentle tone and soft voice but as he does the ring of a sledgehammer slammed on the anvil of the universe is heard. He teaches that wherever there is injustice, one must find and reveal the lie upon which it is perpetuated. Rev. Lawson’s life is a witness that nonviolence has the power to hammer the red-hot iron of injustice until the lies are revealed and destroyed. His is a constant witness that love, truth and gentleness when focused against evil is a force that will change hearts, imaginations and the very world in which we live.

EDITORS NOTE:  David Hartsough (b. 1941) has been an anti-war activist since the 1950s. In 1952 he and his family joined the Society of Friends (Quakers) and settled in the Philadelphia area. At age 15, Hartsough shook hands with Martin Luther King, Jr., and he would later cite that meeting as one that propelled him toward peace activism. Since that fateful encounter he has been one of the foremost peace activists in the United States, co-founder of Peacemakers and the Nonviolent Peaceforce among many other accomplishments. An excellent biographical summary can be found at

Sherri Maurin, educator, nonviolence trainer, and long-time activist and organizer, has worked on immigration issues for 20+ years. She was a core member of Nuremberg Actions at Concord Naval Weapons Station, and was active in Occupy’s Anti-War and Anti-Nuclear issues.  She is assistant to Rev. Louie Vitale, OFM, and has supported many long-term hunger strikers as they risk their lives for justice, including the 47-day water-only Veterans Fast for Life (1986).  Sherri has traveled extensively in Palestine, Cairo, throughout Central America and all over the US speaking truth to power, and promoting nonviolence.

Pastor Brian K. Woodson is Senior Pastor, Bay Area Christian Connection, Oakland, California. He has served as Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church, London, Ohio; Assistant Pastor and Church Administrator at Third Baptist Church, San Francisco, California; Executive Assistant to the Pastor at The Church by the Side of the Road, Berkeley, California; and Senior Pastor of The Church of the Good Shepherd, Oakland, California. He became the founding pastor of the Bay Area Christian Connection, Oakland, California in February, 1998. A good biographical sketch can be found at 

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi