James Nash

Obituary of James Nash

James A. Nash, 70, of Burlington, a social and ecological ethicist and self-described “church politician”, died of leukemia on November 5, 2008. Born (1938) and reared in the newly-unionized steel valley of western Pennsylvania, Nash was the proud son and grandson of Homestead and Duquesne steelworkers. He himself worked in the mills for short times. He lived in a low-income housing project on a bluff overlooking the orange-glowing mills along the biologically dead Monongahela River until he graduated from college, married, and moved to Boston with his wife in 1960. These early experiences deeply shaped his sense of social justice and ecological responsibility. A United Methodist elder, Nash worked for the Massachusetts Council of Churches for twenty-one years (1967-1988)—eight as Associate Director for Strategy and Action and thirteen as Executive Director. He prided himself on his political and diplomatic skills in enabling denominational leaders to work together. His work at the Council emphasized social education and action, ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, and initiatives to advance Christian unity. He organized a Jewish-Christian dialogue and a Liberal-Evangelical dialogue, both of which continue today. He served as the chairperson of the l981 National Workshop on Christian Unity. Political education and action were prominent roles of the Council during Nash’s tenure, in support of such causes as welfare reform, anti-poverty programs, prison reform, abortion rights, progressive taxation, migrant farm workers, civil liberties, racial justice and school desegregation; and in opposition to the Vietnam War and American militarism in general. He wrote the vast majority of joint statements by religious leaders and the Council for more than fifteen years. He served on numerous boards and councils in these years. For example, Governor Sargent appointed him to The Commission to Study Public Aid to Nonpublic Schools, and Governor Dukakis appointed him to The Massachusetts Welfare Advisory Board. The Boston Herald Sunday Magazine in 1987 (Sept. 27) named Nash one of “the 100 most powerful men and women in Boston.” Nash graduated from Grove City College (A.B., magna cum laude, l960) and Boston University School of Theology (S.T.B., magna cum laude, 1963). He received a Ph.D. in social ethics from Boston University in 1967, while a Rockefeller Doctoral Fellow in Religion (1965-67). He also studied ethics and politics at the London School of Economics (1963-64). Following his years at the Council, Nash served as Executive Director of the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy, an ecumenical research center at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC, from 1988 to 1998. He also taught social and ecological ethics at Wesley Seminary at that time, and served as editor of Theology and Public Policy, a scholarly journal. He lectured at many colleges and conferences throughout the country during this period and thereafter—especially on ecological concerns. Among his many writings is Loving Nature, Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility (Abington, 1991)—a much-celebrated text in Christian ecological ethics and a frequently used one for courses in this field. It was also translated into Korean. Nash was an associate editor for The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, and recently on the editorial board of The Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics. He was unable to finish a book, “The Subversive Virtue: Frugality as Social and Ecological Imperative,” before he died. His last essay, “The Bible vs Biodiversity: A Case Against The Use Of Scripture In Moral Argument,” will be featured, with responses, in the December, 2008, issue of the academic journal, Religion, Nature and Culture. From 1999-2004 Nash taught at Boston University School of Theology, doing courses in social, ecological, and political ethics, and theologies of dialogue. To end his academic career at his alma mater was a dream fulfilled. For Millian-Byers Associates, a business consulting group in Washington DC, Nash was the Advisor on Social and Ecological Ethics from 1999. For seven and a half years, in this role, he convened the Ethics and Sustainability Dialogue Group, a series of off-the-record exchanges between environmental ethicists and representatives of the chlorine chemistry industry. Nash’s recreational passion was birding—along with the camping, wildlife photography, and grueling hikes that the quest for birds often entailed for him. He was at home in a tent. He generally birded alone or with his wife (when death-march hikes were not involved). His favorite birding haunts included Big Bend, TX; Nome and Denali, AK; Southeastern AZ; and Plum Island, MA. Birding was an aesthetic and religious experience for him. The preservation of wildlife in wild places was one of his prime moral and political commitments. For the past several years he served on the Burlington Conservation Commission. Nash is survived by his beloved mentor, intimate friend, fellow frugalist, and biking companion—his wife of 48 years, Millie, as well as his loving family: daughters Noreen Nash of Cambridge, MA, and Rebecca Nash of Gales Ferry, CT; granddaughter Haley Nash-Thompson of Gales Ferry; and brother, Norman Nash of Adrian, MI. These relationships confirmed his ultimate conviction: Love is the ground and goal of being. In lieu of flowers or other memorials, please send contributions to such organizations as the Nature Conservancy (4245 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203), The Mass Audubon Society (Lincoln, MA, 01773), Amnesty International (5 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001), or Brit Tzedek u’Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace (11 East Adams St., Suite 707, Chicago, IL 60603). Memorial Service Dr. James A. Nash's memorial service will be held Saturday, December 13, 2008 in Marsh Chapel, Boston University at 11 a.m. Everyone is welcome. For directions see www.bu.edu/chapel
Share Your Memory of