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Christopher called man of faith, peace


2:30 P.M. EST March 29, 2011

Warren M. Christopher, U.S. Secretary of State from Jan. 20, 1993, to Jan. 17, 1997. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of State.
Warren M. Christopher, U.S. Secretary of State from Jan. 20, 1993, to Jan. 17, 1997. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of State.

Over the past week, U.S. leaders have remembered former Secretary of State Warren Christopher for presidential service that stretched from the Johnson administration to his years in the Clinton cabinet.

What is less well-known is that Christopher was also a faithful United Methodist.

“The church really served as a backbone. It was the place where (he and his wife) worshipped, but what I think it became is foundational for his convictions of faith and how he lived it out in his life,” said the Rev. John Woodall, senior pastor of Westwood United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. Christopher was a member of the congregation for 10 years.

Woodall officiated at a March 28 memorial service for Christopher, who died March 18 at age 85 of complications from cancer. The service was held at Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles to accommodate a larger crowd than the church sanctuary could hold.

Christopher’s family was adamant that he receive a United Methodist service that lifted up God. Woodall used the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-11 for his homily, saying that Jesus’ words helped define Christopher’s values.

“When people examine his record, they will see a real commitment to peacemaking,” Woodall told United Methodist News Service.

Emphasis on human rights

Christopher served as Clinton’s secretary of state for four years, ending January 1997. He also led then-candidate Clinton’s vice-presidential search committee that selected Al Gore.

At the service, the former vice president said Christopher had “a fierce commitment to principle and a brilliant mind.” The late secretary of state “insisted that human rights become a central pillar of (U.S.) foreign policy,” Gore said.

In a career packed with highlights, Christopher served in three presidential administrations, and as deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration, he helped secure the release of the U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980.

As the first post-Cold War secretary of state, he supported political reform in Russia, worked on the Middle East peace process and helped end the war in Bosnia.

After the 1992 riots in his longtime home of Los Angeles, Christopher led a commission that succeeded in getting police department reforms. He spent the latter part of his career as a senior partner in O'Melveny & Myers, a prominent Los Angeles law firm.

Living his faith

Christopher also was a frequent presence in Westwood’s pews, Woodall said. He once led an adult forum at the church, though he chose to remain on the sidelines of many congregational activities. Instead, Christopher lived out his faith on the world stage, Woodall said.

“The joke around here was that if you didn’t see him at church on Sunday, you read about where (the Christophers) were in the newspaper.”

Along with his work to promote peace, Christopher told The Associated Press that his proudest accomplishments included playing a role in promoting a ban on nuclear-weapons tests and curbing proliferation of weapons technology.

“He was truly a man of faith and has chosen to live it out in the way we preach,” Woodall said. “If we are taking seriously Jesus’ commandment to love God with our whole being and love neighbor as ourselves, that’s what he really dedicated himself to.”

Christopher is survived by his wife, Marie; four children from two marriages, Lynn, Scott, Thomas and Kristen; and five grandchildren.

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. The Rev. Patricia Farris, senior minister at First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica, contributed to this report.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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