In Loving Memory of Rev. James M. Lawson

A remembrance and reflection on an incredible mentor, colleague, leader, and giant of justice

Rev. James M Lawson, a giant of justice, fierce civil rights leader, and CLUE Co-Founder, has passed away. May his memory be a blessing and an encouragement to carry on his legacy of organizing for freedom.


I remember clearly the first time I met Rev. Jim Lawson. 

I was in my second year of seminary and had received an appointment as a student local pastor to Pico Union Shalom Ministry, a small Spanish-speaking mission congregation just south of downtown Los Angeles. I hadn’t yet started my position when Rev. Lawson reached out to me to set up a meeting. 

I was impressed, and more than a little terrified, that Rev. Lawson would want to meet with a student pastor being assigned to a small mission congregation in Pico Union. For the non-Methodists reading this, a “mission congregation” is one that has not yet been fully chartered as a church. 

What I quickly learned is that Rev. Lawson paid particular attention to the small congregations, particularly those in urban areas populated by people of color with very little wealth. In that first meeting he expressed to me his disappointment that his bishop had never asked him to make a sacrifice and pastor a small urban congregation made up of mostly poor people. Usually students or other not-fully-credentialed pastors would be sent to these places. 

So instead, he offered what he could, his advice and mentorship. That meeting happened in 2001. I became the Executive Director of CLUE 21 years later in 2022. 

I am humbled and deeply honored to join so many others as part of Rev. Lawson’s ministry and movement legacy. 


Throughout his lengthy career Rev. Lawson combined his theological studies with his knowledge of economic and racial injustice. 

He believed that Christian leaders like himself were called to follow the example of Jesus who stood with the poor and confronted the powers of his time. Just like Jesus before him, Rev. Lawson did not call for the violent overthrow of his oppressors, but rather chose a path of creative, confrontational nonviolence. He believed deeply that nonviolent direct action was the only way to transform a violent, oppressive system. Rev. Lawson worked with Dr. King to enact this philosophy throughout the South to confront Jim Crow laws, fight for voting rights, in the struggle for desegregation, and so much more. 


It was Rev. Lawson that saw the strategic potential of combining the might of organized labor and the moral force of faith to strive for economic and racial justice in the US. It was he who invited Dr. King to support the sanitation workers’ strike in 1968. 

He persevered in that philosophy in 1996 when he called together a group of interfaith leaders in Los Angeles to support the fight for a living wage in the city. The coalition of labor, LAANE, and faith leaders were victorious in that fight, in spite of an initial veto by then-mayor Richard Riordan. 

We are all part of Rev. Lawson’s legacy when we walk this path of creative, nonviolent direct action, strategically adding our faithful witness to the struggles of workers, immigrant advocates, and racial justice warriors. 

Rest in power, Rev. Lawson. May our work continue your legacy far into the future.

Solidarity is Sacred

Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice educates, organizes, and mobilizes faith leaders and community members to walk with workers and immigrants in their struggles for good jobs, safe workplaces, and healthy communities.

We can accompany low-wage workers—mostly immigrants and communities of color—because people like you support an organized, connected interfaith movement for economic justice.

Please join the movement to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top.