The Columns

Putting Words into Action: The Rev. John Cleghorn '84

— by on September 26th, 2016

In his 2014 Baccalaureate address at Washington and Lee University, “Community and the Common Good,” the Rev. John M. Cleghorn told the graduates: “This place and the people who give it life have prepared you for life beyond the comforting lap of Lexington. More than that, they have given you a rare advantage and a set of privileges that call on you to live and lead extraordinary lives, lives that reach beyond yourselves.”

Now Cleghorn, a member of the W&L Class of 1984, has reached beyond himself, as he explains in “Why I Marched, What I Saw,” a Sept. 23 essay for The Presbyterian Outlook that details his participation in last week’s headline-making protest in Charlotte, North Carolina, over the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, an African-American man.

As Cleghorn writes, “I marched because I had heard so many divergent stories about the events of Tuesday and Wednesday nights from my contacts who were in the midst of the action – clergy, city officials and others. I had to see it for myself.

“I marched to bear witness to peace, praying that I might diminish so that my yellow arm-band and religious stole might point others to the Prince of Peace, especially when tempers flared and emotions ran high.

“I marched because my friends and colleagues in the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice, 70 faith leaders strong, were out there, some of whom were standing next to the protestor who was shot and killed Wednesday night.

“I marched because I knew there would be both good-hearted protestors and not-so-constructive outside agitators in the mix, and I wanted to try to be on the side of the good-hearted. I wanted to see if I could tell them apart.

“I marched because I see the world through the eyes of a privileged, white, straight male – which gives me dangerous blind spots for understanding the lives of all of my sisters and brothers.”

Cleghorn also writes about the “many, many people of peace and goodwill” he met along the way: police officers, National Guard soldiers, another pastor, and “a young, tattooed man with a nose-ring, bandana and camo-clothing who politely called me ‘Father,’ who carried water and milk for any who might be tear-gassed, and who kept a close, protective eye on me as we both redirected the protesters off the interstate and away from the ranks of police in riot gear.”

Cleghorn began his multi-faceted career as a reporter with The Charlotte Observer. He switched to banking, rising to senior vice president during an 18-year career with Bank of America, before entering the ministry. He has been the pastor of Charlotte’s Caldwell Presbyterian Church since 2008.