Robert Edgar was born in May 1943 in Philadelphia and grew up in Springfield, Pennsylvania. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Lycoming College, and a Master of Divinity degree from the Theological School of Drew University. He also received four honorary doctoral degrees.
Edgar served a stint as president and CEO of Common Cause, an advocacy organization that professes to “hold … elected leaders accountable to the public interest.” He was also a co-chair of Win Without War, and a board member of the National Coalition on Heath Care.
A United Methodist minister, Edgar served as General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC) from January 2000 to November 2007. Moreover, he spent six terms as a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, from 1975 to 1987.
Edgar signed statements deriding the violence of American foreign policy: “American culture, society, and policy are addicted to violence at home and overseas.” Shortly prior to the start of the war in Iraq in 2003, Edgar led a religious delegation to that country to get a first-hand look at people’s quality of life under Saddam Hussein. He met with Saddam’s Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz. At a press conference in Baghdad, Edgar said that the then-impending U.S. invasion was illegal, immoral, and in violation of the Bible. Attributing Iraqis’ poor living conditions to U.S.-led sanctions rather than to the greed and corruption of Saddam, Edgar later said, “We visited schools and hospitals and saw for ourselves the devastating impact of twelve years of sanctions on the people of Iraq.”
In May 2004, Edgar was a signatory to a letter calling on President Bush to lift trade restrictions against Cuba. The letter read, in part: “Forty-three years of the strongest embargo in our history has resulted in increased hardship for the people of Cuba while making no change whatsoever in the political makeup of the Cuban government. We can no longer support a policy carried out in our name which causes suffering of the most vulnerable — women, children and the elderly.”
In October 2004, Edgar endorsed a political ad that appeared in The New York Times sponsored by an organization called “Church Folks for a Better America,” a project of the Peace Action Education Fund. The ad maintained that “the war on Iraq is not a just war.” Another noteworthy endorser of this ad was William Sloane Coffin, Jr.
In March 2004, Edgar and NCC organized a press conference and “silent walk” through Washington, DC, on behalf of the suspected Islamist terrorists incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. “The National Council of Churches has said that the denial of rights that inhere in the worth of human beings before God are not only a crime against humanity,” Edgar declared. “They are a sin against God. All faiths share this basic teaching … All persons are connected in the family of God. My rights, your rights and the rights of the detainees are inseparable.”
In 2004 as well, Edgar wrote in his blog about Guantanamo: “We have a long way to go before we can truly stand as a beacon of Christ’s light for the rest of the world. I pray that Congress and the Supreme Court may continue to apply pressure on the president to meet the basic standards of the Geneva Convention.”
In 2006 Edgar blogged: “‘I was in prison and you visited me,’ Jesus says in Matthew 25:36. But the detainees at Guantanamo are not permitted visitors. I know this from personal experience. The National Council of Churches requested to visit these children of God simply to see how they were being treated. We simply wanted to visit these prisoners as our Lord commands in Matthew 25:40.”
Just hours after an April 16, 2006 incident where a deranged student gunned down 32 people on the Virginia Tech University campus, Edgar issued a news release that said: “How many more will have to die before we say enough is enough? How many more senseless deaths will have to be counted before we enact meaningful firearms control in this country? How many more of our pastors, rabbis and imams will have to preside over caskets of innocent victims of gun violence because a nation refused to stop the proliferation of these small weapons of mass destruction?”
In an August 12, 2007 commentary titled “White Immigrants Get a Pass; Brown Ones Do Not,” Edgar complained that “devilishly clever” conservative “fearmongers” and “demagogues” were using “nearly every scare tactic they can think of to reduce us [Americans] to a highly suspicious lot all too willing to not love the alien[s] as ourselves and to evict them from their homes, get them fired, separate them from their families, in an all out rampage of oppression and prejudice.” “Immigrants have become the contemporary scapegoat,” he said. “It’s time we call it for what it is — racism…. They [illegals] already pay millions in taxes and contribute to their communities.”
On November 8, 2007, Edgar was succeeded as NCC General Secretary by Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon.
Edgar died suddenly, at his home, on April 23, 2013.
For additional information on Robert Edgar, click here.
 NCC was joined in this effort by the American Civil Liberties Union, actress Vanessa Redgrave of the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission, folk singer Peter Yarrow, and family members of the prisoners.