The Rev. Peter Raible, who crusaded for social justice, dies at 74

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In a career spanning five decades, the Rev. Peter Spilman Raible embodied the motto that one should practice what one preaches.

From the pulpit of Seattle's University Unitarian Church in his 37 years as the senior minister, the Rev. Raible delivered impassioned and erudite sermons ranging from matters of social justice and individual conscience to religious traditions and historical figures.

Away from the pulpit, the Rev. Raible traveled to Selma, Ala., in 1965 to join civil-rights marchers. He spoke out against the Vietnam War. He guided the church to defy the U.S. government and offer sanctuary to people fleeing Central American civil wars in the 1980s. He spoke out for gay rights, helped found the Interfaith Council of Washington, and worked to build the institutional strength of the Unitarian Church.

"There was a continuing theme that you should take this and apply it in your life and act on it," his daughter, the Rev. Deborah Raible, said of her father's sermons.

The Rev. Raible died Monday (May 17) in Seattle of congestive heart failure. He was 74.

The Rev. Raible inherited his calling. He was born Nov. 22, 1929, in Peterborough, N.H., where his father, Robert Jules Raible, was a Unitarian minister. The family later moved from New England to Texas. The younger Rev. Raible exhibited a precocious intellect, entering the University of Chicago at 14 and earning a degree in philosophy before going on to earn degrees at the University of California and the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif.

In 1961, in his early 30s, he was hired to lead the University Unitarian Church, today the largest Unitarian church in the state with more than 600 members.

There, Rev. Raible established a reputation as a powerful and learned speaker, and one willing to tackle the pressing social issues of the day.

"He was known throughout the country as a fine preacher and denominational servant," said the Rev. Jon M. Luopa, who now holds the Rev. Raible's post at the church. "He was considered one of our giant timbers in our forest."

His preaching helped persuade Linda Kaufman to begin studying to become a Unitarian minister. Kaufman joined the University Unitarian Church in 1989 and is now a seminarian at Seattle University. She recently finished a course taught by the Rev. Raible, in which a handful of students met at his Seattle condominium to discuss church operations.

"I just think of him as a great leader and a great preacher and a great teacher and somebody who lived his life for the Unitarian Universalist movement," she said.

The Rev. Raible retired as the church's senior minister in 1997, taking on the title of emeritus minister. He continued to preach at a host of other Unitarian churches, spending time in St. Louis, Mo., and Tulsa, Okla., before returning to the Seattle area. In 2002 and 2003 he preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap.

There, his sermons ranged from criticism of the impending Iraq war to the religious controversies surrounding Santa Claus. His wide-ranging intellect was illustrated in a 2003 Easter sermon that drew on psychotherapist Carl Jung, poet e.e. cummings, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"We need to grasp in our own being, the importance of the reality that nothing in this cosmos ever dies," he wrote in the text of his sermon. "We are composed of the same things as the farthest stars and the star stuff of our being is never lost; it is in a sense recycled."

Besides daughter Deborah, the Rev. Raible is survived by children Stephen Raible and wife Susan Brand of Stanwood; Robin Raible of Seattle; Robert Raible and wife Palmer Raible of Danville, Calif.; and Deborah's husband Kevin Clark of Seattle. He also had eight grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, June 6, at 6 p.m. at the University Unitarian Church, 6556 35th Ave. N.E. in Seattle.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or