Name at birth: Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr
During his lifetime, Reinhold Niebuhr was the best-known Christian intellectual in the United States. Ordained as a minister in the German Evangelical Synod of North America in 1913, Neibuhr pastored a middle-class congregation in Detroit for 13 years. In 1928 he began a career-long association with New York's Union Theological Seminary, serving as professor of Christian ethics (1928-60) and dean (1950-60). Niebuhr neither created nor defended a particular belief system as much as he worked to apply Christian morals to contemporary political and social problems. His theological stance has been described as "Christian realism," and most of his work was devoted to reconciling the concept of perfect love with a world in constant violent conflict. A prolific writer and a popular, engaging lecturer, Niebuhr became a national celebrity and influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. and policy makers in the administration of President John Kennedy. His books include Does Civilization Need Religion? (1927), The Nature and Destiny of Man (2 volumes, 1941-43) and Faith and History (1949). He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.
Niebuhr is credited with authoring what has been called the Serenity Prayer, a form of which is used by Alcoholics Anonymous. One version of it goes like this: God give me the serenity to accept things which cannot be changed; give me courage to change things which must be changed; and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.
His brother, Helmut Richard Niebuhr, was also a well-known theologian and clergyman… In his early years Reinhold Niebuhr was an active socialist, but he advocated early intervention against Adolf Hitler in World War II, and by the end of the war had moved away from socialism to condemn totalitarian communism.