My Tribute to Glen H. Stassen (1936-2014)
Early yesterday morning (26 April 2014), at his home in Pasadena, CA, Dr. Glen Harold Stassen died quietly in his sleep. He had been battling cancer for months. He was not only my Doktorvater and beloved teacher, but like another father to me. Glen Harold Stassen, son of Harold E. Stassen (youngest governor of Minnesota, major author of the United Nations Charter, “Secretary of Peace” in the Eisenhower Administration (creating the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency), and perpetual candidate for the U.S. presidency as one of the last progressive Republicans), was a Christian ethicist. Educated at the University of Virginia (B.S. in Nuclear Physics), The Southern Baptist Theology Seminary, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (B.D.), and Duke University (Ph.D.), he taught at Duke University, Kentucky Southern College (now merged into the University of Louisville), Berea College, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary(1976-1996), and Fuller Theological Seminary (1996-2013). He also taught regularly at The International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague (moving to Amsterdam) and had guest lectured the Baptist seminary in Seoul, South Korea and numerous other institutions.
As his former student and co-author, Dave Gushee has pointed out, he will probably be best known for developing “Just Peacemaking,” as a distinct, proactive approach to the ethics of war and peace, alongside pacifism and Just War Theory. The debate between Just War Theory and pacifism over if and when to go to war was one Stassen took seriously (he began as a Just War Theorist but eventually, about the year 2000, became a convinced pacifist), but he thought that concentrating solely on that question missed the question, “What Practices Should We Adopt to Work for Peace?” This is where he believed the major focus of the biblical witness lies and where he focused his efforts. Both pacifists and Just War Theorists can participate in the practices of Just Peacemaking, for pacifists it fleshes out a commitment to active peacemaking (not just a no to war) and it helps Just War Theorists know what “resorts” to try before reaching the JWT criterion of “last resort.”
Glen will also be known for his “triadic” interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and for a focus on “transforming initiatives” out of cycles of bondage.These are significant contributions to Christian ethics. But Stassen also leaves behind numerous organizations he either founded or gave strong help to in his life as an activist: the Kentucky Human Rights Commission, Interfaith Paths to Peace, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Texas Christian Life Commission, the Baptist World Alliance Human Rights Commission, Peace Action, the National Religious Coalition Against Torture, the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and so much more.
Stassen’s legacy is also in his many students: Pastors, missionaries, activists, and scholars–both in his own Baptist tradition and in many others. Those of us who had the privilege of being his students know that we can never repay the debts he has given us. He was an encourager who brought out the gifts of others. He challenged us on many levels. His scholarship was exacting, his activism fueled by tremendous energy–and a simple desire to follow Jesus faithfully.
He is survived by his wife, Dot Lively Stassen, and his sons, Bill, Michael, and David, and his sister, Kathleen Esther Stassen Berger, head of the Sociology Department at Bronx Community College (City University of New York).
He will be missed terribly.
Services for Glen Harold Stassen: Viewing at First Baptist Church, Chapel, 75 N Marengo Ave, Pasadena, California on Friday, May 2, 2014 from 5 to 8 pm. Funeral will be at the same church in the sanctuary on Saturday, May 3, 2014 starting at 4:00 pm. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be given to either the Just Peacemaking Initiative at Fuller Theological Seminary, 135 North Oakland Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91182 or to the Special Needs Trust for David Stassen, 2030 Casa Grande Street, Pasadena, CA 91104. Post or forward as appropriate.
There will also be a later memorial service in Louisville, KY, where the Stassens lived for so long. No details about this, yet, but it will probably take place at Crescent Hill Baptist Church, where the Stassens where members for 20 years.
Update II: Tributes to Stassen’s life and work have begun to pour in around the web. Here’s the round up:
1) This is the initial obituary by Bob Allen at Associated Baptist Press.
2) David P. Gushee’s tribute.
3) Here’s the story at Christianity Today.
4) This is the story in the Los Angeles Times.
5) Jana Reiss, Glen’s editor for his last book, gives a tribute on her blog at the Religion News Service.
6) This Associated Baptist Press story discusses Stassen in the context of the state of Baptist peace activism. I think Stassen was more successful than Robert Parham does.
7) Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Professor of Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, and a colleague of Glen’s in developing and spreading Just Peacemaking for 30 plus years, gives an excellent reflection at Huffington Post.
8) Fred Clark has a reflection at Patheos.
9) Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, who was friends with Stassen for decades, offers this tribute. (Note: For a very long time Stassen served on the board of Sojourners as well as the board of Christianity and Crisis.)
10) Rev. Jeff Hood, a Southern Baptist ethicist and PFLAG activist, gives a brief tribute that reflects the pastoral heart and sensitivity of Glen Stassen.
11) Leaders of the European Baptist Federation and the International Baptist Theological Seminary reflect on Stassen’s contributions here.
12) Dan Buttry, American Baptist minister and peace activist, reflects on Stassen here.
13) Alan Bean gives a tribute here.
14) The New York Times MOSTLY get it right, here.
15) The Louisville Courier-Journal finally weighs in with a fair write-up and notification of the Louisville memorial service.
I’ll add more links as I find them. I expect more reflections after Saturday’s funeral.
Update: The funeral last Saturday was very healing. A 2nd memorial service will be held in Louisville, KY at Crescent Hill Baptist Church on 21 June 2014. No times or other details, yet, but people are asked to send tributes if they cannot come themselves. The Stassen family were members of Crescent Hill BC for 20 years.
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