Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

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.

Update:

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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April 27, 2014 Posted by | Baptists, biographies, hermeneutics, Just Peacemaking, peacemakers | Leave a comment

Further Reflections on John N. Jonsson (1925-2011)

 I’ve been contemplating further memories of my teacher, John Jonsson.  We who studied with him in the U.S., at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary or at Baylor University, were truly graced to have studied with him–and most of us didn’t realize it.  For one thing, he was a true polyglot.  His parents were missionaries to the Zulu, one from Sweden and one from Norway, so had three (3) “milk languages” Swedish, Norwegian, and Zulu.  He quickly added English and Sotha to languages in which he had conversational fluency. By the time I met him, he also had added reading competence in biblical Hebrew, New Testament Greek, and modern German and French. He was working to add Spanish so that he could read Latin American liberation theologians in the original.  South Africa itself is such a polyglot nation that I don’t think Jonsson ever quite got used to the fact that most Americans only speak English (and all the British, Canadian, South African, New Zealand, and Australian readers of this blog–if there are any now that blogging has become passé–are adding, “and you don’t speak English very well, now do you?”).  Jonsson had a profound desire to connect to people–and absolutely none of the American arrogance (that the British used to have during their imperialist days) that simply assumes that everyone else will learn OUR language if they want to communicate! I remember one student (from Alabama, no less!) who had the audacity to ask Jonsson to speak more slowly because he had a hard time understanding his accent! Jonsson simply smiled and said, “Please forgive me, English is only my 4th language and though I’ve been speaking it since I was in primary school, I may not be fluent, yet!”

Jonsson was born in Pietersburg, in the Natal Province, of South Africa.  At 18, he was baptized at Central Baptist Church, Durban, S.A.  With a B.Sc. from the University of Natal, he worked for a time as an electrical engineer for South African Railways, but he then felt God’s call into the ministry.  He traveled to London and initially studied for the ministry at Spurgeon’s College and earned a B.D. at the University of London.  A missiological theologian, he became utterly fascinated by the multiplicity of world religions and eventually earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in comparative religions from the University of Natal.  After an associate pastorate in Johannesburg, and pastorates in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, Jonsson was tapped as Principal of the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa (1966-1971).  He was Lecturer in History of Religions at the University of Witwatersrand (1971-1975) and then at the University of Natal (1976-1981).  But Jonsson was no ivory tower academic.  He was deeply and courageously involved in the struggle against apartheid, but always nonviolently.  His strong preaching on racial justice led to confrontations first with church authorities, and then with the South African government. He had been involved in forming a non-racial college in S.A.

On a lecture tour to North America in 1980, Jonsson suddenly found himself exiled from his homeland–the South African government had suspended his passport and declared him persona non grata.   God works in mysterious ways and this is how we students in the U.S. were graced with Jonsson as a teacher. In 1982, Jonsson was appointed W. O. Carver Professor of Missiology and World Religions at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, staying until the fundamentalist takeover of that once-fine school in 1991.

I had only intended to take the required one class in world religions, but Jonsson was such a mesmerizing teacher that I ended up taking 5 classes with him during my M.Div. studies: “Survey of World Religions,” “Interfaith Dialogue in Global Contexts,” “Methods and Models in Missiology,” “History of Christian Missions,” “Survey of Liberation Theologies.”  I remember kidding Jonsson, however, that he really only taught one subject–JUSTICE.  Jonsson’s passion for biblical justice, for GOD’S justice as expressed in the Exodus, the Jubilee, the prophets, in Jesus. Justice–not as an abstract penal code but as God’s MERCIFUL intervention in the world to restore right relationships among the wandering children of humanity–was the heart and soul of Jonsson’s faith.  It was his passion and his calling–and he saw it as central to the very raison d’etré of the Church as the New/Renewed People of God. It radiated from him and spilled over into his students.  I was already captivated by the Anabaptist and Liberation traditions before meeting Jonsson.  My parents had been bit players in the Civil Rights movement and I had already been on one of two trips to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace before meeting Jonsson. So, I can’t say that Jonsson’s influence was all-determining for my involvement in work for peace and justice.  I was even interested in the struggle in South Africa before meeting Jonsson, but it was probably his personal influence (along with my friendships with Henry Mugabe of Zimbabwe [whose wife, Hermina, is from South Africa] and Moses Tsambo of South Africa) that was the catalyst for my decision to become involved in the U.S. strand of the global movement against apartheid. In 1989, I gathered 15 other students from Southern Seminary and we went to Washington, D.C. to protest the U.S. government’s continued support (and refusal to sanction) the all-white government of South Africa. (Special mention needs to be made of the efforts of one of those students, Ashlee Wiest-Laird, to find us free lodging with a D.C. church!) Two of us were arrested for civil disobedience in front of the White House.  It changed all of us in numerous ways. (Rev. Wiest-Laird later traveled to post-apartheid South Africa to witness the inauguration of her first African president, Nelson Mandela, elected in the first free and fair elections in which all races and ethnic groups had the franchise.)

But one should never get the idea that Jonsson’s passion for social justice made him sober-sided. Far from it. He had infectious laughter and could be downright silly. He definitely knew the biblical secret of finding joy and laughter “though having considered all the facts” in the midst of personal and global pain.  For instance, Jonsson liked to wear outrageously multi-colored socks and sandals with his beige suits–and prominently display this when preaching on Isaiah 52:7/Rom. 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News!” I can never read those verses without thinking of Jonsson and his silly, multicolored socks!

He came to love the United States–though he knew all our faults.  I think he saw echoes of the beauty and promise of South Africa, but also the history of injustice and oppression and ugliness, in the U.S.  He loved both lands–with open eyes.  He became a naturalized citizen of the U.S.–I remember how joyously happy he was to vote in his first U.S. presidential election in 1988–despite being very underwhelmed by the choice of either the sterile technocrat in Dukakis or the continuation of the horrid policies of Reagan in the first George Bush.  But he retained his dual citizenship in South Africa and retired there–in a free South Africa that still had numerous problems (a massive wealth gap and extreme poverty, AIDS, rising violent crime and gangs, huge threats to its fragile and beautiful ecology).  Jonsson was a patriot–but not a blind one.  He was also a citizen of the world–and first and foremost a citizen of God’s In-Breaking Rule.

Deeply biblical in his faith, Jonsson had an absolute distaste for fundamentalism, “biblicist” but falsely biblical.  When SBTS was finally taken over by fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist holy war of the 1980s and early 1990s, Johnson became Professor of World Religions at Baylor University (1991-2000). I kept in touch until his retirement back to Johannesburg when I lost track. I never knew he was ill until learning of his death last Friday from our mutual friend Henry Mugabe. (Dr. Mugabe was a Ph.D. student of Jonsson’s at SBTS and is now Principal of the Baptist Theological College, Gweru, Zimbabwe.)

Jonsson was an eclectic thinker, influenced by many different theological strands–interweaving them in his own creative fashion.  Among the major influences on Jonsson theologically were the Baptists H. Wheeler Robinson (1872-1945), Frederick Cawley (1884-1978), who was a former missionary to India and Principal of Spurgeon’s College during Jonsson’s time at Spurgeon’s,E.O. James (1888-1972) and William Owens Carver (1868-1954),  as well and the British-American Baptist philosopher theologian Eric Charles Rust(1910-1991); the Swedish Lutherans Gustaf Wingren (1910-2000), Geo Widengren (1907-1996) and Bishop Nathan Søderblom (1866-1931);  the German Lutherans Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945); the Church of Scotland missionary bishop Lesslie Newbigin(1909-1998)  and the Russian Orthodox philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948). He was also a scholar on the life and thought of the Hindu Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), especially of the under-studied period of Gandhi’s work in South Africa (1893-1914), tracing the seldom noticed influence of Baptists and other Free Church ministers on Gandhi’s developing philosophy of nonviolence, and also the influence of the early Gandhian movement on the later struggles in South Africa against apartheid. (Jonsson was not very tech-savvy and it cost the world a major work on Gandhi. He spent 10 years collecting materials by hand for a major book on Gandhi’s South African period and finished the (typewritten) manuscript while on sabbatical in Germany in 1990. A thief stole his luggage, including the manuscript and the original materials on which it was based, and Jonsson had no back up copies. The loss to Gandhi scholarship is incalculable.)

The key to Jonsson’s theology is incarnation, God involving God’s Self in earthly and human affairs, especially in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  I remember Jonsson becoming impatient with a debate between 2 well-known American theologians over whether theology should be primarily “from above,” a theology of the Word, or “from below,” a theology of human experience meeting the divine Spirit.  He interrupted, “We do not need theologies primarily of the Word or of the Spirit. We need theologies of the Word Made Flesh and tabernacling among us!  God is not safe in heaven without us, nor do do theology based on general human experience. God is God meeting us humans in our concrete contexts–with all our sin and pain and oppression!”

He could invent strange neologisms to convey his thought, not all of which were helpful. Instead of sticking with the terms “contextualization,” and “incarnation,” to describe his approach to theology in general and to witness and interfaith dialogue in particular, Jonsson coined the cumbersome term, “retranspositionalization,” (what a mouthful!) to describe the way God takes us out of our comfort zones and puts us on alien ground as the context in which we must bear witness to the gospel–and hear what God is saying to us through our dialogue partners, including dialogue partners who are non-Christian.  He used this wonderful concept with the cumbersome term to forge a non-imperial missiology.  He rejected both the exclusivist missiologies that thundered abstract formulas of salvation at non-Christians but were closed to learning anything of God from them, and relativist approaches (e.g., John Hick, Paul Knitter) in which all religions are equally true and disclose equally valid ways to God and approaches to dialogue which rule out conversion from the beginning. (Any true dialogue–on ANY topic–must include the possibility that one party will be converted to the other’s perspective–or that both will be converted to viewpoints beyond where either began.) I do not think he was a doctrinaire universalist, but I know that he lived in hope that God’s love would finally win past all barriers, including human freedom to reject God, and save/liberate/transform/heal ALL Creation. (Jonsson thought that both exclusivists and universalists showed too little in the way of epistemic humility.)

He was a strong proponent of a mission work from the Global South (Africa, Asia, Central and South America) to post-Constantinian Europe and North America.  Even supposedly “born again” Christians in the imperial/establishment ecclesiologies of Europe and North America needed ongoing conversion that would be aided by the witness of sisters and brothers in the Two-Thirds world.

I shall miss him and I deeply regret that I will not be at the funeral tomorrow (or later today given the time differences between Louisville and Johannesburg) where people from all over will comfort one another and pay tribute to this gentle and much beloved saint of God.  Thanks be to God for the life and witness of John Norman Jonsson. Soli Deo Gloria.

June 2, 2011 Posted by | Baptists, heroes, human rights, obituary, testimony | 3 Comments

Rest in Peace: John Norman Jonsson (1925-2011)

On Saturday, I received the news that my former teacher, Dr. John N. Jonsson, died at his home in South Africa. I’ve been waiting for more details and obituary since.  Here’s one from Associated Baptist Press:

SOUTH AFRICAN BAPTIST SCHOLAR DIES

by Lori Fogelman Wed. 01 June 2011

Waco, TX (ABP)

John Jonsson, an emeritus professor of religion and former director of the African Studies program at Baylor University, died May 26 at his home in South Africa after an extended illness. A native South African, Baptist pastor and scholar, Jonsson openly protested the South African system of apartheid from the pulpit, the classroom and in other public forums, including a run as an anti-apartheid candidate for the South African parliament.

Funeral services are scheduled at 10:30 a.m. Friday, June 3, at Rosebank Union Church in Johannesburg. Baylor’s department of religion and Seventh and James Baptist Church, where Jonsson and wife, Gladys, were members when they lived in Waco, will hold a memorial service for Jonsson at 5 p.m. Monday, June 13, at Miller Chapel.

Jonsson grew up in South Africa, where his parents were Scandinavian missionaries among the Zulu peoples.  He was actively involved in protesting apartheid, and in 1977 ran as an anti-apartheid candidate for the South African parliament. He lost by less than 1,000 votes.

In 1985, he was the only Baptist minister to sign the Kairos Document, which called on all churches to demand that the government give equal rights to all South Africans. As a result, the government took away his passport, and from 1985 to 1989 he was not allowed to enter South Africa. In 1989, he was one of the few white citizens of South Africa to be invited to attend the first Conference for a Democratic Future in South Africa, resulting in the release from prison of Nelson Mandela.

For more than two decades, Jonsson served in the Baptist World Alliance as a member of the Human Rights Commission.

Jonsson joined the Baylor faculty in 1992 as professor of religion and director of African Studies and held those positions until his retirement in 2002. Before that he taught missions and world religions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1982 to 1991, occupying the W.O. Carver chair.

In honor of Jonsson’s retirement, Baylor named a lecture series after him, prompting a letter of congratulations from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Jonsson earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Natal and his B.D. from Spurgeon’s College in London. He was principal at Baptist Theological College, lecturer in history of religions at the University of Witwatersrand, senior lecturer at the University of Natal and acting head in 1981, when Professor Gunther Wittenberg incorporated the Lutheran Theological Institute into the University of Natal. He also co-founded Treverton College, a private interracial institution in South Africa.

Jonsson was preceded in death by his son, David. He is survived by his wife; three children, Lois, Sylvia and Sven; and seven grandchildren.

Lori Fogleman is director of media communications for Baylor University.

June 1, 2011 Posted by | Baptists, heroes, obituary | Leave a comment

R. I. P. Peter J. Gomes (1942-2011)

  Sorry for the absence, Gentle Readers.  I have been deeply involved in trying to stop Republican governors from union-busting in WI, OH, IN, NJ, & FL.  I’ve also been ill and am preparing for out of town company.  The series on 100 Baptist pacifists will return shortly.

Yesterday, I heard the sad news that Rev. Peter J. Gomes (22 May 1942-28 Feb. 2011) had passed away Sunday from complications arising from a stroke.  He was relatively young at 68.  I had met him twice at conferences involving churches and peacemaking, but mostly knew him through his writing. Sadly, I never heard him preach–and Gomes had a reputation globally as one of the great preachers of the gospel.

I like people who do not easily fit stereotypes and Gomes was no cookie-cutter African-American preacher.  An American Baptist minister, Gomes was an accomplished pianist with a deep love for classical music.  He was also an amateur historian focused on the Pilgrims of Massachusetts Bay Colony, serving as past president and trustee of The Pilgrim Society.  The stereotype of an African-American Baptist minister is that he is a staunch activist in the Democratic Party, but Gomes was a prominent (if atypical) Republican–participating in the inaugurations of both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. (However, he avoided the inauguration of George W. Bush and was deeply critical of that administration.)

Gomes’ entire ministerial career cut his own unique path and broke all molds.  Born in Boston to Peter L. and Orissa White Gomes, Rev. Gomes was proud of his identity as a New England Yankee.  A very bright student in the Plymouth, MA  public schools, he earned his A.B. at Bates College (Lewiston, ME), a prestigious New England liberal arts college that had been founded by a group of Free Will Baptists who were ardent abolitionists. Bates had long ago relinquished it’s Christian heritage, but not its radical voice for social justice, nor its deep concern for classical education.  From there, Gomes went to Harvard Divinity School (S.T.B., 1968) and was ordained an American Baptist pastor in 1968 by First Baptist Church, Plymouth, MA. 

Gomes began his career as Instructor of History and Director of the Freshman Experimental Program at the Tuskee Institute in Alabama (now Tuskeegee University), where he also served as organist and choirmaster.  In 1970, he began his long association with the chaplaincy program at Harvard, becoming an Assistant Minister at The Memorial Church at Harvard University. In 1972, he was made Acting Minister and eventually became Pusey Minister in The Memorial Church and chaplain of the university.  In 1974, he was appointed Plummer Professor of Morals teaching in both Harvard College (the undergraduate program) and Harvard Divinity School. From 1989 to 1991, Gomes also served as Acting Director of the W.E. B. DuBois Institute for African and African-American Research.

20 years later, it is hard to remember the courage that it took in 1991 for this self-described cultural conservative and prominent Republican to “come out” as openly gay.  He disliked being “exhibit a,” but the culture war attacks on LGBT persons led him to break his privacy and stand up for LGBT rights in both church and society.  There had been gay-bashing incidents at Harvard and Gomes could not be silent. He began to perform “holy unions” in The Memorial Church for lesbian and gay couples–long before anyone was talking about legally recognized same-sex marriages.  Not without some squirming, Harvard University backed him, but Gomes was no longer welcome in the prominent Republican circles in which he had once been a favorite invited speaker. 

This self-described cultural conservative who enjoyed ministry to soldiers, veterans, and ROTC students also reluctantly spoke out against the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the torture and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists by the Bush administration and erosions of civil liberties. He was also critical of the Obama administration for keeping too many of these erosions of civil liberties, for not keeping the promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and for the 2009 escalation of war in Afghanistan.  Gomes spoke out strongly against the rising Islamaphobia in the U. S. and the resurgence of “nativist” demonization of immigrants.  The role of prophetic social critic from the left did not come easy for him and he often chafed at it, but Gomes’ loyalty to the gospel compelled him to continue speaking out–though it strained and broke friendships he’d long held in conservative and Republican circles.

Considered one of America’s great preachers and a prominent author, Gomes was honored in numerous ways over the years. He was made an Honorary Fellow of Emannuel College (University of Cambridge) which established the Gomes Lectureship in his honor.  In 1998, Gomes delivered the prestigious Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale Divinity School.  In 2000, he delivered the University Sermon at the University of Cambridge and the Millennial Sermon at Canterbury Cathedral.  In 2003, Gomes delivered the Lyttleton Addresses at Eton College, England’s prestigious 600 year old preparatory school for boys that has educated kings and prime ministers, scientists, and poets laureate. In 2004, he gave the convocation address at Harvard Divinity School, challenging HDS to become anew the place of excitement that Gomes had known as a student, challenging it to connect more with the life of American churches (including Evangelical churches!), without losing its character as a place of academic rigor and both ecumenical and interfaith breadth.  In 2005, Gomes gave a series of sermons at St. Edmundsbury Chapel (named in honor of St. Edmund, British king and martyr) .  In 2007, he was named to the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, the original “Hospitaler Knights” and the oldest order of Chivalry in the United Kingdom.  In 2009, he gave the Lowell Lectures of Massachusetts, and in 2010 he gave the Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church and Culture and Harvard University named him Honorary President of the Alpha-Iota chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. (Phi Beta Kappa, founded at The College of William and Mary in 1776, is the oldest honors society for academic scholarship in the United States.)  He had also received numerous honorary doctorates over the years.

In addition to 11 volumes of published sermons, Gomes was also the author of several excellent books in theology that were aimed at a lay or non-academic audience, including the best-selling, The Good Book:  Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart (HarperOne, 1996) which takes on the abuse of the Bible in the U.S. to justify racism, sexism, heterosexism and homophobia, and anti-semitism, before giving several chapters showing a more fruitful approach to biblical interpretation in the areas such as the good life, suffering, joy, understanding evil, temptation, wealth, the relation of faith to science, and to ultimate mystery.  The Good Life:  Truths That Last in Times of Need (HarperOne, 2002). The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News? (HarperOne, 20007).

I like people who break molds, not easily fitting into preconcieved patterns, and Peter J. Gomes was one such person.  Our society needs more such persons. Not just Harvard, nor American Baptists, nor the dwindling ranks of moderate-to-liberal Republicans, but the church universal is poorer without Peter Gomes.  So are all those who care about a more humane and just society, about education, cultural enrichment, and even good preaching. We are all poorer for Gomes’ passing.

Rest from you labors, now, good and faithful servant of our Servant-Lord.

March 2, 2011 Posted by | Baptists, obituary | 1 Comment

100 Baptist Pacifists (26-50)

As I mentioned in my first installment, there are several other Baptist peacemakers who may be (or may have been) pacifists, but ambiguities or contradictory statements leave me uncertain.  So, I have to omit them from the list until I can clear up these uncertainties.  There are several notable Baptist women whose actions seem to show pacifist convictions (and they were/are definitely peacemakers), but the silence of the record keeps me silent, too.   (For instance, I am almost certain that Ann Hasseltine Judson, who worked so hard to get her husband out of the British prison during the Burmese war, was a pacifist and was a catalyst for her husband’s coming to pacifist views–but she is silent on the subject.  So is Emily Chubb Boardman Judson whose son, George Dana Boardman, was a leader in the peace movement.  But, again, she does not speak on the topic.  I’d love to include more women in these posts, but I will not simply make the sexist assumption that a woman shares the views of the men in her life–fathers, husbands, brothivers, sons–in the absence of positive evidence.  After all, I have been surrounded by strong, opinionated women all my life: My mother was a great influence, but we didn’t always agree. My sisters and I disagree on huge range of topics. My wife, a Baptist minister, shares many things in common with me, but our theologies are far from identical.  And I think my daughters simply humor me. )

26.  George Keith (1639-1716) was a Quaker who came to believe that the Inner Light was not enough and came to Baptist convictions on believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  His short-lived movement of “Keithian Baptists” (sometimes called “Quaker Baptists”) were thoroughly pacifist.

27.  Elder Peleg Burroughs (1748-1800).  Newport, R. I. Baptist pastor in the General (6 Principle) Baptist tradition (whose wife was a Seventh Day Baptist).  He sympathized with the U. S.  Revolution, but would not violate his principles by agreeing to fight or monetarily support the war.

28.  Benjamin Randall (1749-1800), founder of the Free Will Baptists, was a thorough pacifist and the first couple of generations of Free Will Baptists were pacifists, too, although most current Free Will Baptists are both theologically fundamentalist and socially conservative, including being militaristically nationalist.

29. Elder Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797), a Baptist who came to believe in universal salvation, was also a strong pacifist and an early opponent of slavery.

30.  Benoni Stinson (1798-1869) was a Kentucky pastor of a “United” Baptist congregation (i.e., composed of a mix of Regular or Charleston Tradition Baptists with Separate/New Light/Sandy Creek Baptists) who came to reject Calvinism for Arminianism. He founded the General Association of General Baptists and opposed both war and slavery.

31.  Howard Malcolm (1799-1878) was an American Baptist minister who held pastorates in both the South and the North prior to the Civil War.  He served as first president of Georgetown College, Georgetown, KY (a Baptist college not to be confused with Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. which is Catholic) and was later president of Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA (once Baptist and now secular).  Malcolm was active in many social reforms, including the abolition of slavery.  A strong pacifist, he was the founding president of the American Peace Society.

32. Henrietta Oden Feller (1800-1868) was a Swedish Baptist missionary to Canada where she founded a school for girls and women.  When the school and the Baptist congregation were attacked, she insisted that people respond with nonviolence and love of enemies.

33. William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) Baptist newspaper publisher and major leader of the movement to abolish slavery, Garrison was also involved in the struggle for women’s rights, for universal education and an end to child labor, and the abolition of war.

34. Susan Elizabeth Cilley Griffin (1851-1926), known as “Libby,” this missionary and pastor is the earliest documented woman to be ordained to the gospel ministry in Baptist circles.  She was a Free Will Baptist missionary to India, then ordained and called to a church in Elmira, NY.  When much of the Free Will Baptists merged with the Northern (now American) Baptists, Libby’s ordination was accepted.  Her pacifism grew out of her devotion to missions and experiences as a missionary.

35 . Henry Clay Vedder (1853-1935) was a Baptist minister and church historian who became an advocate of the Social Gospel and was a conscientious objector to World War I.

36.  Samuel Zane Batten (1859-1928)  Northern (American) Baptist minister and advocate of the “Social Gospel” and strong pacifist who opposed World War I even after the government declared that opposition to the war would be treated as treason.

37.  William Henry Haden (1875-1972) a British Baptist pastor, founded the Baptist Pacifist Fellowship in 1929 which is today the (British) Baptist Peace Society.

38.  Herbert Dunnico (1876-1958), British Baptist pacifist and conscientious objector during World War I.

39.  Edwin Foley (1877-1972), British Baptist pacifist and conscientious objector during World War I.

 40 Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934), daughter of a Baptist minister, missions advocate, and suffragist (who was friends with Susan B. Anthony), Montgomery was the first woman to publish her own translation of the New Testament and to become head of a major denomination (president of the Northern Baptist Convention).  Her pacifism grew not just out of her study of the New Testament, but from her commitment to missions (vs. nationalism) and her commitment to advancement for women (women and children being historically the prime victims of war).

41. Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968) was a Baptist layperson, Yale historian of China and of the history of Christianity, especially Christian missions.  Latourette’s global sense of the church as the Body of Christ led him to embrace Christian pacifism.

42. Edwin McNeill Poteat Jr. (1892-1955).  Baptist pastor in both the South and the North of the United States and a missionary to China, president of Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary.  McNeill was one of the founders of the Baptist Peace Fellowship in 1929.  His pacifism led him to become a registered Independent in politics in order always to be able to “speak truth to power.

43.  George L. “Shorty” Collins (1892-1991)  who was 6′ 5″ and thin,  was an American Baptist minister, one of the Founders of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation, of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), and of the Baptist Pacifist Fellowship. He was for many years a traveling field secretary for the Fellowship of Recobnciliation.

44.  Edwin T. Dahlberg (1893-1986).  American (Northern) Baptist pastor, was one of the founders of the U.S. chapter of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (1915), and a founding member of the Baptist Pacifist Fellowship (1929).  President of the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.) (1946-1947) and President of the National Council of Churches (1957-1960). Dahlberg received the Gandhi Peace Award.  The American Baptists annually award the Dahlberg Peace Award to a major peacemaker. The first recipient (1964) was Martin Luther King, Jr.

45. Ernest Alexander Payne (1902-1980), British Baptist pastor, historian, and ecumenist.  His pacifism was rooted in his Anabaptist view of the church.

46. Robert James McCracken (1904-1973), Scottish born Baptist minister who taught theology at McMaster Divinity School in Ontario and was the second Senior Minister of Riverside Church (NY) and taught homiletics at Union Theological Seminary.  More orthodox than his predecessor at Riverside Church (Fosdick, see previous post), McCracken’s pacifism was rooted in his Calvinistic trust in the Soveriegn Grace of God.

47.  Culbert G. Rutenber (1909-2003). Known as “Cubby,” Rutenber was a Baptist minister from the conservative evangelical strand of Northern/Americasn Baptists.  In addition to several pastorates, Rutenber spent most of his career teaching Christian social ethics and philosophy of religion at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now called Palmer Theological Seminary) where he articulated an evangelical version of the social gospel.  His best known book defending Christian pacifism was The Dagger and the Cross.

48. Frank Stagg (1911-2001) was a famed Southern Baptist New Testament scholar. His opposition to the Vietnam War led him to rethink the question of war and Christian discipleship altogether and, led by his study of the New Testament, he embraced Christian pacifism.

49. Jo Ann Robinson (1912-1992), was a National Baptist (African-American) and a member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL.  She was also a nonviolent activist for social justice. She was president of the Women’s Political Caucus and in the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP.  When Rosa Parks, the NAACP secretary, was arrested for sitting in the “white section” of the city bus, Robinson and other women organized the Montgomery Busy boycott and the Montgomery Improvement Association–though male leaders liker Robinson’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., soon got all the press.

50. Carl W. Tiller, Jr. (1916-1991) was a layleader in  Northern/American Baptist circles, also sitting on the board of the Baptist World Alliance.  A pacifist and ecumenist, he was president of the American Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, USA) in 1966 and 1967.

February 7, 2011 Posted by | Baptists, blog series, church history, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemakers | 5 Comments

100 Baptist Pacifists (1-25)

I was having a conversation this week about Christian pacifism or, as I prefer to say, gospel nonviolence.  The Christian Church was pacifist from its beginnings for 3 1/2 centuries–and majority pacifist for another half -century.  But for 16 centuries now, pacifism has been a “minority report” among Christians and, in the United States (for some time a particularly violent and militaristic culture) many of the majority who call themselves Christian have never even heard of gospel nonviolence or knowingly met a Christian pacifist.  Studies by the Pew Center and others have shown that among conservative Catholics and Protestant evangelicals in the U.S., the more frequently one attends church, the more likely one is to support torture, the death penalty, and war (and, yet, these same people constantly proclaim Christianity to be a “religion of love and peace” and demonize all Muslims as terrorists!).  So, Christian pacifists like myself often have these kinds of conversations where we try to explain Christian pacifism to dumbfounded persons who have never heard of it. It was one of those conversations.  Suddenly my interlocutor realized that I belong to the Baptist tradition. It shouldn’t have struck him as unusual–although my particular denomination, the Alliance of Baptists, is quite small, Baptists taken as a whole comprise the largest Protestant group in the U.S. and are especially strong in the U.S. South (though we entered North America and first took root in New England, especially Rhode Island).  But my interlocutor had never heard of a Baptist pacifist!

Why, he asked, aren’t Baptists the most pro-war, pro-death penalty, pro-gun, pro-militarism, group of Christians ever? I could think of some rivals, but admitted that in recent years in the U.S., Baptists had that reputation–especially because of the size and influence of the Southern Baptist Convention which, since the 1980s, has been all of those things.  But, I replied, this hasn’t always been the case historically, nor is it true even today all over the world.  Although never one of the “historic peace churches,” pacifism has always been a significant minority report among Baptists and we have been involved in campaigns for peace, justice, and human rights throughout our 400 years as a distinct Christian movement. (Unfortunately, it’s also true that Baptists have been on the other side of those movements, too.  But this could be said by MOST Christian groups, sadly.)  He didn’t believe me.  He was a well-informed student of U.S. religious movements and challenged me to name 10 Baptist pacifists whose names he, or most well-informed observers of American religion, would know. I did so.  So, he upped the ante: Could I name ONE HUNDRED Baptist pacifists?  That took more time.  Here are my results in roughly chronological order.  I may profile many in this list in future posts.

The number of Baptist women who are pacifists is probably far larger than with men, both historically and now. But because of the silencing of women’s voices in most of history, I know of fewer examples. (There are others I suspect, but cannot document. They wrote mainly on other subjects.) Likewise, my knowledge of Baptist life outside North America and the UK is limited, though I keep seeking to broaden it.  Readers who have other examples are encouraged to send them to me in the comments, so that this list becomes more multicultural than at present.

Some names I would like to have included, but, while I am sure they were strongly pro-peace and anti-militaristic, I cannot be sure they were complete pacifists. For example, the famous 19th C. British evangelist, Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), a hero to many conservative Baptists, especially Calvinistic conservative Baptists, was a strong opponent of both the Boer War and the Crimean War and openly admired the Quakers’ Peace Testimony–longing for the day when all Christians would adopt the Quaker view on violence. I strongly suspect Spurgeon to be a pacifist, but he never used the term, and his words are not definite enough to know whether his admiration for the Quaker peace testimony led him to completely embrace it.  Wherever I have encountered such ambiguities–and this was pretty often–I erred on the side of caution and left said person out of this list of Baptist pacifists. (If I had included “near pacifist” Baptist peacemakers, I could have provided 500 to a thousand names without much difficulty.)

I do not reproduce this list in order to brag on Baptists. I think our current reputation for militarism and violence (at least in North America) is well deserved and shameful. And I think that all Christians should be pacifists as part of being followers of the Prince of Peace.  But I want to help recover this subversive minority report in my tradition–and hope it spreads like wildfire.  Peace is at the heart of the gospel and evangelism without peacemaking is a false gospel.

  1. John Smyth (c.1570-1612).  Puritan pastor and exile to Holland who, under influence by Waterlander Mennonites, founded the modern Baptist movement. Becoming convinced of nonviolence, he and most of his exiled English congregation merged with the Amsterdam congregation of Waterlander Mennonites.
  2. John Murton (c. 1585-1621).  In 1611 a small group of Smyth’s congregation refused to merge with the Mennonites. Led by lawyer Thomas Helwys, they returned to England and founded the first Baptist congregation on English soil in Spitalfields, a suburb of London with Helwys serving as pastor.  Helwys was not a pacifist, but several of his congregation were. When he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for speaking out for religious liberty, John Murton took over as pastor until he, too, was imprisoned and died there.  Murton was a pacifist and, upon his death, his wife returned to Amsterdam and was accepted by the Mennonites “without further baptism,” meaning that they accepted her as “of like faith and order” including on nonviolence.
  3. Richard Overton (c. 1599-1664).  English Puritan, briefly a member of the Amsterdam Waterlander Mennonites, then an English General Baptist and a leader of the Leveller movement in the days of the English Civil War. Overton coined the term, “human rights” and both he and his wife practiced nonviolent civil disobedience to the authorities for the cause of religious liberty.  Many have denied that Overton was a pacifist because some of the Leveller tracts he co-authored allowed for minimal militias to replace standing armies–but these were jointly authored political manifestos, not sermons. On no document solely authored by Overton is violence ever justified.
  4. Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676), General  Baptist layperson and leader of the nonviolent movement for agrarian reform known as the “Diggers” or “True Levellers.” After the Digger movement collapsed and General Baptists became more conservative, Winstanley, toward the end of his life, became a Quaker.
  5. John Rogers (1648-1721) a Baptist minister who came to pacifist principles and refused to swear an oath to defend the colonies or crown by force. His followers, who blended the Baptist and Quaker traditions, became known as “Rogerenes.”
  6. Shubal Stearns (1706-1771), early leader of the “Separate” or “New Light” revivalist Baptists who planted the “Sandy Creek” Baptist tradition in the U.S. South, along with his brother-in-law, John Marshall, and his sister, Martha Stearns Marshall (who were also probably pacifists, but I can’t be sure).  In 1770, Stearns threatened to excommunicate anyone in the Sandy Creek Baptist church who took up arms against the governing authorities.
  7. George Liele (also spelled “Lisle”) (c. 1750-1828).  Born a slave in Georgia, Liele was manumitted by his master when he was called to the Baptist ministry. He started many of the oldest African-American Baptist congregations in North America.  When, after his former master’s death, the man’s children tried to re-enslave Liele, he left for Jamaica and founded the first Baptist congregation in the Caribbean among the slaves there–anticipating William Carey and the modern mission movement by a decade.  In the church covenant Liele drew up for the Jamaican Baptists we find these words, “We hold not to the shedding of blood. . .”
  8. William Carey (1761-1834) illiterate shoe cobbler turned Baptist minister–and an autodidact who taught himself Hebrew, Greek, and several languages spoken in India. Carey helped to launch the modern missions movement by founding the Baptist Mission Society (BMS–Today known as Baptist World Mission) and becoming its first missionary–to India.  In India, Carey preached for 10 years before his first convert, while learning to translate the Scriptures into Hindi, Punjabi, Gujurat and other Indian languages.  He also worked for social justice, including opposition to war.
  9. Henry Holcombe (1762-1824)  an officer in the U.S. Revolutionary War, Holcombe renounced his commission and war upon his conversion.  Serving Baptist pastorates in both New England and the deep South, Holcombe was a tireless champion of social reform–including advocating the end of slavery, for the education of women, prison reform, labor rights, and peace. He helped to found the oldest peace society in the United States.
  10. Adonirom Judson (1788-1850), the first and one of the most famous Baptist missionaries from North America.  Baptist missionary to Burma (Myanmar), Judson was widowed twice and married 3 times–to three remarkable women. (The 3 “Mrs. Judsons” may have also been pacifists. They were certainly strong workers for human rights and peacemaking.) Judson was imprisoned by the British during their war with Burma and his wife got him released. Upon his release, Judson became a pacifist and confessed his shame on waiting so long to speak out against war and Christian participation in war.
  11. George Dana Boardman (1828-1903), son-in-law of Judson and a famous New York Baptist pastor, Boardman was a pacifist who was heavily involved in the 19th C. Peace Movement.
  12. Joanna P. Moore (1832-1916).  Northern Baptist missionary to freed slaves following the Civil War–who believed that racism, war, and the exploitation of women and children (the term “sexism” had not yet been coined) to be the greatest of crimes against humanity.
  13. Frederick Brotherton [F. B.] Meyer (1847-1929) Baptist evangelist in both the United Kingdom and South Africa, Meyer was not only a pacifist and social reformer, but a major influence on Mohandas K. Gandhi during Gandhi’s South Africa campaigns.
  14. Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918).  Baptist pastor in NYC’s “Hell’s Kitchen” and later church history professor at Rochester Theological Seminary, Rauschenbusch was the most important theologian of the Social Gospel movement.  Through much of his life, he did not consider or write on issues of war or violence, but as  WWI began–and the U.S. geared up to fight in it–Rauschenbusch became a pacifist and joined the newly organized Fellowship of Reconciliation.
  15. Isabel Crawford (1867-1961). Northern (American) Baptist missionary to Native Americans in Oklahoma’s “Indian Territory,” Crawford often acted as an unordained pastor.  A pacifist, she understood the anger and outrage among the Native Americans. So, she showed them how to use the courts to stand up for their rights without violence–actions which landed her in trouble with the mission agency.
  16. Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969).  Famous liberal Baptist minister and founder of Riverside Church in the City of New York.  A follower of Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel, Fosdick did not notice Rauschenbusch’s move to embrace pacifism. Like most other pastors in the U.S. when America entered WWI, Fosdick waved the flag and cheered the troops from the pulpit.  He even went over to minister to frontline troops in France under the auspices of the YMCA (which was, at the time, an actual Christian mission organization and not a sports club). In letters and articles written from the front, Fosdick worried more about the sexual temptations of “our boys in uniform” than the morality of killing.  But the horrors of war changed him. When he returned, Fosdick became a pacifist and never again preached chavenistic nationalism or militarism. He continued to preach his pacifist convictions even during World War II.
  17. Muriel Lester (1883-1968) Born to wealth in British “Strict and Particular” Baptist circles, Muriel Lester founded a combination church and settlement house in the London slum known as Bow and became a social worker, pastor, self-taught theologian, socialist Member of Parliament, and pacifist. She was one of the Founders of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1914, pledging “no moratorium on the Sermon on the Mount” during World War I. Later a global traveling secretary for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and a friend of Gandhi.
  18. Dores Sharp (1885-1981).  Baptist minister, student of Walter Rauschenbusch and Rauschenbusch’s first biographer.  An early leader of the U.S. chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Pacifist and conscientious objector.
  19. Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987).  African-American educator and civil rights activist. After being fired from the public schools in Columbia, SC for refusing to give up her membership in the NAACP in 1956, Septima Clark was hired by the Highland Folk School (now Highland Education Center) in Monteagle, TN to teach adult literacy and citizenship classes to African Americans. She also learned and taught Gandhian nonviolent methods and tactics to the Nashville students who would lead its Sit-In movement in 1960.  There she perfected her “Freedom School” methods that she used to help lead voter education classes throughout the Civil Rights movementClark was later to successfully sue the Columbia, SC schools for wrongful termination and receive back pay as a teacher. In 1979, Pres. Jimmy Carter presented her with a Living Legacy Award.
  20. Howard Thurman (1900-1981). African American Baptist theologian, mystic, and pastor. A major influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.  Thurman was a pacifist, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, who knew Muriel Lester, and was influenced by both Gandhi and the Quaker mystic, Rufus Jones.
  21. George Lee (1903-1955).  African-American Baptist minister and nonviolent activist in Belzoni, Mississippi–and martyr of the civil rights movement.  After being denied the chance to register to vote, Rev. Lee started a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Belzoni in 1953.  Lee led the NAACP promptly to begin a voteer registration drive.  White resistance to this move was massive and violent.  On the Saturday prior to Mother’s Day, 1955, Rev. Lee was driving home from voter registration work when he was hit by gunfire from a passing car. With half his face blown off, Lee pulled himself out of his car and made his way to a cab stand. Two black drivers took him to the hospital where he died quickly.  The local sheriff refused to examine the body and ruled that Lee died in a fatal traffic accident.  Even after the coroner pointed to the bullets taken from Lee’s head and face, the sheriff called them “dental fillings” and refused to investigate.  Rev. George Lee’s murder remains unsolved.
  22. J. Martin England (1901-1989).  American (Northern) Baptist minister born in the South; missionary to Burmal; co-founder of Koinonia Farms (see below); adviser to the fledgling Civil Rights movement and Christian pacifist.
  23. Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) Baptist minister from Georgia who earned a Ph.D. in New Testament from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before co-founding Koinonia Farm (now Koinonia Partners) , an interracial Christian farming community South Georgia in 1942.  Worked for racial and economic justice, translated the NT into colloquial English (in order to capture the emotional “punch” of the New Testament for Southern Christians who hid from its radical social message behind the King James Version’s Elizabethan English), interacted with the Civil Rights movement, and denounced war and violence.
  24. Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) Former Mississippi sharecropper and granddaughter of slaves, beginning in 1962 (when she was 42 years old), Hamer became a nonviolent activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or “Snick”) and was the leading speaker at the public testimony of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.  She was severely beaten while trying to register to vote and beaten nearly to death in jail. In later years she worked with the National Women’s Political Caucus.
  25. Ralph David Abernathy (1926-1990).  African-American Baptist pastor and civil rights leader.  Although he served in WWII, Abernathy later came to pacifist convictions.  Co-founder of the Montgomery Improvement Association and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  After King’s assassination in 1968, Abernathy led the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C. and in 1969 protested the launch of the Apollo 11 flight to the moon while millions starved at home.  In later years he addressed the United Nations on World Peace (1971) and served as President of the World Peace Council, headquartered in Helsinki, Finland.

February 6, 2011 Posted by | Baptists, church history, pacifism, peacemakers | 11 Comments

Inhabiting the World House: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Vision in Today’s World

Saturday, 15 January, was the anniversary of  of the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of my personal heroes and one of the largest influences on my theological ethics. (Indeed, one-third of my Ph.D. dissertation dealt with King’s life and work and I have written several articles on King. Moreover, even when not cited, King’s life and work is often in the background of my writing and my preaching.  I say this not in an uncritical fashion:  I find some influences on King (Wieman, Tillich) to be unhelpful; I find King–like his mentors in American theological liberalism–to be too dismissive of influences which would have greatly aided his work, like that of Karl Barth and the Biblical Theology Movement; And I find some aspects of King’s moral practices, especially his serial adulteries, to undermine his witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  All our heroes have feet of clay and we should not hide their frailties, shortcomings, misdirections, or even sins. )

Since today in the United States is the national holiday in King’s honor, many are writing reflections on his life and work.  Many of these are terribly wrongheaded, such as the claim by a Pentagon lawyer that King would support the current U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan!  (For an excellent rebuttal to this absurdity, see Cynthia Nielsen’s reflections on King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in NYC one year to the day before his death.) The infamous American short-term memory and lack of historical consciousness, combined with a deliberate tendency to “tame” King and others who challenge the status quo, have led to a reduction in which King’s Dream is viewed only as ending racial segregation, so that the election of Barack Obama to the presidency is the fulfillment of King’s Dream or even that King, a self-declared democratic socialist who died marching with and for garbage collectors, should be an icon for Glenn Beck and the rightwing, libertarian “Tea Party” movement!

Every year at this time we distort King and twist his legacy in the name of celebrating it.  Mostly, we do it by showing carefully edited snippets of the 1963 “I Have a Dream” Speech and presenting King as the “great Dreamer” of racial harmony without ever carefully examinging his thought–leaving out completely his solidarity with the poor and strong critique of U.S. capitalism (his demand for a Living Wage for all citizens, his admiration for the democratic socialism of Norway, his acceptance of Marx’s critique of capitalism even as he rejected Marxist materialism and historical determinism, and, most of all, his attempt to forge a multi-racial, multi-cultural “Poor People’s Movement” which would radically reshape U.S. society), along with his commitment to gospel nonviolence and his absolute opposition to imperialist militarism, not least the imperialist militarism of the United States.  Most of those born since King’s death in 1968 have no idea that he referred to the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” something I fully believe he would find equally true today.  For these reasons, I am among those who would like to see a 5 year halt in talking about the “I Have a Dream” speech– and to reorient our reflections on King to his later, more radical, speeches and writings.  (In this, I recommend especially a pamphlet put out by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and written by former Executive Director, Gary Percesepe, Seeing Beyond the Dream Speech. )

In 1967, King published Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, his last book before his death. (His final book, also very germane to our times, The Trumpet of Conscience, was published posthumously.)  I think Where Do We Go From Here? is among the least read of King’s writings, some of the most radical of his reflections, and the most useful for our own context in the early 21st C.–since we have not faced squarely the problems King was dealing with, even since.  I take one section from that wonderful book for these reflections:  The concept of the “World House,” a term less familiar to us than King’s characterization of the Kingdom of God (being born into the world) as “the Beloved Community.”

King tells a parable that he read somewhere:  A divided and long-separated family find that the head of this clan has died and they have all inherited a mansion.  The catch: They cannot sell it, but must live in the house, putting away their differences and learning to live together.  King turns this story into an allegory:  All humanity is the separated and estranged (even warring) family.  God, though far from dead, is the Parent who had given humanity a House.  The World, the planet Earth, is the House and humanity must learn to live in it together, sharing its resources, working for its upkeep (rather than ecologically destroying it), and learning to live together as one family.  We want to divide into warring nations or tribes.  We want to be concerned only for our own racial or ethnic or language group or only for our own religious group.  (Expanding beyond King’s view in 1967, we want to be concerned only for those of our own sex, our own sexual orientation, or our own gender identity, too.) We want to be concerned only for those of our own economic class (or, to claim that there are no classes, that anyone can become wealthy, that the wealthy have earned their riches and should not be asked to share them–even if the rest of us have to bail them out from their own foolishness–or to claim that the interests of the wealthy naturally “trickle down” to help the rest of us–NONE of which is supported by a shred of evidence) and let those who are weaker or more vulnerable fall by the wayside.

In all these ways and more, we deny that we are one family.  King insists (with his own/my own Biblical tradition) that this is false. We are all children of God.  The World House is ALL our home–and we have NO CHOICE but to learn to live in it together–or we destroy both ourselves and the World House.

I suggest that this vision of King’s in 1967 is more relevant than ever, today.  Our refusal to care for God’s beloved earth ecologically is leading to greater species extinction than at any time since the end of the Age of Dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.  Even as it may be too late to save the polar ice caps, nations and oil companies are foolishly racing to drill for oil in the Arctic circle (because nothing could possibly go wrong in THAT scenario!).  Water is used profligately in Europe and North America while it becomes increasingly scarce for the poor of the Two Thirds World.  Americans are increasingly obese while Hunger and Poverty stalk the globe.  People kill in the name of religion or politics or ideology or land.  We enact policies to make the top 1% ever more obscenely wealthy while poor multiply and Middle Classes vanish.  We treat healthcare as a commodity to be bought and sold rather than a human right and when a law is passed that mildly reforms this obscenity (still largely trusting the great god Free Market, the largest idol of the West), we call it government tyrrany.  We have billions for the War Machine, but schools go starving for funds and when teachers and parents complain, the reply is that “education cannot be solved by throwing money at the problem” (something we never say about either the Military Industrial Complex or Money Powers of Wall Street).  The views of teachers are dismissed as “bleatings of a teacher’s union” and parents’ pleas are dismissed with the claim that the parents–often working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet–should educate their children themselves–either privately or by homeschooling (regardless of means or whether said parent has enough education to make that feasible).  In a reverse Robin Hood society, we constantly steal from the poor to give ever more to the obscenely wealthy–who then claim they are “overtaxed” when paying a smaller percentage than at any time in the last 50 years!

Against this whole mess, Dr. King presents the vision of the World House.  We are not primarily Black or White or Brown, we are family.  We are not primarily rich or poor, but family. We are not first Americans or Vietnamese (or Iraqis or Afghans), but one family. We are not first Muslims or Buddhists or Jews or Christians (Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox, Liberal or Evangelical), but a family sharing a World House.  If we see ourselves in that light–as one family sharing one World House–then both our personal actions, the actions of our organizations (churches, synagogues, mosques, temples; businesses and corporations; political parties), and the public policies of our various nations and governments, must CHANGE to reflect that reality.  In place of fearful militarism, we must enact Common Security.  In place of hoarding, the equitable distribution of resources–so that all are fed and have shelter and adequate medical care.  In place of the exploitation of the earth and our family members, we must live sustainably.

It’s not an easy vision to enact.  To live this way will be a huge struggle.  Perhaps this is why this World House has been so ignored.  But if this World House allegory correctly displays our real context as humans on this third rock from the sun–as I believe it does–then we MUST struggle to live accordingly.  If, in our individual, corporate, and political lives we struggle to live out this vision–then we will truly be honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.–and, beyond him, honoring the God he strove to follow.

January 17, 2011 Posted by | Baptists, economic justice, environmental ethics, heroes, human rights, justice, nonviolence, peace | Leave a comment

Theological Mentors #4 E. Glenn Hinson

One of my teachers whom I have not mentioned frequently is E. Glenn Hinson, church historian, contemplative & advocate of strong, disciplined practices of spiritual formation, ecumenist, peacemaker, and advocate of the liberal strand of Baptist theology. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Hinson grew up on a farm in the Missouri Ozarks near Sullivan. A poor Baptist farmboy growing up in the Great Depression and WWII, his path to success began with a scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis where he earned a B. A. in history mathematics (correction from Sallie Lanier). As with many of us, university tested Hinson’s faith and he credits a wise counselor at the Baptist Student Union (BSU) on campus for showing him that if “all truth is God’s truth,” and if Christian faith was a relationship with the living God, then one could fearlessly investigate anything, test everything, and trust God through it all. That orientation led Hinson to reject fundamentalism and to see it forevermore as a kind of fear or even a “works righteousness” that desires to earn God’s favor through holding “right beliefs” and being intolerant of all, even other Christians, who see things differently.

Hinson took this new orientation and a call to ministry to the mother seminary of his denomination (Southern Baptist Convention), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. There he finished his B.D. near the top of his class (earning several awards) and took a Th.D. in New Testament, writing a dissertation in which he concluded that the Apostle Paul did not write the pastoral epistles–a daring conclusion for a Southern Baptist in the 1950s.

SBTS wanted to recruit the brilliant student from Missouri, but needed church historians more than Neutestamentlers. Hinson switched gears and pursued a second doctorate, a DPhil. at Oxford University in early church history. (He studied, of course, at Regent’s Park College, the Baptist theological college at Oxford.)  His background in New Testament has allowed him over the years to make many careful connections between the Apostolic era and the Patristic writings.

Becoming friends with Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and spiritual writer whose abbey (Gethsemani) was near Louisville, Hinson became deeply involved in the ecumenical movement of spiritual renewal–connecting the revivalist spirituality of most Southern Baptists to ancient and medieval spiritual practices. His ecumenical efforts included participation in the Faith & Order Commission of the World Council of Churches at a time when his branch of the Baptist movement was not a member of the WCC. He has lectured in Catholic, Orthodox, and many different Protestant institutions.

For 30 years, Hinson taught Church History at Southern Seminary, becoming one of the most published faculty members. He has written major works in early Church history (e.g., The Evangelization of the Roman Empire; The Church Triumphant; The Early Church: Origins to the Dawn of the Middle Ages) , biography (e.g., Seekers After Mature Faith; Love at the Heart of Things: A Biography of Douglas V. Steere); religious liberty(e.g., Soul Liberty; Religious Liberty: The Christian Roots of Our Fundamental Freedoms); spiritual formation (e.g., A Serious Call to a Contemplative Lifestyle; Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership), over 30 books and contributions to books in all.

Hinson has even used his NT scholarship and written Jesus Christ for the “Faith of Our Fathers” series in the early 1960s. This work was later to be the cause of some controversy, although the series died and few noticed Hinson’s volume at the time. The assignment by the publishers was for Hinson to write a “biography” of Jesus that included only what historians could prove or be reasonably sure of as historians. So, Hinson summarized the major conclusions of “historical Jesus” research at the time. He noted that the tools of historiography did not allow him as a historian to affirm Jesus’ resurrection, although as a believer Hinson could and did affirm Jesus’ resurrection.

Years later, in the 1980s, when Hinson was a major critic of fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist Convention, Hinson’s enemies used that book to claim that Hinson did not believe in the resurrection–which is false. One can debate whether or not Hinson is right about the limits of historiography, but that is an argument about what historians can reasonably assert, NOT an argument over the resurrection itself. Trustees at SBTS repeatedly cleared Hinson of any charges of heresy, but one of the injustices of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention was that there was no such thing as protection against double jeopardy: Hinson and other professors could be cleared one semester only to face another individual or group putting forward the SAME CHARGES with NO NEW EVIDENCE the next semester.

When Pres. Roy Honeycutt retired from SBTS, Hinson retired rather than attempt to teach under a fundamentalist administration. From 1994-2000, Hinson was Professor of Church History and Christian Spirituality at The Baptist Seminary in Richmond (BTSR) and an Adjunct Professor at Union Theological Seminary of Virginia/Presbyterian School of Christian Education. He has also held many visiting professorships. Currently, he is Visiting Professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Senior Professor of Church History and Christian Spiritual Formation at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky (a non-fundamentalist alternative to the now fundamentalist-controlled SBTS), and Visiting Professor at Lexington Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ). During this post-SBTS period, Hinson has affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

As with anyone, I haven’t always agreed with my beloved professor: Hinson denies the Anabaptist roots of Baptists, for instance, seeing English Puritanism as the sole root of the Baptist movement–a view I contest. I find less value than he does in the works of Teilhard de Chardin, whereas Hinson finds Teilhard’s work to provide a philosophy of history. But I have learned from him to appreciate the history of the entire church as MY history and learned steep myself in the “classics of Christian devotion” as guidance in spiritual formation and discipline. We share a deep commitment to Christian nonviolence (Hinson’s is more Quaker-influenced while mine is more Anabaptist in shape) and the work of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Hinson was the original editor of The Baptist Peacemaker.

His personal faith has also long been a source of personal inspiration: Hinson suffered a stroke and loss of some hearing in the late 1960s, but has persevered in service to Christ and the church despite this and much other adversity. I am glad to have been taught so much by this great mentor and friend.

Note: The Fall 2004 issue of the Review and Expositor (the oldest faculty journal of theology founded by Baptists in North America) is devoted as a Festschrift to Hinson.  The Spiritual Formation Network, dedicated to helping all Christians become spiritually mature, has created (in 2007) the E. Glenn Hinson Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation Scholarship.

October 8, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, biographies, blog series, history of theology, theologians | 3 Comments

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Carter!

Today. 1 October, is the birthday of James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr. (1924-) who turned 86 years young this morning.  I make no secret of the fact that Carter is the U. S. president during my lifetime whom I admire the most.  Born and raised in rural South Georgia, Carter earned a B.A. from the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1946, graduating near the top of his class. Later, as part of his work in the nuclear submarine program for the Navy, Carter did graduate work in nuclear engineering at Union College.  He rose to the rank of full Lieutenant in the Navy (a higher rank than Lieutenant is in the Army, Air Force, or Marines) before his father’s death led him to resign his commission, return to Georgia, and take over the family farm and farm supply business.

In 1971, he became the 76th Governor of the state of Georgia. He had allowed voters to assume he would continue racist policies and the “states’ rights” resistance to desegregation, but announced at his inauguration that the era of segregation and racism was over–and followed through with his actions in office.  On 02 November 1976, Carter was elected the 39th President of the United States of America having run on a platform of honesty (“I’ll never lie to you!”), government integrity and responsibility, and a foreign policy to be guided by the promotion and defense of universal human rights, democracy, and self-determination.

He was President of the U. S. from 20 January 1977 to 20 January 1981. During his time in office, he granted amnesty to most Vietnam War resisters who had fled to Canada or Europe to avoid being drafted to serve in an imperialistic war;  created the U.S. Department of Education & the U.S. Department of Energy; strengthened environmental laws;  negotiated the renewal of the Panama Canal Treaty; negotiated the Camp David Accords which led to the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty (not one line of which has ever been broken); promoted human rights around the world; boycotted U.S. participation in the Moscow Winter Olympics to protest the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR; tried to solve the energy crisis, and–after the Iranian revolution, successfully worked to free all American hostages captured when armed Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy–though the crisis cost him his presidency.  In November 1980, Jimmy Carter, evangelical Christian and Baptist Sunday School teacher, was abandoned by the majority of U.S. evangelicals who, instead, elected a divorced former B-grade actor who drank like a fish and ran his White House by astrology!

In the years since the Presidency, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter opened the Carter Center for peace, democracy, and human rights on the campus of Emory University.  Through the Carter Center, they have monitored elections for developing democracies, negotiated peace in conflict areas, worked to eradicated preventable diseases, promoted mental health, and much more.  As a prominent board member of Habitat for Humanity, Carter has helped build homes with and for the working poor throughout the U.S. and in several foreign countries.   In 2002, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

A “born again” evangelical Christian and active Baptist layperson, Carter regularly teaches adult Sunday School classes at Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA.  He has worked to try to heal divisions among differing Baptist groups and has been especially active in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance.

Jimmy Carter is the author of 23 books, 21 written since leaving the White House.  They have ranged from a children’s book illustrated by his daughter, Amy, to a novel about the path of the U.S. Revolutionary War in Georgia, to meditations on favorite Scripture passages.  Most, however, have addressed public policy issues and peacemaking.

Can a Christian, a real, follow-Jesus-seriously-Christian lead a nation with an imperial military presence the world over?  Maybe not–but at least one (not a pacifist, but a strong peacemaker) tried to do so.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, biographies, heroes | 1 Comment

R. I. P. G. McLeod “Mac” Bryan–Baptist Champion of Human Rights

G. McLeod Bryan, Emeritus Professor of Religion at Wake Forest University, who formerly taught philosophy and religion at Mercer University and Mars Hill College, died today.  “Mac” Bryan played a part in the U. S. Civil Rights movement, the Anti-Vietnam War and Anti-Nuclear weapons strands of the peace movement, and a supporting role in peace and human rights struggles around the world, including the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. 

I don’t think I ever met “Mac” Bryan (perhaps once in the mid ’80s, before I knew who he was, but I may be misremembering), but everywhere I went among “peace and justice Baptists” from the U. S. South, I met his friends and students.  I have lost track of the number of “Mac Bryan” stories I’ve heard at meetings of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America or at reunions of people whose lives intersected Koinonia Partners in South Georgia or other intentional Christian communities across the South.  Many times when I’ve met Southern Baptists (or white Baptists who used to be Southern Baptist, or Christians in other traditions who used to be Southern Baptist) involved in ministry to prisoners, or the homeless, or working with Habitat for Humanity or Bread for the World, or working in some way for peace, justice, and human rights it would turn out that Mac Bryan had inspired them to get involved. (After all, Southern Baptists, a denomination born in defense of slavery and which was the strongest anti-Civil Rights denomination in the nation in the ’60s, is hardly known for the numbers of peace and justice activists it produces.)  Mac Bryan hasn’t been the only catalyst of an alternative way of being Baptist in the U.S. South, but he has certainly been a major one.

A brief obituary is found on the Wake Forest website.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, obituaries, Uncategorized | Leave a comment