The Louisville memorial service for Glen Stassen will be held on 21 June 2014 (Saturday) at 2 pm (EDT) in the sanctuary of Crescent Hill Baptist Church where the Stassen family were members for 20 years. Especially if you were unable to attend his funeral in Pasadena and would like to attend or send tributes, I urge you to make plans, now.
In the days following Glen’s death at the end of last month, and at his funeral, I told several people that I felt as if conversations with him had been abruptly interrupted. I suppose part of my grieving process is in trying to continue these conversations as far as I can. So, this post will be one of a series of blog posts in which I try to mentally “map out” dimensions of my mentor’s life and thought. In the Festchrift I helped to edit for Glen, Ethics as if Jesus Mattered: Essays in Honor of Glen H. Stassen (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishers, Inc., 2014). I wrote a biographical chapter, “Glen Harold Stassen (1936-2014): Follower of a Thick Jesus.” I may expand that into a full theological biography–both because my chapter now strikes me as wholly inadequate and because Glen was considering writing a theological memoir before the aggressive nature of his cancer moved too rapidly to make any more writing projects possible. But these blog posts will just be initial fragments–and I invite feedback on them from Glen’s friends, colleagues, and other students.
Anyone who knew Glen Stassen to any degree at all knows that he was serious about his Christian identity–about following Jesus as faithfully as he knew how and teaching others to do the same. But was Glen Stassen an evangelical Christian? As with most important questions, the answer depends in large part upon one’s definition.
For many people in the USA since the 1980s, and, especially, it seems, for those involved in the U.S. mass media, the term “evangelical” has become synonymous with “member of the ‘Christian’ Right,” that is, a conservative Protestant who is fundamentalist in doctrine, legalist in ethics, and part of the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party. If THAT is what one means by “evangelical” then the term clearly does not apply to Stassen. Indeed, in one of his earliest published articles (“Faith of the Radical Right and Christian Faith,” Review and Expositor 65/3 (Summer 1968): 314-334.), Stassen anticipated the future political power of the Religious RIght (then a fringe movement) and opposed it strongly. While it is true that he was raised in a politically prominent Republican family, the Stassens were liberal Republicans–a breed now all-but-extinct. Glen Stassen himself became a registered Democrat. He opposed the semi-theocratic tendencies of the Religious Right–upholding the traditional Baptist view that the institutions of religion and government should be firmly separated. One’s faith informs one’s political values, but never in such a way as to make second class citizens of those with different faith commitments (or without religious faith) and never in such a way that would use or manipulate God or the faithful. Stassen’s values: justice for the poor, racial justice, equality of the sexes, taking transforming initiatives for peace and human rights, caring for the integrity of creation—these are diametrically opposed to the goals and priorities of the Religious Right.
But the Right hi-jacked the term “evangelical” and are not entitled to their current near-monopoly of the term. (Indeed, as Stassen pointed out, the Right has attempted to hi-jack Jesus and to label all who disagree with them as “not really Christian.” In several places, he called for non-fundamentalist Christians to “take Jesus back.”)
“Evangelical” at its most basic means “related to the evangel, to the gospel or good news.” Indeed, when I have taught at Catholic institutions, I have noticed many Catholics use the term “evangelical” where Protestants would say “evangelistic.” Stassen was certainly evangelical in THAT sense. In nearly everything he did he was concerned to bear witness to the Good News in Jesus and to invite people to follow Jesus seriously.
From the time of the Reformation, “evangelical” has often been a synonym for “Protestant,” as it is throughout parts of Europe and most of Latin America, still. Although he has expressed appreciation for some dimensions of Catholicism, Glen Stassen is definitely Protestant. Later “evangelical” meant that one had a personal conversion experience–whether shaped by the Puritan or revivalist experience. Glen Stassen describes his conversion in his autobiographical chapter in Peacemakers, ed. Jim Wallis (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983).
But in the U.S., Protestantism became a “two party system” and “evangelical” came to mean both “doctrinally traditional” and “separate from” or even “in opposition to” “mainstream liberal” or “ecumenical Protestant.” We will return to “doctrinally traditional,” but it is clear that there are many ways in which Glen Stassen was NOT part of the “Evangelical subculture” of the U.S., despite teaching at one of its most prominent seminaries (Fuller Theological Seminary) for the last two decades of his life. He was clearly not a product of the educational institutions of the Evangelical subculture. His university years were not spent at Wheaton College or Westmont College or Calvin College, Gordon College, or denominational equivalents. Majoring in nuclear physics, Glen went to the University of Virginia, “Mr. Jefferson’s university,” the symbol of the American Enlightenment. True, the first seminary he attended was The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, but, although SBTS has become a symbol of CONSERVATIVE Evangelicalism since the beginning of the presidency of R. Albert Mohler, Jr. in the 1990s, this was not the case when Glen Stassen attended in the late ’50s–and he left after the the 1958 conflict between the faculty and president that resulted in the firing of 12 faculty members and the academic suspension of the seminary. Stassen transferred to (and earned his B.D. at) Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, THE flagship seminary of the liberal (and, later, the Neo-Orthodox and Liberation Theology) tradition in American Protestantism. The teachers that influenced Stassen were not evangelicals who somehow managed to get hired at Union in the 1950s, either. They were Reinhold Niebuhr, process theologian Daniel Day Williams, Old Testament scholar James Muilenberg, New Testament scholar W. D. Davies, and Robert McAfee Brown (who introduced Stassen to the theology of Karl Barth). Stassen’s Ph.D. was earned at Duke University. Again, today, Duke’s Divinity School and its Graduate School of Religion is known as a center of “Post-liberal” and “Generous Orthodox” thought where the conservative end of the “mainstream ecumenical” spectrum meets and overlaps the progressive end of the evangelical spectrum. But, once more, this was not the case in the 1960s when Stassen was a student there. In those days, Duke was firmly a part of the liberal tradition of Southern Methodism. His Ph.D. supervisor, Waldo Beach, was a student of H. Richard Niebuhr (the subject of Stassen’s dissertation), and, all of his 8 books were in the Protestant mainstream. Others who influenced Stassen at Duke were Hans Hillerbrand (a Lutheran church historian with a strong interest in 16th C. Anabaptism–probably triggered by his own undergraduate studies at Goshen College, a Mennonite school) and Frederick Herzog, a former student of Karl Barth and a champion of civil rights and liberation theology. Later, during sabbatical leaves, Stassen studied at Harvard University (with Ralph Potter), Columbia University, the University of Heidelberg (Germany), and Duke University, again. So, Stassen was educated completely outside the Evangelical subculture in the U.S.
Nor is there any evidence that he participated in any of the well-known evangelical “para-church” organizations of that subculture during his formative years. He was active in his local Baptist church, always. And, at the University of Virginia, he participated in the Baptist Student Union, the Baptist campus ministry. But he was not a part of Navigators or Young Life or Campus Crusade for Christ or Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, etc. However, when the Sojourners ministry began in the 1970s, Stassen, traveled to Washington, D.C. and spent time with this radical, progressive evangelical community serving the poor and was later a contributing editor to Sojourners magazine. He did join Evangelicals for Social Action (founded by Ronald Sider) and even served as a faculty advisor for some of its publications. As a teacher of Christian ethics, Stassen would assign works by evangelicals (as well as others) including (of my own knowledge) works by Arthur Holmes of Wheaton College, Ronald Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (though he was frustrated by the way the later editions “tamed” the suggestions for political action), Stephen C. Mott’s Biblical Ethics and Social Change, Lewis B. Smedes’ Mere Morality, and, of course, tons of works by John Howard Yoder (considered by many to be an evangelical, but not by others).
Many evangelicals are obsessed with defending “biblical inerrancy,” the concept that the Bible contains no errors at all (although many definitions of “inerrancy” have so many qualifications and/or loopholes that it is difficult to see what would qualify as an “error” when all the qualifications are made). Stassen was not interested in finding biblical errors, but neither did he have any patience with the inerrancy debate. Stassen was proficient in critical biblical studies from all points of the theological spectrum. He had a high view of biblical authority and this was displayed in his close study of the texts (to this date, he is the only known Christian ethicist to have published in a major journal of biblical scholarship. See “The Fourteen Triads of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21-7:12),” Journal of Biblical Literature 122/2 (Summer 2003): 267-308).
If one’s concept of an American Evangelical is that of Carl Henry, Cornelius van Til, Billy Graham, or Francis Schaeffer, then Glen Stassen does not fit–and never tried to fit. If one thinks an evangelical must always criticize the people and institutions of “liberalism,” Stassen does not fit. He loved his teachers at Union and Duke. In my hearing, he repeatedly defended Harvard’s Harvey Cox from the lazy and inaccurate way that conservative critics lumped him in with “Death of God” theologians because of sloppy readings of Cox’s book, The Secular City, or, worse, reviews by title alone. He was a lifelong scholar of the life and thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Although he published little to show this, he was greatly influenced by the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. (but see his “God and Human Dignity: The Personalism, Theology, and Ethics of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Journal of Religion 83/3 (July 2008): 416-418.).
But if one’s concept of “evangelical” is broad enough to include Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, Tony Campolo, evangelical liberation theologians like J. Daniel Kirk, Orlando Costas, Rene Padilla, and evangelical feminists like Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, then Glen Stassen is certainly an evangelical. He was comfortable with the term, though he did not flaunt it as a badge or weapon as did many. In later years, he worked with his student, David Gushee (more clearly an evangelical), in the formation of Evangelicals for Human Rights (an anti-torture group) and stayed with it when it broadened to become the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. Update: [I left out a sentence.] Frustrated with the lack of serious attention to biblical materials, especially the teachings of Jesus, in textbooks of Christian ethics used in evangelical institutions, Glen set out to correct this. He co-wrote Kingdom Ethics with David Gushee–a major textbook in Christian ethics centered around the Sermon on the Mount, aimed primarily at an evangelical audience, and deliberately published by a major evangelical publisher, Intervarsity Press. Published in 2003, in 2004 it was selected as “Book of the Year” by Christianity Today, the influential popular journal of American evangelicalism. In 2010, the same periodical selected it as one of the 10 best books of the decade. As Stassen intended, it has been widely adopted as a textbook at evangelical institutions.
Update II: Returning to the “doctrinally traditional” dimension of the term “evangelical.” Stassen fits and does not fit. In many times and places, in both writing and speech, Glen Stassen specifically stated that he was not at all attracted to the obsession with avante garde trendiness in theology that is common about liberal Protestants. His faith is clearly Trinitarian and has a high Christology. He has a very high view of biblical authority. But Stassen has never felt himself bound by any traditional creedal formulae if he thought them in error–and he has always understood theology (including theological ethics) as a very human activity prone to mistakes. Many evangelicals are wedded to “penal substitution” theories of Christ’s atonement, for example. While not denying some elements of substitution in the biblical texts, Stassen more firmly identified with versions of the “Christus Victor” approach, especially as articulated by Bonhoeffer and reconfigured in a narrative and nonviolent direction by Mennonite theologian J. Denny Weaver. When Stassen was hired at Fuller Theological Seminary, he was asked to sign the faculty statement of faith. Instead of simply signing his name, Glen asked to write a commentary on the document showing the extent to which he could affirm the document. (He showed me this document. If it exists still among his papers, I’d like to obtain a copy.) The Fuller document committed signers to affirming Creatio ex Nihilo, the traditional doctrine that God created the world “out of nothing.” But Glen Stassen, with his degree in nuclear physics, had been strongly influenced by the process theology of his teacher, Daniel Day Williams. He believed that the Genesis creation stories taught only “creation out of chaos.” In his reply, Stassen argued for his view, citing biblical scholars on Genesis AND the openness to this view in the 1st and 2nd London Confessions of Faith–the earliest 17th C. confessions of the English Particular Baptists. Fuller hired him anyway. Innovation in theology for faddishness or shock value held no attraction for Glen Stassen–but he never allowed traditional formulae or code words to trump loyalty to the truth of the gospel as he saw it. (Incidentally, this is one of the few areas where we disagreed to the end. It’s true that Genesis teaches only “creation out of chaos,” but I contend that “creation out of nothing” is taught in Colossians and in the prologue to John’s Gospel. I also think that the doctrine matters for the Christian hope of resurrection. Glen disagreed and believed that “creation out of nothing” ultimately makes God responsible for evil–and he leveled this critique even at major influences such as H. Richard Niebuhr.)
Glen Stassen’s primary identity was always “Christian.” He was deeply committed to being “Baptist,” though, as he sometimes pointed out, he had been 6 different types of Baptist. He was not the type of evangelical who was afraid of either “ecumenical liberal” Christians or of interfaith dialogue. He was part of the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches, he served on the board of the Councils of the Societies for the Scientific Study of Religion, and was an active member of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. But Glen Stassen was an evangelical Christian and worked hard to get the movement to mature and be more authentically Christian. (See “Incarnating Ethics: We are Called to Faithful Discipleship, Not Credal Rigidity,” Sojourners (March-April 1999): 14.) As David Gushee said, I want to be Glen Stassen’s type of Christian, Glen Stassen’s type of Baptist, and Glen Stassen’s type of evangelical.
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.
On 10 May 2012, Rev. Dr. Walter Wink, passed away less than a week before what would have been his 77th birthday (23 May). He had, apparently, been suffering some form of dementia for several years. Dr. Wink was a huge influence on me through his writings, but I met him only once–in Washington, D.C. in 1989 when we were both arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience outside the White House–protesting the continued support of the Bush I administration for the apartheid-era government of South Africa. (The protests, called “Stand for Truth,” had been planned for months and were huge that Mother’s Day weekend in ’89, but the news was somewhat overshadowed because less than a week earlier, the Chinese government had massacred protesting students and other pro-democracy groups in Tienenmen Square. I met an amazing array of Christian peace and justice folk that weekend including Wink’s wife, June Keener-Wink, a young Jesuit priest named Fr. John Dear, S.J., who would soon make major contributions to peace and nonviolence theory, to theology, and to peace activism, but, who, that weekend before his fame was very quiet because his handcuffs were too tight and he was in great pain; Sister Joan Chittister, OSB; Jim Wallis, founding editor of Sojourners; Joyce Hollyday; Rev. Eugene Rivers, an African-American Pentecostal whose work with the Boston 10 Point Coalition was greatly reducing violence in street gangs; many more. It was a life-changing weekend for me.)
Dr. Wink lived an amazing life of witness. He was born in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression. He was born and raised in Texas in the midst of Texas Methodism–coming to a very different form of Christian nonviolence than fellow Texas Methodist Stanley Hauerwas. He earned his B.A., magna cum laude from Southern Methodist University (Major: History; Double minor: Philosophy; English), but rather than pursue his theological education at SMU’s own Perkins School of Theology, Wink earned his Master of Divinity (1959) and his Ph.D. in New Testament studies (1963) from New York’s famed Union Theological Seminary, an ecumenical seminary of great influence. There is some irony here: Union Theological Seminary is known as a center of non-pacifist liberal Christianity. True, there are a few pacifist voices associated with UTS: Harry Emerson Fosdick and James Forbes, both Senior Ministers at nearby Riverside Church, were pacifists who taught preaching at UTS. But “Union” has become almost synonymous with names like Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), proponent of “Christian Realism,” Paul Tillich (1889-1965), German-American proponent of Christian socialism and a neo-liberal theology, James H. Cone (b. 1938-), one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology, and Beverly Wildung Harrison (b. 1932–), foremother of Christian feminist ethics–and all of these voices represent strands of liberal Christianity that, while not militarist or “pro-violence,” are decidedly non-pacifist and endorse nonviolence only tactically and not out of principled conviction.
Wink was an ordained United Methodist Minister who spent time as a youth worker and a parish pastor before teaching at his alma mater, Union Theological Seminary. From 1976 onward, he was Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in NYC, a sister-institution to UTS in covenant with the Presbyterian Church, USA (and found on UTS’ campus). During his time as a youth worker at East Harlem Protestant Parish, Wink came under the influence of the lawyer and Episcopal lay-theologian, William Stringfellow. Stringfellow’s interpretation of the “Principalities and Powers” in the New Testament would profoundly influence Wink’s own work.
In 1973, Wink published a small book called, The Bible in Human Transformation that declared “the historical-critical method is bankrupt.” I have to confess that I was unable to follow Wink’s point when I first encountered it. I had come from a tradition of conservative evangelical Christianity and had found the historical-critical method to be liberating from biblicist literalism. But Wink was not wanting to repudiate the gains of the historical-critical method, but to add to them–using insights from psychology (and later from sociology).
He is best known for his 3 volume work on “The Powers,” i.e., on the biblical terminology for power, especially in the Pauline corpus, that uses terms like “Powers, Authorities, Principalities, Thrones, Dominions, Angels, ” etc. For centuries, these terms were simply dismissed as speaking of demons–and demythologized by the likes of Bultmann and fetishized by some Pentecostals and some Fundamentalists. Hendrikus Berkhof, John Howard Yoder, and William Stringfellow began to see the importance of this language as pointing at once to political realities and to spiritual realities “behind” political institutions. Wink, with insights from process theology and depth psychology, gave a metaphysic for the Powers that attempted to be non-reductionistic while acknowledging that none of us on this side of the Enlightenment can simply adopt the pre-modern worldview of the New Testament. Wink also derived a theological ethic from his study of the Powers, especially in his third volume, Engaging the Powers. The Powers form a world-system Wink called “The Domination System,” and the inbreaking Kingdom of God is “God’s New Domination-Free Order.” The Powers are not simply evil for they were created by God to bring order out of chaos. But they are “fallen,” twisted from their created purpose and used to enslave and dominate humanity. They must be engaged–resisted and redeemed–by the followers of Jesus.
Wink also helped many reinterpret the Sermon on the Mount so that Matt. 5:9 is understood not as a call to nonresistance or passivity in the face of evil, but to a “Third Way” of Nonviolent Confrontation of Evil. In a lexical study of the verb αντισθηναι (“antisthenai”), usually translated “resist,” Wink finds that it actually means “stand against” as in armed rebellion or murder, so that Matt. 5:9 should be translated, “Do not violently resist evildoers.” Wink demonstrates that turning the other cheek when backhanded by a social superior , removng both garments in court when sued for one’s outer garment (thus stripping naked in protest), and going a second mile when a soldier of the occupying army compels you to carry his gear the required one mile are all nonviolent direct actions against acts of domination and oppression. He first published this is in a small book published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation for black churches in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle–churches that were seeking a way to be true to the gospel but resist the apartheid evil. (See Wink, Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa: Jesus Third Way [Fellowship, 1984]). He expanded and deepened his defense of this approach in several academic articles and book chapters aimed at changing the way New Testament scholars, especially translators and writers of commentaries on Matthew, understood the Sermon on the Mount. Finally, he reworked his original popular study for a larger audience–beyond the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. See Walter Wink, Jesus and Violence: A Third Way. Because of this “active nonviolence” interpretation, Wink did not like the term “pacifism,” (too easy to confuse with “passivity,” and refused to be called a pacifist even though his dedication to nonviolence was strong–and he was a critic of the way that Christian admiration for the life and testimony of Dietrich Bonhoeffer translated into justifications of violence. (The liberationist left often uses Bonhoeffer to justify violent insurrection against conservative governments and the rightwing uses it to justify bombings of abortion clinics.)
Wink was an early defender of full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons in the church. Eventually, he edited a collection of writings on the topic that did not simply include the “usual suspects,” but also the voices of pro-gay evangelicals like Peggy Campolo, Lewis Smedes, and Ken L. Sehested. See Wink, Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches.
Wink also edited one of the best collections of writings on nonviolence by members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation over a 50 year period. See Wink, Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. It’s truly a remarkable collection.
Walter Wink seamlessly combined the roles of pastor, teacher, scholar, and nonviolent Christian activist. I give thanks for his life and witness hope that God continues to raise up prophetic voices like his.
My Favorite Liberal Theologians: A List of Theological Liberals I Find “Essential” as Dialogue Partners
This reprints a post I wrote on my old blog, Levellers, in October 2006. It started a well-received series on “theological dialogue partners.” I will reproduce and index the entire series–and perhaps extend it on this blog. I don’t find anything in this list I would change.
I must be a glutton for punishment. No sooner do I reassure many evangelical readers of this blog that I am “born again” with testimony of my conversion and faith in Christ, than I write about favorite liberals. What am I thinking? Actually, though, I had been working on this post for some time and, YES, I am planning a companion piece on essential dialogue partners among the Conservative Evangelicals (caps important).
First, let me make two things clear: 1) I do NOT use the term “liberal” in theology to refer to all people who reject biblical ‘inerrancy’ (a rejection I share). “Liberal” theologians, while they have many disagreements, are united in an anthropological starting point (i.e., they begin with some form of general human experience) and in some form of a “method of correlation” (Tillich) between theology and the Modern (Enlightenment and after) world. 2) I do not consider myself a “liberal” since I begin with God’s revelation in Christ through the biblical witness and since, at most, I believe only ad hoc correlations are possible.
The big influences on me theologically are neither “liberal,” nor “conservative.” Those influences: Yoder, Stassen, Marshall, Barth, Moltmann, McClendon, H.R. Niebuhr, Letty Russell, Rauschenbusch, M. L. King, Deotis Roberts, and some others have been or will be the subject of my ongoing series of blog postings on “mentors.” By contrast, the folks below are “dialogue partners,” as are those who will be listed in the companion piece on Conservative Evangelicals.
So, who are my liberal dialogue partners? First, from the Classic Liberal period 19th C.-mid-20th C.) :
F. D. E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834), not only the “Father of Liberal Theology,” but the father of all modern and, yes, postmodern theology, too. The first to give theology a truly scientific and systematic shape beyond the summa or the handbook (Calvin’s Institutes clearly was simply a handbook). It is simply not possible to do serious theology since that time without building on Schleiermacher’s legacy, even when challenging or greatly revising it, as Karl Barth knew well. There is much in old Friedrich to deplore, including his anthropological starting point and his reductionism of Christian experience to a feeling of utter dependence, but his work is a huge attempt to relate the Pietist tradition to the modern world and that remains, in my view, a worthwhile project. Link: Schleiermacher Society.
Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889), gave an irreducibly moral shape to modern theology and helped recapture the centrality of the concept of the Kingdom of God, which for centuries had just been understood as “heaven.” Ritschl’s view of the Kingdom is inadequate, as was Rauschenbusch’s who drew so much from Ritschl, but the recovery of its theological centrality is still of incalculable importance. Ritschl’s contention that Christianity is characterized by 2 foci, individual salvation and social ethics, still seems right on the money, to me. Further info. here.
William Newton Clarke (1841-1912), the first in North America (taught in both Canada & U.S.) to write a systematic theology from a Schleiermachian perspective. Theologians debate how much Clarke borrowed from Schleiermacher and how much he simply thought along similar lines. There were also connections to Ritschl and Hermann.
Douglas Clyde Macintosh (1877-1948), Canadian-born Baptist theologian at Yale attempted to make theology an empirical science. He was an enormous influence on the brothers Niebuhr and later Process Theology, but also on the postmodern (ana)Baptist theology of my mentor, James Wm. McClendon, Jr. Recent study found here.
Adolf von Harnack(1851-1930), for his incredibly encyclopedic knowledge and display of the history of Christian doctrine. (But his reduction of the “essence of Christianity” to the “Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man,” was incredibly weak–and patriarchal to boot.)
Top 10 Favorite Liberals: Contemporary and Recent Past
10. Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003), German feminist political theologian. See Sarah K. Pinnock, ed., The Theology of Dorothee Soelle.
9. Marjorie H. Schucocki (1933-), Feminist Process Theologian. Best 1 vol. systematic from a process perspective.
8. Gary Comstock, both for his early work on narrative theology (mapping out some of the varieties) and for his subsequent work on theology from an openly gay male perspective. Whatever one believes about “homosexuality” pro or con, one cannot ignore the theological challenge and Comstock is the best theologian among those proposing full inclusion. I do wish he would relate this to his earlier work on narrative theology so that one could judge the adequacy of connections.
7. Eric Rust, a British Baptist educated in both physics and theology, came to the U.S. after both pastorates and academic positions in the U.K. He taught for decades at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY where he forged an “evolutionary theology” that was an early process theology not as fully dependent on the metaphysics of Hartshorne and Whitehead as most later versions. Rust helped many, many reconcile science and theology and was one of the first to see the challenge of the ecological crisis to theology. He related the covenant and salvation history themes of the Scriptures to evolutionary worldview in a very persuasive way.
6. Langdon Gilkey (1919-2004) Chicago’s giant from the early ’60s to the ’90s. Gilkey was a student of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, but, unlike the latter, he forged a “theology of culture” that could actually be understood! Gilkey’s book Naming the Whirlwind essentially demolished the “Death of God” movement. For more info. see here and here.
5. Hans Küng (1928-), the brilliant star of the radical Catholics whose work both led to Vatican II and charted the path further. Sidelined in Catholic life for challenging papal infallibility, Küng’s works On Being a Christian, and Does God Exist? are major apologetic works for our time which take seriously Christianity’s skeptical critics (as conservative apologists seldom do) without capitulating to them. He also has helped pioneer Christian interfaith dialogue in ways that are not just the nonsense of “all roads lead up the same mountain.” Biblio-blogger Chris Tilling’s excellent reflections on Küng’s importance are found here.
4. Daniel Day Williams (1910-1973), was a pioneer process theologian who work was far more connected to the major Christian tradition and its symbols than most in the Whitehead/Hartshorne school. Unfortunately, Williams’ most important works, God’s Grace and Man’s Hope; The Spirit and the Forms of Love; and The Demonic and the Divine are all out of print.
3. Howard Thurman (1900-1981) African-American mystic whom I profiled earlier as a Baptist prophet. See the Howard Thurman Center at Boston University. There is also a Howard Thurman documentary film project here. Morehouse College houses the Howard Thurman papers. The interracial Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, which Thurman founded in San Francisco, is still in existence. Thurman was a major influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.
2. Harvey Cox(1929-) — American theologian most in touch with the currents of culture. Beginning with Barth & Bonhoeffer, Cox moved from celebrating “the secular city,” to being one of the first liberals to notice that secularism was dying. He rediscovered in a new way the centrality of Jesus in, of all places, his interfaith dialogue! Cox became one of the first mainline liberals to take Pentecostalism seriously, too. Never anything close to a systematician, Cox remains one of the most astute theologians of culture for North America. Currently the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University Divinity School.
1. Marcus J. Borg whose biblical work is among the strongest in the “Jesus Seminar,” but who also has sought to revitalize liberalism in ways that are easily communicable to laity. The Heart of Christianity renews the Pietist tradition of the heart in a radical post-modern world. Do I always agree? No. But it’s not your average liberal who advises congregations to have more Bible studies! More info. here and his books here.
Runners Up: Peter Gomes, John Cobb (for relating process theology to liberation thought and ecological theology); Clark Pinnock in “Open Theism” phase; L. Harold DeWolf & Walter G. Muelder for Boston Personalism; Rosemary Radford Ruether; Beverly Wildung Harrison; Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza; Carlyle Marney.
Seven days ago, former Nixon aide-turned-Evangelical-pundit Chuck Colson died. Because my feelings about Colson are mixed, I waited this week before writing anything about him. Especially through Prison Fellowship, the ministry he founded, Colson did some real good and I hope that influence lives on. But my overall assessment is that, even post-conversion, he was a negative force in both church and society and I hope his passing allows a fresh start. That’s my thesis, now let me argue for it.
Charles Wendell “Chuck” Colson was born in Boston, MA to an upper-middle class Republican family that hated the New Deal and raised him to oppose almost all progressive social reforms. He went to an elite private high school (The Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, MA), graduating in 1949. He then earned a B.A. in political science, cum laude, from Brown University in 1953. From there, Colson went on to earn his law degree, again with honors, from the law school of George Washington University in 1959. From 1953 to 1955 Colson served in the U.S. Marine Corps, earning the rank of captain. He founded his own law firm and worked on Republican political campaigns. His first marriage (to Nancy Billings) lasted from 1953 to 1964 before ending in divorce. They had 3 children. He then married Patricia Ann Hughes in 1964 and this marriage lasted until Colson’s death.
Colson first came to national attention in 1968 when he joined the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon. He was assigned to the “Special Issues Committee” informally known as the “Dirty Tricks Group.” Colson proved to be especially good at dirty tricks. He would hire Young Republican college students to volunteer for various Democratic campaigns and spy for Nixon, sabatouging the campaigns, and planting evidence in other campaigns. After Nixon was elected, Colson was appointed as Special Counsel to the President–and soon became admired by friends and feared by enemies as Nixon’s “hatchet man.” Colson himself has written that he was “useful” to the president because he was willing to be ruthless to get things done. (See Colson, Born Again, chap. 5.) He was considered the “evil genius” of an evil administration–the Lee Atwater or Karl Rove of his generation.
As such, Colson was implicated in the Watergate Scandal. Synopsis for a generation too young to remember. In the 1972 presidential campaign, the Committee to Reelect the President [CREEP], which, in an age before ANY campaign finance reform, had whole suitcases of cash to use in various schemes, hired some inept burglars to steal campaign plans and secrets from the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. They were caught and eventually (after the election), the authorization of this burglary was traced to the White House. It is unknown whether or not Nixon or Colson knew of the original burglary, but both were heavily involved in the illegal cover-up. Colson was also involved in the burglary of the private files of Daniel Ellsberg, the decorated Marine and Pentagon consultant who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press (proving that several presidents in both parties lied to the American people repeatedly concerning the Vietnam War). Colson’s plan was to derail criticism of both Watergate and the Vietnam War by getting the news to cover Ellsberg’s psychiatric counseling. (This backfired. Ellsberg was charged with illegally releasing secret information–even though, unlike the United Kingdom, the U.S. has nothing like an “Official Secrets Act.” The burglary and leak of Ellsberg’s psychiatric files led the judge to throw out the case.) In 1974, Colson was sentenced to prison for his role in the Watergate coverup, as were dozens of other officials in the Nixon administration.
While Colson was facing arrest, a friend gave him a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and introduced him to a prayer and Bible study group. Colson was converted and became an evangelical Christian. When the press learned of this, most were extremely skeptical, believing that Colson was simply trying for a reduced sentence. (Many of his fellow Watergate convicts thought the same thing.) It may be that Colson or someone close to him did release the conversion story with that in mind, but I think his conversion was genuine. I have not doubted the sincerity of his faith, but rather the terrible shallowness of his theology. Colson reveals the huge weakness of evangelical Christianity in cultivating genuine discipleship and a Christian identity that is trans-national and with loyalties that resist the Powers and Authorities and stand with the poor and marginalized. Although 19th C. American evangelicalism displayed these characteristics, they have been mostly missing in 20th and 21st C. evangelicalism and Colson exemplifies this weakness. But there is no need to claim that his conversion was faked. It appears genuine.
Colson’s prison sentence opened his eyes to the huge problems of the U.S. “justice” system and especially the prison system. Upon release from prison, Colson could no longer practice law or vote as a convicted felon. (In 2000, Colson, then a resident of Florida, had his voting rights restored by FL Gov. John Ellis “Jeb” Bush (R).) He published his spiritual memoir, Born Again, which became a bestseller. It fit with the times. After the secular ’60s (including the notorious “Death of God” movement at the end of the decade), there were several national revivals in the 1970s: It witnessed the birth of Jesus People, USA (an intentional community of ex-hippies); it saw several campus radicals become Christians (many retaining their liberal politics in the birth of the “Evangelical Left” of the 1960s), even the conversion of a few Black Panthers and former gang members. It saw the highly successful “I Found It!” campaign, the birth of “Jesus Rock” (later watered-down and commercialized as “Contemporary Christian Music”), the height of popularity for evangelist Billy Graham, and much more. Even the flourishing of many cults and new religions in the 1970s reflected a nation that was exhausted by political protests and social change movements turning inward to seek spiritual grounding–in both familiar paths to American Christians and in movements and ideas that, however ancient elsewhere in the world, were novel and strange on U.S. soil. In that context, Colson’s redemption narrative–a form of spiritual memoir at least as old as St. Augustine’s Confessions–was eagerly read by many.
I’m sure that Colson used money from the book sales to pay his many legal bills, but I don’t conclude that his sole motivation was monetary. I think that, at one level, he was seeking to give testimony, to learn to share his faith evangelistically. I think the book was popular for at least one other reason: Many conservative Christians, including the like of Billy Graham, felt horribly betrayed by the Nixon administration. Graham had endorsed Nixon as a person of faith and the conservatives turned to him in reaction to the Chicago riots at the ’68 Democratic National Convention and the secular spirit that (it seemed to many) had dominated the movements for social change of the ’60s. (This despite the numerous clergy, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, who had major leadership positions in both the Civil Rights and Peace Movements.) Watergate had made many feel like they had been duped and that their faith had been made a laughingstock before the world. Colson’s Born Again reassured many of these people that they hadn’t been completely wrong. They treated him not as a notorious sinner who had been saved but needed intense discipleship before he could be trusted with any form of leadership, but as a prodigal son returning to the fold. Unlike the ex-hippie radicals in the Sojourners Community or Open Door or Jesus People, USA, etc., Colson’s conversion was to a form of Christianity and church life that looked “safe” and familiar.
But he did do one challenging thing after his release from prison that didn’t fit the comfortable conservative Christian mold: He created Prison Fellowship. It was and is an outreach ministry to prisoners. Now, Christians have been reaching out to the imprisoned since Jesus commanded it in Matt. 25. In the 19th C. in the USA, evangelical Protestant Christians had literally hundreds of prison ministries. They also led the nation in prison reform efforts, including movements to abolish the death penalty. But, by the early 20th C., this had mostly disappeared. Most denominations still produced a few ministers who would become prison chaplains, but, with the exception of Catholics and the Black Church, few members of local churches ever visited prisoners or tried to help them find employment after prison, much less did anything toward prison reform. Colson’s Prison Fellowship soon became the largest para-church prison ministry in the nation and it was very successful in many ways. In that way, it reconnected American evangelicals to a phase of their more radical history. But, despite Colson’s own opposition to the death penalty (until the arrest of Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing), he and Prison Fellowship did very little to actually reform prison conditions or the penal code. They did evangelistic outreach and some (limited) post-prison support. But it was a very important ministry that changed the lives of many–and did not easily fit the cynical meme that “Colson just went from conservative politics to conservative religion with no real changes in basic outlook.” At least in this area, he did change.
[Correction from a reader’s comments: I did not know that Colson was an early supporter of for-profit prisons, an incredibly unjust industry that has exploded in popularity since the 1980s. It’s very un-Christian and Colson’s support undermines one of the few areas of respect I had for him. It may be the process I describe below that corrupted even Prison Fellowship.]
At this point, American evangelicalism did something that hurt Colson as a Christian: Instead of insisting he stay out of the headlines for a time (as even the converted Apostle Paul did for 3 years) and learn. including unlearning all his habits as a political operative, they gave him a soapbox. In the late 1970s, Colson was given a regular column in Christianity Today, the most popular Christian magazine in the country, with a HUGE circulation that dwarfs all competitors. From this post, he became a pundit and a leader–and this did much harm to his own spirituality and to the life of both the church and the nation. From his position at Christianity Today, Colson helped to launch the movement known as “The Religious Right.” Thus, he went back into the game of politics, conservative politics, where he had been tempted to have no ethics and few scruples. He was soon hob-nobbing with those who still had no scruples: Richard Vigurie, Adolph Coors, Grover Norquist, and many others. And, while some of the leaders of the Religious Right later regretted the way they were co-opted by the Republican Party for its own uses (most notably, Frank Schaeffer, who broke with the movement in the 198os and became an Orthodox Christian, but also others), Colson never expressed any doubts about his use of many of the same tactics that led to his imprisonment to push the Religious Right agenda: outlawing abortion, pushing state-sponsored prayer in public schools, art censorship, anti-science campaigns (first against evolutionary biology and later against human-caused catastrophic climate change), restrictions of civil liberties, eroding the social safety net in ways that please big business and hurt organized labor, promotion of huge military budgets and an overly militarized foreign policy, and, especially, an all-out crusade against GLBT persons and against women’s equality. This agenda is hardly Christian and shows an inability to separate loyalty to the church universal from what should be lesser loyalties to particular nations, races, classes, genders, sexual orientations, etc. For Colson, and the Religious Right he helped to create, Christian faith was/is inseparable from the Republican Culture Wars.
For much of his post-Watergate life there was a notable exception to this: Colson’s opposition to capital punishment. In 1960, polls showed that a majority of Americans wanted to abolish the death penalty. By the early 1970s, this was no longer the case, which made for an incredible backlash when the Supreme Court temporarily ruled against the death penalty in 1972. (By 1976, they had okayed it, again!) From the mid-1970s until the late 1990s, the popularity of the death penalty grew every year in the USA. Only the advent of DNA testing (about 800 people have now been released from death rows by DNA evidence proving they could not have been guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted) changed that trajectory. As a longtime death penalty opponent, I can testify to how lonely one could feel in America at that time. But Colson swam against the stream and argued against the death penalty during its rising popularity. Until the Oklahoma City bombing. He returned to a pro-death penalty stance just at a time when many other conservative white, evangelicals, including the likes of Pat Robertson, were questioning their support. Colson ceased to be a prophetic voice, on the only issue in which he was one, just as that voice was needed most.
Even more than this, however, Colson helped twist U.S. evangelicalism by the promotion of “worldview theory.” Now, the term “worldview” for a coherent philosophy or outlook, is not new. And Colson did not invent the outlook I’m about to describe: It was proposed first (I think) by the 19th C. Dutch Christian statesman, Abraham Kuyper. Colson probably got it not from Kuyper, but from Francis Schaeffer, another early leader of the Religious Right. The idea is that people carry around coherent, airtight, “worldviews” that are more than just doctrines or ethical behaviors, but entire, self-contained perspectives on the world. And these various worldviews are in mortal combat. One cannot hold “THE” Christian Worldview and dialogue with someone who has an Enlightenment Worldview or a Hindu Worldview, or a Muslim Worldview. One can only defeat the rival worlview through superior logic or conversion or by some form of coercion or force. Now, this is a problem on many levels: It fails to understand that worldviews are NOT air-tight and coherent. The search for a pure “biblical worldview” is as elusive as finding someone who is of “pure race.” Go back far enough and we’re all mix-breeds, folks. The Bible itself contains elements from dozens of other cultures–sometimes in conflict and sometimes not. The Enlightenment has elements in tension with Christianity, but is itself a product of Christianity. Colson and other “worldview” types look back to the Middle Ages in nostalgia for when Christianity dominated the education of the universities–but this is only part of the story. The Western Medieval university itself was an idea borrowed from Muslims from North Africa–who also brought the concept of zero, calculus, Arabic numerals (which they borrowed from India even earlier), astronomy, and advances in architecture. They also led the Medievals to recover many of the Greek classics, including Aristotle. The thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, which synthesized the theology of St. Augustine with the philosophy of Aristotle, would not have been possible without the work of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and the Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd, also known as Averröes. This is just one example of many as to the way that cultural influences mix and mingle. The “worldview” idea distorts all that.
Colson’s promotion of “worldview” ideas also makes responsible citizenship in a pluralistic democracy all but impossible. It encourages total defeat of all who disagree as not only “the enemy,” but even as GOD’S enemy. “Compromise” and “dialogue” are turned into swearwords. No one is able to learn anything from anyone not already viewed as an insider because “worldviews” can only clash, never dialogue, never learn from one another.
More than any particular campaign against gays or feminists, or Muslims, etc., the concept of “worldview” Colson promoted has led to our dysfunctional civic life.
For all these reasons, I believe that the majority of Chuck Colson’s influence has been negative. I mourn the passing of all persons, but I hope Colson’s passing allows for fresh winds to blow in American Christian life.
The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor awarded by the federal government of the United States of America. Each year the recipients are named by the President of the United States and the medal is awarded personally by the President in a ceremony at the White House. This year, President Obama has named 13 people to receive the Medal of Freedom. I list them below along with the White House’s official description/citation. Each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our Nation,” Obama said. “They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award.”
Madeleine Albright (1937-). From 1997 to 2001, under President William J. Clinton, Albright served as the 64th United States Secretary of State, the first woman to hold that position. During her tenure, she worked to enlarge NATO and helped lead the Alliance’s campaign against terror and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, pursued peace in the Middle East and Africa, sought to reduce the dangerous spread of nuclear weapons, and was a champion of democracy, human rights, and good governance across the globe. From 1993 to 1997, she was America’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Since leaving office, she founded the Albright Stonebridge Group and Albright Capital Management, returned to teaching at Georgetown University, and authored five books. Albright chairs the National Democratic Institute and is President of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. [Her alma mater, Wellesley College, has named the Albright Institute for International Affairs in her honor. MLW-W] Education: B.A., Wellesley College; M.A., Ph.D., Columbia University. Fluent in English, French, German & Czech with lesser fluency in Polish and Serbo-Croatian. Currently, Professor of International Relations, Georgetown University (Walsh School of Foreign Service).
John Doar (1921-). Doar was a legendary public servant and leader of federal efforts to protect and enforce civil rights during the 1960s. He served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In that capacity, he was instrumental during many major civil rights crises, including singlehandedly preventing a riot in Jackson, Mississippi, following the funeral of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evars in 1963. Doar brought notable civil rights cases, including obtaining convictions for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and leading the effort to enforce the right to vote and implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He later served as Special Counsel to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary as it investigated the Watergate scandal and considered articles of impeachment against President Nixon. Doar continues to practice law at Doar Rieck Kaley & Mack in New York. Education: A.B., Princeton University (’44); Ll.B., Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California at Berkeley (’48).
Bob Dylan (1941-). Born Robert Allen Zimmerman. One of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century, Dylan released his first album in 1962. Known for his rich and poetic lyrics, his work had considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades. He has won 11 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award. He was named a Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Art et des Lettres and has received a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. Dylan was awarded the 2009 National Medal of Arts. He has written more than 600 songs, and his songs have been recorded more than 3,000 times by other artists. He continues recording and touring around the world today.
William Foege (1936-). A physician and epidemiologist, Foege helped lead the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. He was appointed Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1977 and, with colleagues, founded the Task Force for Child Survival in 1984. Foege became Executive Director of The Carter Center in 1986 and continues to serve the organization as a Senior Fellow. He helped shape the global health work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and remains a champion of a wide array of issues, including child survival and development, injury prevention, and preventative medicine. Foege’s leadership has contributed significantly to increased awareness and action on global health issues, and his enthusiasm, energy, and effectiveness in these endeavors have inspired a generation of leaders in public health. The son of a Lutheran minister, Foege was himself inspired by stories of his uncle, a Lutheran missionary to New Guinea, and by the life and work of Albert Schweitzer. Education: B.A., Pacific Lutheran University (’57); M.D., University of Washington School of Medicine (’61); M.P.H., Harvard University School of Public Health (’65).
John Glenn (1921-). Glenn is a former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut, and United States Senator. In 1962, he was the third American in space and the first American to orbit the Earth. After retiring from the Marine Corps, Glenn was elected to the U.S. Senate (D) in Ohio in 1974. He was an architect and sponsor of the 1978 Nonproliferation Act and served as Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs committee from 1987 until 1995. In 1998, Glenn became the oldest person to visit space at the age of 77. He retired from the Senate in 1999. Glenn is a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Education: B. S. in Engineering, Muskingum College. Honorary degrees from 9 different colleges and universities.
Gordon Hirobayashi (1918-2012). Hirabayashi openly defied the forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, he refused the order to report for evacuation to an internment camp, instead turning himself in to the FBI to assert his belief that these practices were racially discriminatory. Consequently, he was convicted by a U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle of defying the exclusion order and violating curfew. Hirabayashi appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1943. Following World War II and his time in prison, Hirabayashi obtained his doctoral degree in sociology and became a professor. In 1987, his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He eventually emigrated to Canada. Hirabayashi died on January 2, 2012, having been diagnosed with Alzheimers’ Disease 11 years earlier. Born into a Christian family in the Mukyokai Christian Movement, Hirobayashi became a convinced member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Education: B.A., M.A., Ph.D. (all in sociology), University of Washington.
Dolores Huerta (1930-). Huerta is a civil rights, workers, and women’s advocate. With Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the National Farmworkers Association in 1962, which later became the United Farm Workers of America. Huerta has served as a community activist and a political organizer, and was influential in securing the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, and disability insurance for farmworkers in California. In 2002, she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, an organization dedicated to developing community organizers and national leaders. In 1998, President Clinton awarded her the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights. She has received numerous other honors, including honorary degrees from Mills College and Princeton University, and the 2007 Community of Christ International Peace Award. She is an honorary chair of Democratic Socialists of America and on the board of Equality Now. Huerta is fluent in Spanish and English.
Jan Karski (1914-2000). Born Jan Kozielewski, Karski served as an officer in the Polish Underground during World War II and carried among the first eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world. He worked as a courier, entering the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi Izbica transit camp, where he saw first-hand the atrocities occurring under Nazi occupation. Karski later traveled to London to meet with the Polish government-in-exile and with British government officials. He subsequently traveled to the United States and met with President Roosevelt. Karski published Story of a Secret State, earned a Ph.D at Georgetown University, and became a professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Born in 1914, Karski became a U.S. citizen in 1954 and died in 2000.
Juliet Gordon Low (1860-1927). Born in 1860, Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912. The organization strives to teach girls self-reliance and resourcefulness. It also encourages girls to seek fulfillment in the professional world and to become active citizens in their communities. Since 1912, the Girl Scouts has grown into the largest educational organization for girls and has had over 50 million members. Low died in 1927. This year, the Girl Scouts celebrate their 100th Anniversary, calling 2012 “The Year of the Girl.”
Toni Morrison (1931). Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford. One of our nation’s most celebrated novelists, Morrison is renowned for works such as Song of Solomon, Jazz, and Beloved, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988. When she became the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize (for Literature) in 1993, Morrison’s citation captured her as an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She created the Princeton Atelier at Princeton University to convene artists and students. Morrison continues to write today. Education: B.A., English, Howard University (’53); M.A., English, Cornell University (’55).
Shimon Peres (1923-). An ardent advocate for Israel’s security and for peace, Shimon Peres was elected the ninth President of Israel in 2007. First elected to the Knesset in 1959, he has served in a variety of positions throughout the Israeli government, including in twelve Cabinets as Foreign Minister, Minister of Defense, and Minister of Transport and Communications. Peres served as Prime Minister from 1984-1986 and 1995-1996. Along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as Foreign Minister during the Middle East peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords. Through his life and work, he has strengthened the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States. Fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, English, and French.
John Paul Stevens (1920). Stevens served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010, when he retired as the third longest-serving Justice in the Court’s history. Known for his independent, pragmatic and rigorous approach to judging, Justice Stevens and his work have left a lasting imprint on the law in areas such as civil rights, the First Amendment, the death penalty, administrative law, and the separation of powers. He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford, and previously served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Stevens is a veteran of World War II, in which he served as a naval intelligence officer and was awarded the Bronze Star. Education: B.A., English, University of Chicago (’41); J.D., Magna cum laude, Northwestern University School of Law (’47).
Pat Head Summit (1952). Born Patricia Sue Head in Clarksville, TN. In addition to accomplishing an outstanding career as the all-time winningest leader among all NCAA basketball coaches, Summitt has taken the University of Tennessee to more Final Four appearances than any other coach and has the second best record of NCAA Championships in basketball. She has received numerous awards, including being named Naismith Women’s Collegiate Coach of the Century. Off the court, she has been a spokesperson against Alzheimer’s. The Pat Summitt Foundation will make grants to nonprofits to provide education and awareness, support to patients and families, and research to prevent, cure and ultimately eradicate early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Married R. B. Summit in 1980. They filed for divorce in 2007. They have one son, Ross Tyler Summit (b. 1990), who played walk on for the University of TN’s men’s basketball team and is set to graduate from UT-Knoxville in May 2012. He has been hired to coach the Marquette University Women’s Basketball team. Pat Head earned her B.A. at the University of Tennessee at Martin (UT-Martin). 1976, Co-captain of the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team for the 1976 Summer Olympics, winning a silver medal. 1984, Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team for the 1984 U.S. Olympics, winning gold. August 2011, announced that she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Announced retirement and given the title Head Coach Emeritus on April 18, 2012. Her coaching career included 1,098 wins in 1,306 Games in Division I. No other Division I coach, male or female, has won more than 927 games. 1990: Inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame; 1999: Inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Famee; 2000: Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; 2008: Best Coach/Manager, Espy Award.
This is the amazing group of people who are recipients of this year’s U.S. Medal of Freedom.
Celebrating Women’s History Month with Top 10 Lists. The Science Channel provides this list of the top 10 women in the history of science.
10. Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) Astronomer. Discovered “Miss Mitchell’s Comet,” plus first to detect that sunspots were a distinct astronomical phenomenon and not a type of cloud. First woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, but still paid less than her male colleagues at Vassar College until she stood her ground. When not behind a telescope, this Quaker woman was campaigning against slavery and for women’s suffrage.
9. Hypatia of Alexandria (c. 370 C.E.-415 C.E.) Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer, Physicist. Had her own students in a time when women were not exactly encouraged to become scientists. A pagan in increasingly Christian Alexandria, Hypatia was killed by an angry mob stirred up by the preaching of Bishop Cyril of Alexandria against women who fail to know their “place.” In the 19th C. she was often painted as the “Patroness of the Sciences.”
8. Jane Goodall (1934-) English primatologist. A student of the famous anthropologist, Louis Leakey (1903-1972), Goodall has done more to increase our knowledge of the life and habits of chimpanzees than anyone else. She has also been a leading voice for the ethical treatment of animals, especially primates. She has worked to stop hunting and poaching chimps for “bushmeat,” turning their hands and feet into ashtrays, encroaching on their habitats, use in laboratories for animal testing, etc.
7. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) Pioneering physician in U.S. and U.K. We all know that getting into medical school is really tough, but Blackwell’s many rejection letters were not from poor grades or test scores, but solely because of her sex. ). But Blackwell had known opposition her entire life. Born in London to a family of dissenters (i.e., they rejected the established Church of England), the Blackwell children were denied public education and had to pay for private schools. They moved to America where they became strong abolitionists, but the girls in the family still faced obstacles in seeking higher education. Blackwell was finally accepted into the medical school of Geneva College (Geneva, NY Despite serving as a field doctor for Union forces during the Civil War, Blackwell still was rejected by hospitals. Eventually, she founded her own teaching hospital and medical college for women in London. Blackwell campaigned in two countries for women’s education, especially in medicine and for the acceptance of women in the medical field. Her autobiography continued that campaign.
6. Ada Byron (Countess Lovelace) (1815-1852). .British mathematician, analyst, and pioneer for what became computer programming. Proposed a “calculating engine” and demonstrated its potential. Yes, the first “computer programmer” was a woman, techno-geeks.
5. Barbara McClintock (1902-1992) . Pioneering U.S. geneticist. McClintock’s work with genes in maize (corn) in the 1940s was so far ahead of its time that it was dismissed by the scientific community for decades–but in 1983 they finally gave her the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The daughter of a physician, McClintock earned a Ph.D. in Botony from Cornell University in 1927. She was the first to discover that genetic material is not always fixed, but can “jump” or be transposed quickly to another part of the chromosome. Today, this is basic to understanding why bacteria become resistant to antibiotics and why evolution, usually so slow, can also have leaps forward. But the scientific community was initially very resistant to McClintock’s findings. She just kept working and publishing her findings until others finally started reproducing her experiments and discovered that she was right all along. At the time of her death, some of her ideas were still very controversial, but many were confirmed by the Human Genome Project’s mapping of the human genome in the 1990s. Had she lived to be 100, she might have received a second Nobel, this one for her insights into the working of the genome.
4. Rachel Carson (1907-1964). American biologist, writer, and pioneer in ecology. Studying the effects of pesticides such as DDT, Carson discovered that these chemicals were not only killing the insects they were used to control, but also other wildlife, especially fish and birds. Her wake-up call, Silent Spring, was so titled because she feared a spring without birdcall. Her early death from breast cancer meant that she never saw the environmental movement that her book helped to spawn.
3. Lise Meitner (1878-1968). Austrian physicist and pioneer in nuclear fission. Earning her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Vienna in 1907, Meitner took a position with the University of Berlin in order to work with the chemist, Otto Hahn, who was also pioneering work in nuclear physics. Together, they discovered in 1939 that splitting the atom had the potential to create an enormous explosion. Meitner named the process, “nuclear fission” and, together with her nephew, Otto Fisch, published the explanation. Meitner was Jewish and had to flee Hitler’s Germany for Sweden (she later retired to Cambridge, England) Meitner’s published work led several atomic scientists to recruit Albert Einstein into warning Pres. Roosevelt of the potential threat this implied–thus leading to the Manhattan Project. Meitner continued to correspond with Hahn and publish work on nuclear fission. Hahn was later awarded the Nobel Prize (Physics, 1944) for his work in nuclear fission and Meitner’s role was completely overlooked and the Nobel committee never acknowledged this sexist error. In 1964, Meitner was jointly awarded the Enrico Fermi prize in nuclear physics together with Hahn and Fritz Strassmann.
2. Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958). British biologist and geneticist. It was Franklin who took the careful x-rays that allowed Watson and Crick to discover the double-helix structure of DNA. She also found that RNA was a single helix and where it was located. Her early death from ovarian cancer probably cost her a share of the 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry that was jointly awarded to Watson and Crick. Then again, as we saw with Meitner, sexism might have cost her any recognition, anyway.
1. Marie Curie (1867-1934). Polish chemist and physicist. Curie studied at the Sorbonne and settled in Paris. She made the study of radiation her life and eventually died of radiation poisoning. 78 years after her death, her personal papers are still so radioactive that they must be handled by special gloves while wearing protective clothing. In 1903, she won a share of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and in 1911, she won (unshared) the Nobel Prize in Physics. She was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes–and remains the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in scientific fields.
Most people probably know Curie, Carson, and Goodall, but, sadly, the others in this list are mostly unknown. Tell your daughters.
I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions, but I did set new priorities this year. One of them is to spend 2012 expressing more appreciation for friends I often take for granted. There are several reasons I haven’t always been appreciative of my friend, Dr. David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology. I won’t go into all of those reasons here in public. Some were motivated by envy of his success as my career stalled, his publication productivity which far outstripped mine, and by jealousy in a period several years ago when he seemed to have more influence with a mutual mentor than I did. Those are not pretty sides of my personality and confronting those feelings is not easy. Other reasons for my lack of appreciation, and for a period of strain between Dave and myself are less ignoble, but involve some miscommunications and some honest differences of conviction on matters we both care about strongly. On some issues in Christian ethics Dave is more conservative than I am and it was here that his growing influence bothered me the most. We didn’t just differ, we differed strongly, and we both believed (and still believe) the differences matter in both the life of the Christian churches and in the life of the nation. Our division wasn’t as sharp as Barth vs. Brunner on “general revelation” and, thankfully, didn’t result in decades of estrangement like theirs did–but it was a matter of degree rather than kind.
When we put aside the differences in personality, success, and the like, there remain some areas where we are friends who differ on principle:
- I, a former soldier, am a convinced Christian pacifist (of a basically Anabaptist shape) whereas Dave is from the Just War tradition, although of the stricter sort that does not easily approve of wars or weapons–and he knows that ALL Christians are called to be peacemakers.
- Although I believe that abortion is always a tragedy, I do not believe it is always immoral. Though uncomfortable with the “pro-choice” label, I basically agree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that this is a private decision between a pregnant woman, her doctor, family, and religious tradition–within the first trimester of pregnancy, neither federal or state governments have a right to ban abortions. I do want to reduce the need for abortions by reducing unwanted pregnancies, making adoption easier, and by increasing the choices for women in difficult pregnancies, but I want abortion to remain a legal option for all women. Dave is “pro-life.” While agreeing with me on steps to reduce unwanted pregnancies, make adoption easier, etc., he also thinks abortion should be outlawed. At a time when Dave’s view is gaining ground in state legislatures across the nation, this tension is both real and very strong.
- Although I once was “welcoming but NOT affirming” of LGBT folk in church and society, I became converted to a strong believer that the traditional church teaching of exclusion was dead wrong. For about 15 years, I have counted myself an LGBT ally, advocating same-sex marriage (in society and church), the ordination of LGBT folks without any standards of sexual behavior (or inquiry) that would not be made of their heterosexual counterparts, and full equality of LGBT folk in all aspects of society. Dave stands up for the civil rights of LGBT folk in employment, housing, adoption rights, but whereas he knows that sexual orientation and gender identity are not chosen, Dave holds to the church tradition that same sex coital behavior is sinful. He opposes the ordination of non-celibate LGBT folk and opposes same sex marriages in both church and society.
- We are both very concerned about the huge divorce rate in U.S. society, but Dave thinks this can be helped by laws–such as the proposals for “covenant marriages” in which divorces would be legally more difficult and he thinks that church and society should return to a time when divorced persons felt social disapproval. He believes that churches should stop performing 2nd marriages except under very limited criteria. I think this is a counterproductive approach.
- Dave believes in the “sanctity” of human life. I am wary of such labels for anyone or anything but God. They strike me as idolatrous. I want to value all life, especially human life (made in the image of God), but I worry about “sacred” or “sanctity” language.
These are real differences and they remain differences that matter to both of us–but I do not want anyone to think that they prevent us from being friends or me from appreciating Dave’s leadership in many areas. Especially since 9/11, when many U.S. Christian leaders failed the greatest moral test of our time, Dave stood up and stood strong. He opposed the war on Afghanistan on just war grounds (“Last resort” had not been reached, especially since Taliban leaders were offering to extradite Osama bin Laden for trial in a neutral country) and even more strongly opposed the war in Iraq. Dave stood against the rising Islamophobia in America after 9/11 and called for greater Christian-Muslim dialogue. He did this while on faculty at very conservative Christian college in Tennessee and he spoke out not only in his classroom, but in a column in the local paper –in a deeply “red” county. Since Dave is especially known for his work in Jewish-Christian dialogue, having first come to fame as a scholar of the Holocaust, and since he deeply identifies with both diaspora Jews and Jews in Israel, Dave’s stand against Islamaphobia took even more courage than for other white evangelical leaders in the U.S. South.
But it was on the issue of torture that Dave’s post-9/11 leadership was strongest. From the moment the pictures taken at Abu-Ghraib revealed U.S. torture of Iraqi prisoners of war, Dave Gushee worked to create a moral opposition in the churches. (This was well before the public knew that the techniques used at Abu Ghraib had been authorized at the highest levels of the Bush admin. and were first perfected on detainees at Guantanemo Bay, Cuba.) Not only did Dave quickly join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), a network founded by Princeton Seminary’s George Hunsinger, but he founded a partner organization that would work especially with evangelical churches, Evangelicals for Human Rights (EHR). (This has been subsumed into another group I’ll mention below.) At the very time much of the world was learning to associate American Christians, especially white evangelical Christians in the U.S., as “pro-torture,” Dave Gushee created and led an organization to abolish it in law and practice–and centered this opposition in specifically evangelical circles.
Along with Glen H. Stassen, Dave took on the evangelical heresy of “Christian Zionism” as a major obstacle to a just peace between Israel and Palestine.
Dave continued to work for nuclear disarmament and to rally evangelicals behind efforts to slow and reverse human-caused climate change–even as numerous evangelical leaders embraced the “it’s all a hoax” meme.
In 2010, Dave decided that EHR had run its course and combined these various efforts into a new organization: The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. NEPCG works for greater Muslim-Christian dialogue, prison reform (including abolition of the death penalty), the abolition of nuclear weapons, ending torture forever, getting Red Cross access to detainees in the “war on terror,” promotion of “Creation Care,” including the Evangelical Climate Initiative, “third way” reduction of abortions, and much else. NEPCG’s very first action upon founding was to call for the U.S. and other rich nations to forgive ALL of Haiti’s debt following the devastating Haiti earthquake of 2010.
At a time when far too many U.S. evangelical voices (especially in white and Southern evangelical circles) appear to hate the poor, treat women as inferior, demonize GLBT folk, hate the environment, appear to hate Muslisms, demonize immigrants, call for UNREGULATED, ANYTHING-GOES forms of capitalism, and appear to love war, torture, and nuclear weapons, Dave Gushee not only breaks such stereotypes, but has been at the forefront of efforts to form countervailing movements. Dave hearkens back to the evangelical heritage of the 19th C., when American evangelicals led in efforts to abolish slavery, end child labor laws, work to get women the right to vote, stand with unions, and work for peace. If there is any hope that 21st C. U.S. evangelicals can reclaim that earlier heritage and wrest the term “evangelical” away from the theocrats of the Religious Right, it will be through the efforts of those like my friend, Dave Gushee–our differences notwithstanding.
Vincent Gordon Harding (1931-) is a former Mennonite minister, a historian, and a nonviolent activist for social change. Born in New York City, Hardin attended public schools and graduated from Morris High School in 1948. While doing social justice-related mission work for Mennonites, Harding earned a B.A. in history from City University of New York (CUNY) in 1953. In 1957, Harding moved to Chicago to continue his studies in history at the University of Chicago, receiving his M.A. in 1959 and Ph.D. in 1960. While in Chicago, he met Rosmarie Freeney, his future wife, at a Mennonite conference. (Rosemarie Freeney-Harding (1930-2004) will be the subject of a future profile in this series.)
In 1958, Harding became part of an interracial pastoral team at Woodlawn Mennonite Church in Chicago, where he and Rose were married 1960. In 1961 the Hardings moved to Atlanta as representatives of the Mennonite Central Committee and founded “Mennonite House,” the South’s first interracial voluntary service agency (which also served as the Harding residence). It was located around the corner from Martin and Corretta King’s house and served as a base for the Hardings’ travels around the nation in various civil rights campaigns. The Hardings worked closely with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC–Martin Luther King’s organization) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, known to both friend and foe as “SNICK”), but also worked other Freedom Movement groups such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) which the Hardings had known from their Chicago days.
While in Atlanta, Vincent taught history and sociology at Spelman College (a historic African American liberal arts college for women). When Howard Zinn left Spelman in 1964 for Boston University in 1964, Harding took over as chair of the Department of History and Sociology at Spelman from 1964 to 1968. The Hardings’ deep involvement with the Freedom Movement led to conflicts with the Mennonite Church, due to the Mennonite tradition of isolation from “the world.” Therefore, after Martin Luther King’s death in 1968, the Hardings turned over Mennonite House’s operations to others. [Addition from a Mennonite friend: This conflict led Harding to leave the Mennonite ministry and the Mennonite Church.] Harding became the first director of The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
In 1969 Harding founded theInstitute of the Black World in order to help shape the emerging educational discipline of Black Cultural Studies. From 1974 to 1981, the Hardings lived in Philadelphia where Vincent taught simultaneously at Pendle Hill Quaker Study Center, Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania. From 1981 to 2004, Harding was Professor of Religion and Social Change at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO, where he continues as Professor Emeritus. Harding was the senior historical advisor to the PBS-TV series Eyes on the Prize and Eyes on the Prize II which chronicled the Freedom Movement in depth. In 2000, Harding founded the Veterans of Hope project at Iliff to preserve oral histories of veterans of social change movements.
Harding has been a contributing editor to Sojourners, (a magazine for Christian social activism) and his many writings include:
Must Walls Divide? Questions for Christians (1965); The Religion of Black Power (1968); The Other American Revolution (1980); There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (1981; rev. ed., 1993); We Must Keep Going: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Future of America (1989); The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader (C0-editor, 1991); Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement (1990; rev. ed., 2000, 2010); Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Inconvenient Hero (1996; rev. ed., 2008); We Changed the World: African-Americans, 1945-1970 (Co-author, 1997).
I’ve tried this before and have never seen any return favors–that is, not once has any Republican replied by listing any Democrats s/he admires. Nonetheless, as an effort on my part to get past the vitriolic divisions in this nation, I, a self-declared democratic socialist from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and a pacifist and tree-hugging environmentalist to boot, will hereby list ten (10) Republicans whom I admire. I will not make it easy on myself by listing Republican members of my extended family or friends, but will stick to G.O.P. leaders, past and present, and mostly ones having held elected office. I will also give brief descriptions of what I admire about them and why. I’d love to see more people like those in this list in today’s Republican Party.
I invite any of my many conservative friends and critics (and friends who are critics) to respond with a list of Democrats they admire. I’ll make it easy: It doesn’t have to be 10. A list of 2-3 would be a welcome indication that the critic doesn’t think that all Democrats are soulless or demons or damned for all time, etc. In fact, I’ll make it easier still: The responder can list any liberal or progressive or even centrist political figure in U.S. history of the current scene that they admire–even if they belonged to some other political party such as the Greens, Socialists, or were independents without a party affiliation. The only restriction I’m setting is that the list a responder gives in return cannot be that of a conservative listing moderate, centrist, or liberal Republicans because I want to see some evidence that my conservative critics realize that virtues exist in people outside the Grand Old Party.
- Abraham Lincoln. This first one is easy since almost all historians list this first Republican president as the greatest president in U.S. history. He had his faults, including being willing to continue slavery indefinitely if it would save the Union, but save it he did. He also began the ending of slavery and by the time the Civil War was over had come to see the abolition of slavery as a moral necessity. I also admire the way Lincoln rose from abject poverty and, by a program of self-education and hard work (he only had about 2 years of formal education), passed the Illinois Bar, became a successful lawyer and politician and, as President, led our nation through it’s darkest days and paid for it with his life. He did this while suffering many personal tragedies and struggling through what today would be called clinical depression and in his day was known as “melancholy.” His marriage was strained, not least because of his wife’s mental illness and the death of several children. His Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address are amazing speeches that still inspire me in every re-reading. Unlike Republicans today, Lincoln was very wary of the power of corporations and of the banking interests, too.
- Theodore Roosevelt. “Teddy” certainly had his faults: His policies toward Native Americans were only slightly less objectionable that Andrew Jackson of “Trail of Tears” infamy; he loved a good war; he was a notorious braggert and self-promoter; he advanced U.S. imperial interests in Central and South America. I don’t admire or approve of any of those things. But Teddy was also our first environmental president. True, he wanted animal species saved so that he could continue to hunt them, but, at least, he worked to keep them from extinction! He created the National Park system without which there would probably be no wilderness left in America. Teddy, despite his militarism, was also the first American (and first American president) to win the Nobel Peace Prize because of his personal diplomacy in negotiating an end to the war betrween Russian and Japan. Roosevelt also took on the monopolies, breaking up businesses that were “too big to fail” and creating real competition and a fair marketplace. He was also the first U.S. president to propose a system of universal healthcare–and he did so in 1911, 99 years before a watered-down, very compromised, version was signed into law by Barack Obama. Teddy’s proposal got nowhere in 1911–but neither did anyone, Republican, Democrat or other, have the ignorance to suggest that it was somehow unconstitutional or a government takeover. Had we enacted universal healthcare in, say, 1912, we’d have been the first nation to do so (instead of the last industrial nation to attempt even a weak form of it), and we’d have had a healthier and more secure and more prosperous nation. Regarding healthcare, TR was ahead of his time.
- Rep. Jeannette Rankin (R-MT). In 1914, Rankin became the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress–6 years before women could even vote in most of the U.S. A woman of peace, she was the only woman in Congress to vote against U.S. entry into BOTH World Wars! Her vote against WWI led her to lose her congressional seat, but after the war, her district decided that they liked her on other issues and that, maybe she’d been right about the horrors of “the war to end all wars” and elected her again. After she cast her lone dissenting vote against the declaration of war against Japan in 1941, she once more lost her seat, this time for good. I admire her because I am a pacifist, but I also admire her because she is that rarety in politics–a person of principle. She knew very well, both times, that her vote against war was likely to lead her to lose her seat in the next election–and she voted her conscience anyway. Usually, politicians of every party put being reelected above all other concerns and silence their consciences with rationalizations. Rankin refused to play that game. She was a Republican who stood up for what she believed no matter how unpopular it was in the short run, but without demonizing others. We need hundreds more like her in both parties throughout public life. Rankin became famous for saying, “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”
- Jacob K. Javits (R-NY) was first a U.S. Representative and later a U.S. Senator from New York. He was a liberal Republican who championed Civil Rights for all (since he had experienced discrimination as a Jew) and most of the Great Society anti-poverty programs. He was an ally of NY Gov. (and later U.S. VP) Nelson Rockefeller and when AZ Sen. Barry Goldwater (R), one of the earliest leaders of the moder Conservative movement, opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Javits refused to support his nomination for the presidency. By 1967, Javits joined those who believed America should get out of the Vietnam War. However, as a lawyer who believed people were innocent until proven guilty, he stood by Pres. Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal until nearly the very end. He later worked with Democratic President Jimmy Carter in preparing the groundwork for the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty. I have little doubt that were Javits still alive, he’d be pushing for us to completely exit Iraq and Afghanistan and pushing for a comprehensive Middle East Peace Treaty that included a Palestinian state alongside Israel, basically within the pre-1967 borders that are the only legally recognized borders for the State of Israel.
- Charles Evans Hughes (R-NY), Governor of New York, Republican nominee for President, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Hughes, a Baptist layperson (one of only 2 Baptists to ever serve on the Supreme Court), struck down some of FDR’s New Deal measures that he felt over-reached Constitutional limits, but he never claimed that any and all government interference in the marketplace was unconstitutional, nor that Social Security and similar programs were not covered by the commerce clause. But I admire Hughes for his vigorous defense of civil rights, especially religious liberty and church-state separation.
- Dwight David Eisenhower. When he returned from World War II as a 5 star general and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, “Ike” was a registered Independent who had little partisan political views, though he was somewhat conservative in many areas. Since his Kansas family had come from the “River Brethren” sect which split from Mennonites, Ike’s entire military career is odd and I don’t quite understand it. But he seems to have been a reluctant warrior and something of that early upbringing seems to have stayed with him long after he joined the Presbyterian Church the week after his inauguration as President (certainly more than the peace teachings of his Vice President, Richard Nixon, stayed with him!) He agreed to run for president as a Republican because the Democrats had controlled the White House and Congress for so long that he believed the two-party system was in danger. Also, initially, Eisenhower saw the threat of Communism in stronger terms than most Democrats–although the Cold War soon became a bi-partisan consensus. As president of a time of Peace and Prosperity, Ike ended the Korean War and took the first steps toward thawing out the Cold War by agreeing to university student exchanges with the USSR. He did not do enough for Civil Rights when that movement began during the last year of his first term of office, but he did do more than any Republican president since his time. He gave us our interstate highway system, raised high school and college standards especially in the sciences and began the space race that put the U.S. onto a technical future. A fiscal conservative and social moderate, Ike shied away from McCartheyism despite his opposition to Communism and he defended such New Deal programs as Social Security, though resisting efforts to further expand the New Deal. (Since Ike predicted that any party that sought to abolish Social Security would vanish without a trace, he would be shocked that his own GOP tried to do that in 1995, in 2005, and is trying again this year!) Ike also began the People to People program of high school “student ambassadors” from the U.S. to countries around the world as a way to sow seeds of peace and mutual understanding–he wanted no third World War. In his farewell address to the nation in 1961, 50 years ago, Ike warned of the dangers of a foreign policy controlled by the Military Industrial Complex–and was not heeded.
- Harold E. Stassen (R-MN). From 1939-1943, this 25th Governor of Minnesota was the youngest governor in the state’s history. He resigned to join the U. S. Navy as an officer in WWII. I admire Stassen because he was the major force in the drafting of the United Nations Charter–so very different from today’s anti-UN and anti-international law Republicans. Later, as a special envoy for peace in the Eisenhower administration, Stassen came so close to negotiating a treaty with the USSR it alarmed the Cold War hawks in the administration (such as VP Richard Nixon who was trying to talk Ike into using nuclear weapons on China to end the Korean War) that the negotiatiosn were scuttled. Later still, Stassen, who had been a major Republican candidate for President in 1952 (before dropping out of the race and supporting Eisenhower), sacrificed his political career in trying to get Ike to drop Nixon from the re-election ticket. Because of that, Stassen was never again taken seriously as a presidential candidate though he ran repeatedly. Briefly president of the University of Pennsylvania, Stassen also participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Peace and met his son (my teacher), Glen in the crowd when neither had known the other was coming to this hallmark Civil Rights rally.
- Mark O. Hatfield (R-OR) First Governor and later Senator from Oregon, Hatfield was a major voice for civil rights and for peacemaking. He became a strong voice in the Senate against the Vietnam War, even condemning it as a national sin at the National Prayer Breakfast in which Nixon sat, embarrassed, next to Billy Graham!
- Ralph Bunche, Undersecretary of the United Nations, he was the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to stop a Middle East war.
- Gerald Ford (R-MI) was a U.S. Representative from Michigan became Minority Leader and dreamed of becoming Speaker of the House. He had no dreams of becoming president, but after Spiro Agnew was forced to resign for tax evasion, he became the 40th VP of the United States under Richard Nixon. When Nixon resigned during the Watergate crisis, Ford became the 38th President of the U.S. and he played a strong role in healing the nation from that crisis. Although at times I think his pardon of Nixon set a precedent for presidents thinking they are above the law (Reagan in Iran-Contra; Clinton in violating the War Powers Act by using the military in Kosovo for an extended period without Congressional approval; Bush II in so much after 9/11, especially torture; Obama in continuing too many of these Bush violations and then claiming a right to assassinate U. S. citizens in stopping terrorist attacks!), at other times I think that without Ford’s pardon the country would have been even more damaged. Ford also finally ended the Vietnam War in 1975, signed the Helsinki Accords in 1974 that helped end he Cold War and was the last Republican president for whom Supreme Court nominations were not a proxy for Culture War games. I also admire the way that Ford, after losing the 1976 presidential campaign to Carter, became good friends with Carter and later served on the board of the Carter Center, doing much good for world peace.
More could be added, but these ten choices are my attempt to change the tone of political debate in this country. I am a democratic socialist and none of these moderate to liberal Republicans held anything close to my full political views–but all of them were people of integrity and character who did good things that I admire. I would like to see more people like them in public life and I would hope that the GOP could still produce people like them.
I wait with baited breath for Republican readers to tell me of the Democrats they admire.