Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Pilgrimage of Dr. Beatrice Batson

Standing before her classroom of Wheaton College students, Dr. E. Beatrice Batson was known to recite the exquisite verse of Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, Homer, Dante and particularly Shakespeare. A gracious Southern lady, she exhibited both an unaffected dignity and an unassuming humility.

During the years of her retirement, Dr. Batson would reflect on her nine decades of life, her reading and travel, and tell her own stories rather than those of her beloved poets. I visited Dr. Bea every other week or so at her retirement home and she shared a few with me. Seated in her recliner while sometimes breathing with difficulty into a respirator, a red blanket tucked beneath her chin for warmth, she retrieved the chapters of her full life from shelves laden with memory.

She remembered when Dr. V. Raymond Edman, fourth President of Wheaton College, occasionally tasked her with editing his devotional books. She would delicately dodge the gig whenever possible to avoid hurting his feelings because she did not like his flowery, mystical style of writing.

On another occasion, when I asked her for a character reference for my registration as an online student at Bob Jones University, Dr. Bea confided that she, too, had attended Bob Jones College, then located in Cleveland, Tennessee, way back in 1938. For how long? “For ten days,” she replied in her deliciously cool, dry drawl. She remembered attending a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, in which the founder’s talented son impressively portrayed the murderous hunchbacked monarch, though for that performance he had forgotten to limp. “Aside from that,” she added, “he sure was good looking.” When she broke the news to Dr. Bob, Sr. that his college was not for her, he objected. “Bea,” he said, “that just don’t make sense. And if it don’t make sense, God must not be in it.” But it made sense. She moved from there to George Peabody College, then Vanderbilt University and Bryan College. God was in it.

Teaching English at Bryan College from 1947-57, she remarked that she “loved that little school,” but endured a few administrative challenges posed by its president, Dr. Theodore Mercer. She was reticent to comment on those years. When opportunity knocked, she departed Bryan College with the highest recommendations, heading north to Wheaton, Illinois.

On another visit she recalled a 1970’s trip to England with Dr.  Clyde Kilby, Chair of the English Department at Wheaton College and founder of the Marion E. Wade Center. Dr. Kilby handed her a meatloaf as a gift for the aging widow of Charles Williams, an Inkling along with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Evidently, the characteristically austere Mrs. Williams was “quite pleased” to receive the dish. Why? Dr. Bea shrugged, observing in her drollest intonation, “For pity’s sake, I cannot fathom why a meatloaf would arouse such excitement.” The details behind the meatloaf caper remain a bit sketchy.

In the following months it became increasingly apparent that the vivid colors of her memory were fading. Her focus was loosening. Books stacked on her bedside table, much-loved titles by Dorothy L. Sayers, Walker Percy and P.D. James, remained untouched. One day she matter-of-factly announced that her manuscript on John Bunyan had been accepted by a major university press who would soon publish it with minimal editing. Congratulations! But I knew that her Bunyan book had been published in 1984.

On the afternoon of my final visit she was awake, though faint and sleepy, lying motionless  in her recliner beneath the blanket. After briefly chatting, I held her hand, then stood in the doorway. “Goodbye, honey,” she said, her voice brittle with age and illness. “I love you.” I love you too, Miss Bea.

Three days later, like the hero of The Pilgrim’s Progress, she entered the Celestial City. The red blanket is cast aside. The respirator is unplugged. Beatrice Batson soars and sings in Henry Vaughan’s “great ring of pure and endless light, all calm as it [is] bright,” joining C.S. Lewis, V. Raymond Edman, Clyde and Martha Kilby, Dorothy L. Sayers, Bob Jones, Madeleine L’Engle, George MacDonald, Theodore Mercer, Shakespeare and all the adoring multitude of students, family and friends who’ve preceded her through the golden gate.

Professor Batson (1920-2019), Professor Emerita of English at Wheaton College, served as Chair of the Department of English for thirteen years and taught courses in Shakespeare for thirty-three years. Professor Batson was the author or editor of 14 books, and the author of numerous chapters in compiled works. During her teaching career, she was a frequent lecturer on college and university campuses in the United States and Canada. After her retirement Professor Batson became the coordinator of the Batson Shakespeare Collection in Special Collections, Buswell Library. She developed the collection into a unique resource bringing together the best scholarship on Shakespeare and the Christian tradition. 

E.E. Shelhamer and the “old stone walls” of Wheaton College

E.E. Shelhamer (1869-1947), prominent Methodist evangelist and author, writes of his early years at Wheaton College in Sixty Years of Thorns and Roses:

After earning enough to go West, I, for the first time, bade good-bye to home and friends. A day and night of travel brought me to the thriving city of Wheaton, Illinois (twenty-five miles west of Chicago), where preparations were begun for that long-cherished education. In order to lessen expenses four of us preacher boys kept “bachelors’ hall” the first year. One got breakfast, another dinner, I supper, and a fourth one washed all the dishes. In this way we were able to live at the rate of from thirty-five cents to $1.50 a week and grow fat. My first recitation came at 9:30 a, m., hence it gave me five hours (from 4 a.m. to 9 o’clock) for manual labor; then another hour in the afternoon and all day Saturday. I always kept several small jobs ahead for slack times, and averaged from $2.00 to $6.00 a week at fifteen cents per hour. The studying was done at night, sometimes 11:30 finding me poring over my books.

The other boys could not understand why they could not get work while I had more than I could do, but the secret was in leaving white collars at home and going prepared to take anything I could get. Sometimes I had the promise of only an hour’s work, but went at it with a relish and frequently got in a day or more at the same place. Any kind of work was solicited, such as gardening, whipping carpets, mowing lawns, trimming trees, sawing wood, unloading cars, cleaning out cisterns and sometimes other very unpleasant work that made my fingers bleed, but I was determined to make the best of it and not let my father borrow money or sell a cow, which would have been gladly done that he might assist me. I declared that if a boy at the age of eighteen could not educate and care for himself, he was not worth educating.

I well remember the first meeting in which I assisted. At the age of nineteen, I felt that I could no longer be caged up inside the old stone walls of Wheaton College, and accordingly joined a company of three young men at Atwood, Illinois. Souls were getting saved and interest was running high when the devil made his appearance in the form of the Justice of the Peace and other lewd fellows. Their first attempt was to cut down the tabernacle, but they succeeded in getting it only half down when we intercepted them.

Shelhamer usually signed his photos, “Yours for a clean, rather than a big work.”

The next night we remained after service, but well for us that we extinguished the lights, for we were shot at and missed but a few feet: we thanked God in that instance at least for “darkness rather than light.”

Had I applied myself as some of my colleagues did, I might have been a professor in an institution. What an elevation! In fact, when I left dear old Wheaton College it was intimated that I remain and teach. Thank God I escaped!…I remained that year and kept on top of public opinion. The next summer I entered evangelistic work and did not get back to Wheaton again. It was several years before I visited the place, and when I did I naturally inquired what had become of my old colleagues. One had died from the effects of bicycle riding, another was clerking in a little grocery store, another was driving a bakery wagon and still another was preaching for a worldly congregation.

Marked for Life: The Victory of Timothy Stoen

The Reverend Jim Jones, ordained by the Independent Assemblies of God and the Disciples of Christ, founded the Peoples Temple as a haven for the poor, the lonely and the forsaken. Unlike too many churches of the 1950s, the Temple was integrated and radically multi-ethnic. Fearing nuclear strikes during the Cold War in the vulnerable Midwest, Jones and his loyal congregants moved from Indianapolis to California, eventually settling in San Francisco, concentrating on aiding the oppressed and impoverished.

Timothy Stoen, a graduate of Wheaton College and Stanford Law School, met Reverend Jones in 1968 while employed as a deputy district attorney in San Francisco.

Timothy Stoen, 1960 Wheaton College yearbook.

Angry over racism and social disparity, Stoen was impressed with the large numbers of African Americans attending Jones’ church. He told an interviewer, “I had never seen such love between black people and white people — white people actually going up and physically hugging and touching black people and making them feel at home. I remember having seen Jim Jones go up to a little old black lady and just saying, ‘I love you, darling,’ and her eyes just shone.” Joining the People’s Temple, Stoen defended it against attack and offered free legal advice.

Reverend Jones, awash in bitter allegations and spiraling paranoia, relocated his congregation to the humid jungles of Guyana, establishing the People’s Temple Agricultural Project, also called Jonestown, where Stoen sent his six-year-old son, John Victor, to be communally raised. In 1977 Stoen resigned his job with the district attorney and moved to Jonestown to join John Victor. After Stoen returned to California for a short period, his ex-wife, the former head counselor for the People’s Temple, revealed to him that Jones’ “miraculous” healings were fake.

Pressure on the Temple increased as news agencies reported financial fraud and human rights abuses. Daily the tropical socialist utopia crumbled beneath Jones’ mental instability. Awakened to the mounting danger, Stoen fought to retrieve his son, but Jones refused. Members promised they would die before surrendering John Victor to Tim Stoen or the U.S. government. On November 18, 1978, Jones, desperate and totally unhinged, ordered his followers to drink grape Flavor Aid (not Kool-aid) laced with potassium cyanide. Sadly, they obeyed.

As hundreds of men, women and children dropped choking and vomiting to the ground, Jones, speaking calmly through a loudspeaker, exhorted his surviving disciples in San Francisco to “get” Tim Stoen. Continuing his rant, Jones ominously prophesied that the young attorney with “nobody else to hate” would finally destroy himself. By the end of the day, 907 people lay dead, including 304 children. John Victor was found poisoned in Jones’ cabin, and Jim Jones lay dead from a gunshot wound to the back of the head, delivered by an unknown assailant.

Jonestown remains the largest mass murder in history. Historians note with irony that were it not for this event,  Reverend Jim Jones would be remembered as a great civil rights leader.

In the years following, Timothy Stoen successfully resumed his career as a California prosecuting attorney. Despite professional success, he bore profound grief. He writes in his memoir:

But I also had deep guilt for violating the “moral code” — for sinning against God. Guilt for replacing the whole truth of God with the half truth — the idolatry — of ideology. Guilt for violating fidelity in marriage. Guilt for giving Jim Jones credibility while blinding myself by ideological passion to his emerging flaws. Guilt for making numerous untrue statements, and committing other moral compromises along the way.

As Stoen struggled with his haunted memories, it seemed that Jim Jones’ prophesy was proving true.

Reading several key books, particularly M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie, Stoen began to somewhat comprehend the evil of Jim Jones and the psychological dynamics of the cult. He writes in his journal, “…This reading is making me see that I have a deep-seated passion for communion with God.” After hearing Alan Jones preach at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Stoen spent Good Friday, 1988, meditating on the stations of the cross.

In response to that utterly poignant Good Friday, I recognized the truth that Jesus Christ had suffered and died for me, that he had then conquered death, and that he was now offering — to all who asked — forgiveness for the wrong things they had done. I asked Jesus the Christ for forgiveness. Miracle of miracles, I was given it. The grief was assuaged. The guilt was gone. Mercy had triumphed. The curse — Jones’ further trespass into Satan’s dominion — was smashed. The prophet was vanquished.

On March 9, 1997, Timothy Stoen married Kersti (“Shesti”). On June 26, 2000, he resumed his career as a California prosecuting attorney. He was nominated in 2010 to the California District Attorneys Association as Prosecutor of the Year, and in 2014 was honored as one of the five top wildlife prosecutors in the state. Stoen tells his remarkable story in Marked for Death: My War with Jim Jones the Devil of Jonestown (2015).