All posts by Keith Call

Worthwhile Struggle by Pat McCaskey

Worthwhile Struggle by Patrick McCaskey features a grab bag of inspirational stories woven with tales of exemplary athletes. Included are McCaskey’s “10 Commandments of Football,” based on his upbringing in the Halas-McCaskey family with the Chicago Bears. Deeply involved with faith-based initiatives and charitable causes, McCaskey is active in promoting strong principles and honest gamesmanship.

In the chapter titled “Oswald Chambers,” McCaskey briefly highlights the life and ministry of the great Scottish preacher, including a photo of Chambers with his wife, Biddy, and their baby daughter, Kathleen. The image is archived in Special Collections, Buswell Library, Wheaton College (SC-122)

McCaskey also profiles his friend, Wayne Gordon, who graduated from Wheaton College in 1975, and currently serves as the pastor of influential Lawndale Community Church. “You won’t see Coach Wayne Gordon’s name in the headlines or his face on television,” writes McCaskey. “And yet, he has been one of Chicago’s movers and shakers for over 40 years…He is about selflessly helping others get a fair shake, helping others succeed, helping others build their own healthy community, and helping others to live faithfully.”

Pat McCaskey is a Board Member and Vice President for the Chicago Bears. Encouraged by his grandfather, George Halas, he attended DePaul University, where he earned his master’s degree. He is the author of six books.

The Confessions of Betty Smartt Carter

Betty Smartt Carter, essayist and novelist, relates her student years at Wheaton College in her poignant, brutally honest memoir, Home is Always the Place You Just Left (2003).

My love for Wheaton is now so great that it’s hard to remember why I disliked it when I first went. But I did. What caused me to choose such a vibrantly Christian college in the first place, I cannot tell, except that my brother Danny had gone there in the early 1970s and had come back making it sound like heaven on earth. Maybe I thought I’d follow a similar path. I’d leave home a lonely and confused teenager and come back a happy, well-rounded adult. As for my Christianity, I’d continue the part of the small-time rebel and cynic, only without having to deceive anyone about it.

Driving north from Georgia with her family, Betty warily embraced the next chapter of her life.

In the fall of 1983, I took my cynical self north to Wheaton College, the very flower of evangelical Christianity. The school had a fine academic reputation, but it was best known for turning out missionaries, evangelists and martyrs, not to mention the odd Republican politician….it allowed no drinking or smoking or dancing (except chaste square-dancing such as had been practiced across the northern Illinois prairie for nigh on one hundred and fifty years); it encouraged Christian dating and marriage but prohibited all forms of hanky-panky. The unofficial motto of the school was “in loco parentis,” which meant that I wasn’t supposed to do anything there to bring shame upon my Mama and Daddy, and if I did, I’d be sent home on the next bus out of Chicago.

Betty was off to a rocky start, struggling with a few personal issues. Touring the campus with her parents, she entered freshman orientation with a decided sense of dis-orientation.

I felt myself slipping into something like shock. Why had I decided to leave behind my home, my family, and above all my beloved friend in order to come to this place that seem like nothing so much as a great big youth group meeting, a church service that would on on for four years?

However, as she developed friendships, along with widening intellectual and spiritual perspectives, she found a surer voice and steadier feet.

Then one day after reading [Augustine’s] Confessions, I sat in chapel and had a sort of epiphany. I looked out to my left and right, in front of me and behind me, over those thousands of serious young faces, and I realized that behind so many of the faces must be minds and hearts, like mine, in turmoil. I’d thought Wheaton evangelicals as hypocrites because they seemed so falsely positioned. But they were being deceitful only in their behavior — not in their hopes, which were real. They honestly did want to be passionate about God. They wanted to be the strong, faithful people  that they appeared to be when they prayed aloud at dorm meetings, when they sang, “They joy of the Lord is my strength!”…Instead of resenting them, I felt compassion for them. It was as if a great backdrop had fallen away at the front of the chapel and I saw the inner workings of the place: people worshiping, doubting, praying, turning in all directions, longing for God but unable to wait for God….I left chapel feeling a burden lifted off of me: I didn’t have to agree with these people, or accept all their thinking, in order to sympathize. I could laugh at them for the excesses and love them for their hopes.

Betty Smartt Carter has also published I Read It in the Wordless Book and a mystery novel, The Tower, the Mask and the Grave. Her writing has appeared in Books & Culture and several other journals.

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).

This He Believed

Robert O. Ballou (1892-1977) achieved distinction in American literature as one of the sharpest editors in twentieth century New York publishing, accepting, among other accomplishments, the manuscript for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven (1932). Associated primarily with the Viking Press, his deeply ecumenical interests are reflected in the titles of the books he edited: The Portable World Bible (including selections from sacred volumes), The Nature of Religion, The Bible of the World and The Other Jesus: A Narrative Based on Apocryphal Stories Not Included in the Bible. In 1938 he wrote This I Believe: A Letter to My Son, relating his personal faith.

Though born and raised in Wheaton, Illinois, Ballou did not attend Wheaton College nor did he tread the well-worn evangelical trail. In fact, while maintaining a strong religious sensibility, Ballou cast an often scathing critical eye on his surroundings. Attending the Methodist Episcopal Church of Wheaton (now Gary Memorial United Methodist) with his mother and siblings, he recalls:

He [the pastor] was there to tell me what God was and what I believed about him, and so the next morning, when he asked me, “Do you believe in God?” before all of the people of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Wheaton, Illinois, I said, “Yes,” just as I was supposed to. Probably my voice was very childlike and sweet and convincing…

As he matured, Ballou noted a few ironies:

After a few years the little wooden church seemed not good enough for us Methodists of  Wheaton. Then a very rich man named Elbert H. Gary, a man who was the head of a big steel company which took the iron ore…and made it into rails and locomotive wheels so that people could have “locomotion and transportation” gave us enough money to build a new church building of stone and cement and oak with stained glass for the windows. They called it the Gary Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, so that it would always bear the name of the man who had given money with which to build it. The way they named it made it sound as though Elbert H. Gary’s name was really more important than the name of Christ, whose church they said it was. And of course it was quite true that Christ had given us no money with which to build a stone church, and Elbert H. Gary had.

Continuing in this vein, Ballou pens few wry words about Wheaton College, or rather its then-president, Dr. Charles Blanchard:

I remember a man named Blanchard, who was president of Wheaton College. He felt that it was wrong to work on Sunday. He thought the railroads should not run on Sunday because that made the engineers and the firemen and the conductors and brakemen work. And so he would never ride a train on Sunday. Once he had to come visit some friends of ours named Steck, who lived about fifteen miles from Wheaton. He went there on Saturday, on the railroad. But he stayed all night and had to be back at Wheaton on Sunday. But on Sunday he wouldn’t ride on the railroad because he thought that making the railroad men work was not keeping the Sabbath day holy. So he asked Auntie Steck to drive him back to Wheaton and she did. I remember that it seemed to me that making Auntie Steck hitch up the horse (which was work) and making the horse run fifteen miles to Wheaton and fifteen miles back (which was work for the horse), was making the Sabbath day even less holy that it would have been if he had ridden on the train, for the railroad men were working whether he rode the train or not.

At the end of the memoir, Ballou concludes:

Seek your God quickly, my dear son. Never cease in your search — you, and all of your generation and those who are to come after you. Let you find quickly the glory of God which will lighten the world before it is too late, lest the spirit of man perish and the human race, proved futile, shall be wiped from the face of the earth by the God of Moses and Elijah, the God of Gautama Buddha, the God of Zoroaster, the God of Vardhamana, the God of Lao-tze, the God of Jesus, the God of St. Francis, the God of your grandmother, the God of Richard Wagner and Beethoven…the God of gentle spring rains, of growing flowers and singing birds, the God of flood and drought and earthquake…the God of peace and of war, of harmony and of discord, the one true God who is within your soul. My love for you and my faith in you be with you always in your search.

Laity Lodge, Holy and Healing

Laity Lodge, situated in the Frio River Valley near Leakey, Texas, overlooks a magnificent vista of forested hills and jagged rock. Far from urban chaos, this retreat stands as a haven for those needing to explore pressing questions, absorb the peace of the Spirit, or simply run into God.

Founded in 1961 by Howard Butt, Jr., the lodge welcomes its guests to encounter the sacred in privacy or community. Visitors to the canyon sing, walk, converse, eat and pray. Trusting every guest to engage all available resources, each retreat is opened with these words: “We have an agenda, but we don’t have an agenda for you.”

Frederick Buechner, author of Godric and The Sacred Journey, was a frequent speaker at Laity Lodge, where his recorded lectures have been transcribed and published as The Remarkable Ordinary (2017). He recalled:

On my first visit to Laity Lodge, when I was told not to turn left at the Frio River but in the Frio, I knew I had reached the land of Oz. After my first few days there I knew that, more even than Oz, it was a holy place. The high hills spoke of it. The river spoke of it. The “blue hole” where we swam spoke of it, as did Betty Ann Cody’s a cappella singing of “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” which left my face streaming with tears and which I will remember until the end of my days.  I don’t believe I have ever known a place as full of human kindness and openness and grace as I have found in virtually everyone I met there….I doubt I will ever get there again, but it will always remain part of the best of who I am.

Theologian J.I. Packer, author of Knowing God, said, “Laity Lodge…is one of the Christian world’s best kept secrets. Personal maturity in Christ is what it was and is about, and its ministry goes from strength to strength.”

Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, spent one month each year for a decade at the Lodge. She began one lecture series declaring, “I am very blessed to have been here for this month in this place which, I believe, is holy and healing.”

Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw at Laity Lodge, 1997.

Eugene Peterson, pastor and translator of The Message, supported Laity Lodge’s efforts to erase the distinction between the “full-time” minister and the layman. He wrote, “…That seed quickly  matured into a lifelong determination to do whatever I can to abolish this expert/layperson division in the Christian community.”

Laity Lodge speakers whose papers are archived at Wheaton College include Frederick Buechner, Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw.

The story of Laity Lodge is chronicled by former director Howard Hovde in A Dream That Came to Life: The History of the Laity Lodge Retreat Center (2007).

The Miracle of Muriel Arney

Muriel Arney of Red Oak, Iowa, was born totally blind in one eye, and partially blind in the other. But with a determined heart, she engaged life with more focus than many who are fully sighted. Writing an autobiographical statement for her Wheaton College application, she remarked, “I broke my arm in third grade while coasting. The pain wasn’t bad, missing school was terrible.” This statement summarizes Muriel’s relentless love of learning. Afflicted with a “spastic” leg ailment in addition to her blindness, Muriel managed to convey a radiant love for people and education. “There is nothing that she will not try or do,” wrote a former grade school teacher, “and she wants no sympathy.”

Walking with a cane, Muriel maneuvered efficiently throughout campus, carrying a tape recorder under her arm for recording lectures and class discussions. Listening intently to the sounds all around her, Muriel recognized fellow students and professors by their voices and footsteps, remembering names, though she hardly knew many of them. While enrolled at Wheaton College, she learned Braille and studied with friends as her vision worsened to total blindness, accompanied by terrible throbbing headaches. Navigating chapel aisles or crowded hallways, she was terrified that someone might jostle her and detonate the excruciating pain.

While attending the winter evangelistic services on February 7, 1957, the guest preacher, Reverend H. Lawrence Love, delivered the closing prayer as Muriel listened with her head bowed. Looking up, she was greeted by a stunning surprise. “There was my roommate,” she said, “plainly visible to me; the pain was entirely gone. How shocked I was! As soon as the service was over, I said to my roommate, ‘I can see!'” Later that night during a prayer meeting in Williston Hall, Muriel saw for the first time the girls who had been assisting her. The next day a medical examination proved 20-20 vision in her left eye. The Psychology Department chronicled the event as a genuine miracle.

Graduating from Wheaton College in 1959, Muriel continued her education at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, and eventually completed her teacher’s certification. Suffering further operations, she used crutches and braces for support as she commenced her career as a teacher to those with disabilities. Suffering deeply but ready to testify to her savior’s abiding love, Muriel Arney died in Red Oak on December 26, 1968, after an acute five-day illness. Her life verse was II  Samuel 22:33, “His way is perfect and he maketh my way perfect.” Muriel’s mother, Pauline, wrote to Alumni Magazine, “May the testimony of her life for her Lord continue to be an influence and a blessing in the lives of her host of friends.”

Will D. Campbell and Jim Wallis

At a time when racial tensions are high, we can revisit the unique career of a man who was a civil rights activist yet also sought to evangelize white supremacists.

Will D. Campbell, author and activist, occupied a distinct and somewhat lonely category as he preached a transcendent message of peace during an era of sharply divided political ideologies. Ordained in 1941 at age 17 as a Southern Baptist preacher, Campbell briefly served a pastorate in Louisiana before engaging his lifelong public ministry — advocating for Civil Rights. Presenting himself as a backwoods “bootleg” hayseed, wearing cowboy boots and straw hats, he actually possessed a fine intellect, abundant courage and quick wit. Campbell, siding unhesitatingly with the oppressed and disenfranchised, was one of four who boldly escorted African American students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” into the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Campbell was also the only white man to attend the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957.

In addition to frequent lecturing at churches and universities, Campbell wrote fiction and non-fiction. His novels include The Glad River (1982) and The Convention (1988). His autobiography, Brother to a Dragonfly, was a finalist for the 1978 National Book Award. Though Campbell vigorously battled inequality, his simple Christian faith elevated him above the violent forces of impassioned rhetoric. For example, he visited James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., in prison, insisting that the segregationist too is a child of God and a brother. He also ministered to members of the Ku Klux Klan, performing marriages and funerals, visiting them in jail and hospital.

At one prominent event he introduced himself: “My name is Will Campbell. I’m a Baptist preacher. I’m a native of Mississippi. And I’m pro-Klansman because I’m pro-human being.” Not surprisingly, Campbell’s extraordinarily irenic ministry infuriated other civil rights leaders, stirring deep resentment. How could he do such a thing?

“Mr. Jesus died for the bigots as well,” Campbell reasonably responded. “Christ’s death and resurrection is for Eldridge Cleaver [Black Panther leader] and Robert Shelton, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Campbell later remarked, “I never was able to explain to them that pro-Klansman is not the same as pro-Klan. That the former has to do with a person, the other with an ideology. I tried to stand patiently, even in the face of fear and danger, because I had so recently learned that lesson myself.”

His invaluable perspective on race and equality was not lost on key figures of the burgeoning social gospel movement. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, invited Campbell on August 18, 1980, to write for his magazine:

You speak more sanely and clearly about reconciliation and the gospel than anybody I know. We would be very happy to have an article from you on what reconciliation means now, especially in light of the deteriorating racial and economic situation. Your relationship both to southern blacks and poor whites, and the Klan in particular, is pretty unique, and you might want to write something out of all that. Stories drawn from your travels as a sort of pastoral troubleshooter would well illustrate such an article. If the idea grabs you at all, we’d be interested. You could shape the article in any direction you wanted.

Campbell replied on September 2, 1980:

My feeling here is that I don’t have anything to say that I have not said several times already. The alleged resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan is, I believe, largely a media mind stance. The Klan has never really gone away. I continue to try to point out that a few hundred poor, confused folks marching around a burning cross, or even gunning down folks marching in Greensboro, are not the real racist enemy in the country. And a lot of folks go on seeing me as some kind of apologist for the KKK. I have never said that they are not evil. The point is that we who practice the sophisticated and socially acceptable brand of racism are more evil.

After an active career of prophetic proclamation and courageous action, Campbell died at age 88 in 2013.

Jim Wallis’s brief exchange with Will D. Campbell is maintained in the Sojourners collection (SC-23) of Special Collections, Buswell Library. Sojourners’ mission is to inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world. You can read more about their racial justice efforts here

Gordon H. Clark and His Correspondents

Dr. Gordon H. Clark taught Philosophy at Wheaton College from 1936-43. As a committed five-point Calvinist, Clark’s unswerving Reformed theology ran him afoul of certain members of the administration, including President Dr. V. Raymond Edman and trustee Dr. Harry A. Ironside, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. Ironside wrote to Clark on July 13, 1942: “…I am thoroughly convinced that hyper-Calvinism is not consistent with a true evangelical attitude. Perhaps I should have used the word ‘evangelistic’ rather than ‘evangelical.'”

Though students like Ruth Bell (Graham) and others appreciated Clark’s precise, reasoned, self-described “cold” classroom presentation, contrasting the “warm” pietism popular at the time, pressure from various quarters resulted in Clark’s resignation. Leaving Wheaton College, Clark secured employment as the Head of the Department of Philosophy at Butler University in Indiana from 1945-73. After that he taught at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, from 1974-84.

Compiled by Douglas J. Douma and edited by Thomas W. Juodatis, Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (2017) presents an array of Clark’s exchanges with such prominent evangelical and fundamentalist leaders as J. Oliver Buswell, V. Raymond Edman, E.J. Carnell, Cornelius Van Til, Carl F.H. Henry and J. Gresham Machen. The compilation uses many letters scanned from the College Archives of Buswell Library.

The Trinity Foundation in Unicoi, Tennessee, continues to republish Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s many books, tapes and pamphlets.