Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter…

Online I came across some 1960 correspondence from L. Harold DeWolf to Martin Luther King, Jr. DeWolf had been King’s PhD dissertation advisor at Boston University School of Theology. [BUST, an unfortunate acronym for a seminary] By 1960, of course, King was pastoring and leading protests against racial discrimination in Birmingham, AL.

In a May 10, 1960 letter, DeWolf told King that Boston University had raised $2500 in scholarship money for students—black or white—who had been expelled for non-violent protests against racial discrimination. He thought King might know of students who needed the scholarship.

King knew of some, of course, including James Lawson, who had been thrown out of Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville for that very reason. He later graduated from BUST and went on to significant leadership in the civil rights movement.

I had never heard of that scholarship fund, although it does not surprise me. When I was a college junior, I was determined to go to BUST myself, in great part because my model and mentor, my bishop, Richard C. Raines, had done his seminary degree there, but also BUST was known in general for its advocacy of the social gospel. Then, though, I heard Bishop Raines say that if he were choosing seminary now [1958], he would go to Perkins, at SMU, because they were on the cutting edge of theological education. So I went to Perkins. {1}

I had not heard of that scholarship, but I had definitely heard of Jim Lawson and his expulsion from Vanderbilt Divinity School. I wrote a “strongly worded letter,” [as Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory TV show calls them] to John Robert Nelson, the dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, excoriating him for Lawson’s expulsion. Later I learned that Nelson was opposed to Lawson’s expulsion but overruled by Vanderbilt’s president. So when Nelson came to IU in my senior year to give a lecture, I went up to him afterwards to apologize. I said, “I’m John Robert McFarland. You won’t remember me, but I wrote you a letter about…” He didn’t let me finish. “Oh, yes,” he said. “I remember that letter quite well.” [I must have been a pretty good writer back then.]

Anyway, I hope somebody at a college—community or otherwise--starts a scholarship fund for students who get expelled from school for protest against gun violence—the civil rights issue of the current time. I want to make a contribution.


1} I got thrown out of Dallas for civil right advocacy and finished at Garrett, at Northwestern U. I tell more of that story in The Strange Calling, published by Smyth&Helwys and available quite inexpensively all over the internet. I finally got to go to BUST, in 1967, when I did graduate work there.

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