will d. campbell

So, I just discovered Will D. Campbell. I picked up one of his books — Soul Among Lions: Musings of a Bootleg Preacher — for $0.50 at the Salvation Army in Central Square yesterday, and I bought it after reading the following quote on the inside of the book jacket:

Why can there not be a one-sentence peace treaty: “It shall be a violation of international law for any nation to kill a child of another nation.” What nation would not sign the treaty? And how would war then be waged?

I read half the book on the train ride home, then I looked deeper into the life of the author. Campbell was a notable white supporter of civil rights in the ’60s, a Baptist preacher in Mississippi, a WWII veteran, the spiritual life director at Ole Miss for 2 years in the ’50s (before giving it up because of the heat he took for his support of civil rights), and a celebrated writer. He is now 83 years old and still writing and speaking, still active in calling out injustice in plain terms and prophetically bringing a new message (with refreshing simplicity and innocence).

Soul Among Lions is basically a book of short “blog posts,” written in 1999 before blogs were big. I’ve found myself nodding emphatically at nearly everything I’ve read of it so far, so you can expect some of it to reappear here on this blog, starting today. If you haven’t checked out Campbell’s stuff, it’s as relevant in 2007 as it was in 1999 (Soul Among Lions), 1978 (when he wrote Brother to a Dragonfly, a finalist for the National Book Award), or 1962 (when Race and the Renewal of the Church, Campbell’s first book, was published).

I’ll start with this piece, the 11th chapter in Soul. Keep in mind this was written in 1999. Enjoy.

Recently in Salt Lake City a passel of souls of my religious declension resolved that wives should submit graciously to their husbands. I don’t recall that being an issue of any gravity in our family. For example, I am totally irresponsible with money, so my wife handles that. She gives me pocket cash and I don’t complain. (I reckon I’m not a leader!) But she doesn’t know about farming, so in the little bovine cul-de-sac we inhabit I decide what variety of seeds to plant, when and where to plant — things like that. It’s worked pretty well for this first fifty-three years of marriage.

Even so, I’m glad to see my Baptist brethren — yes, brethren — taking a solid, literal stand on biblical interpretation. Maybe next year they will do the same with the passages where Jesus and Isaiah said they had come to proclaim opening the doors of prisons and letting all the prisoners go free. That would rescue us from the prison-industrial complex that threatens to bankrupt us with ever more costly prison construction.

Or they could pass a resolution about Romans 12, where St. Paul tells us to feed our enemies. Since the president, vice president, and Senator Jesse Helms are all Southern Baptists, we’ll lift the sanctions on enemies like Cuba, Iraq, and Libya and send them food for their crying babies. We could even quit spending so much time trying to put prayer in the public schools, because Jesus unambiguously taught that when we pray we are to go to a secret place and pray in secret.

So I’m glad to see my brethren taking scripture seriously. I await even more resolutions.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by priest on November 2, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    heh, great stuff. thanks for unearthing a contemporary prophet–i’m sure he’s been nearly squelched out by all the fundies.


  2. Yeah. Thanks for this.

    The wife read this aloud to me the other night. Great stuff.


  3. thank you for reminding me of an old friend. brother to a dragonfly is a good, beautiful and true tale.

    campbell convicts me, challenges me and reminds me that it is possible for progressive evangelicals to survive in the south. not that i’m planning on moving any time soon, but the parentals will be decrepit at some point in the not too distant future.


  4. Posted by ConcernedEngineer on November 13, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    If Christians really took Scripture seriously, there would be a mass exodus of Christians out of the public schools, since Scripture clearly teaches us not to render those that bear God’s image to Caesar – and since the Scripture asserts that parents – not the state – are to raise their children in the training and admonition of the LORD. Maybe, one of these days, all the glib liberal Christians will quit pointing out the specks in the eyes of their brethren on the right, and they will take out their own planks. Of course, the brethren on the right should be looking to appreciate the occasional good points that liberal Christians make, and we should all be dealing with each other graciously. God help us.


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