The New York Times has a wonderful obituary celebrating the work and legacy of ethicist Glen Stassen. Paul Vitello’s lengthy article does justice to Stassen’s progressive Republican father and highlights Glen’s influential advocacy work, much of which took place during the years between my two sojourns at Southern seminary in Louisville (1980-1989). For instance,
Dr. Stassen was among the few prominent evangelical leaders to publicly challenge the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the leader of the Moral Majority, over his electioneering on behalf of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns in 1980 and 1984. And he was among the few to criticize Reagan over his domestic spending cuts, his military buildup and his use of the phrase “evil empire” in 1983 to describe the Soviet Union.
He went on to help mobilize the international disarmament movement that, by some accounts, played a role in removing intermediate range nuclear missiles from Western Europe in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
And there is this:
At the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he became a professor of Christian ethics in 1976, Dr. Stassen clashed with administrators who urged faculty members to place ideas like prohibiting abortion, the subordination of women in the family and the literal truth of biblical texts at the core of their teaching.
A bit of nuance would be helpful here. Although I’m sure Stassen made Southern presidents Duke McCall and Roy Lee Honeycutt nervous from time to time, Glen was generally at home in the pragmatic conservatism of the 70s and 80s. The overt fundamentalism of Albert Mohler and the puppet masters who elevated an untested neophyte to the presidency of the denomination’s flagship seminary changed all that. Glen stayed at Southern four years into Mohler’s reign, a testament to Dr. Stassen’s commitment to peacemaking. To quote Bob Dylan, “anyone with any sense had already left town.”
Here’s my favorite bit:
In the early 1980s, while on a research sabbatical in Germany, Dr. Stassen served as a liaison between the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign in the United States and several European peace groups.
He was inspired, he said, by the grass-roots activism he saw there: demonstrations drawing hundreds of thousands of people to protest plans for basing NATO missiles in West Germany and 30,000 churches joining in peace forums that filled pews to capacity.
When he returned home, he assumed a greater leadership role in the disarmament movement, serving as co-chairman of the freeze campaign’s strategy committee, a coalition of peace and labor groups that helped organize a protest in Central Park in 1982 that drew about one million demonstrators.
“A thousand things happened to bring about the slow-dawning realization that a freeze was in the interests of both sides,” Dr. Stassen wrote, referring to the 1987 treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union that finally ended the buildup. “People had more of the power and took more of the initiative than is usually perceived.”
It is always in the government’s interest to play down “the role of the people,” he added. “But the treaty would not have happened without them.”