Clashing Visions of a Perfected World: The Intellectual Foundations of Debate at Bethel College

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The previous essay explored the acts students performed as expressions of protest against, and in support of, the Vietnam War. It noted that while students generally sought to engage the issues attendant to the war, they also “struggled to articulate a cohesive, authentically Christian response to the pressing social questions of the day.”¹ Much of that struggle and students’ ultimate failure to resolve their differences, was due to the variously competing and consonant intellectual and cultural influences swirling around campus during the Sixties. At Bethel, those influences were principally: the prevailing ethos of the Baptist General Conference; an appropriated pacifism derived from the historic Peace Churches; and the political Left, comprising both the secular New Left and the lesser-known religious Evangelical Left. This essay will explore further the context and origin of these three sources of inspiration, and how they manifested themselves in the words and deeds of Bethel students during the Vietnam era. While all three played more or less significant roles in campus debates at different junctures of the war, the periods in which they dominated campus culture unfolded in rough succession. Precisely dating each period is, of course, impossible; intellectual/cultural history moves in ebbs and flows, not an ostinato march of date and fact.

F.O. Nilsson

F.O. Nilsson

The Baptist General Conference was founded by Swedish immigrants who arrived in America during the middle of the nineteenth century fleeing both religious persecution (the Lutheran state church left little room for dissenting views) and economic malaise. Gustaf Palmquist, a Baptist convert of seminal BGC figure F.O. Nilsson, organized a Swedish Baptist church in Rock Island, Illinois in 1952. Under the careful guidance of a number of ministers and aided by increasing numbers of Swedish immigrants in the later half of the nineteenth century, the inchoate network of churches grew, and in 1879 — eight years after Bethel Theological Seminary was founded in Chicago by John Alexis Edgren — the denomination was officially founded as the Swedish Baptist General Conference of America.² The fact that the denomination’s founders were Swedes, Baptists, and immigrants imparted three characteristics that would endure arguably through the first five decades of the twentieth century and shape how its members interacted with American society. Those overlapping ethnic and religious identities determined in large part the ethos found in many Conference churches into the 1960s.

Carl Lundquist as a student in 1940

Carl Lundquist as a student in 1940

Understanding the BGC is critical because its influence pervaded Bethel’s campus and indelibly shaped its leaders, most of whom were themselves steeped in Conference culture and institutions; indeed, during the Vietnam period, Bethel College and Seminary were fully-owned subsidiaries of the Conference (an arrangement which persisted until the mid-2000s when Bethel was incorporated as its own entity. The Conference still, however, sponsors the school). Carl Lundquist, Bethel’s president since 1954, had attended the Academy briefly in the 1930s. Immediately prior to his assuming the presidency, Lundquist has pastored one of the BGC’s flagship churches, Elim Baptist in Chicago. As president, Lundquist contributed regular articles, columns, and opinions to the Conference organ, The Standard, often advocating for the school, explaining recent decisions, and illustrating how Bethel’s work contributed to the denomination’s vitality.

As a senior member of Bethel’s administration, Lundquist was not alone in maintaining vigorous ties with his college’s denomination. Clifford Larson, dean of the College until 1966, also had deep Conference roots and frequently appeared in the pages of The Standard. Indeed, the Conference evidently expected that senior administrators at its college come from a Conference background, evinced by their treatment of George Brushaber in 1975. In that year, Brushaber had been nominated by Lundquist to serve as the College’s new dean. One final obstacle blocked his confirmation at that summer’s Annual Meeting: BGC stalwarts needed reassurance that this “outsider” was sufficiently in sympathy with the Conference. Lundquist arranged for Brushaber to fly out the following day and put doubts to rest.³ Evidently, he did so, as Brushaber served as dean until Lundquist’s retirement in 1982 when he assumed the presidency. Perhaps most immediately, Bethel’s students flowed overwhelmingly in a direct line from Conference churches onto the St. Paul campus. In his 1956 Annual Report to the Conference, Lundquist reported that eighty-one percent of his students came from Baptist backgrounds, “the large majority” of which were from the BGC.⁴ By the Sixties, this number had diminished only slightly.

Clifford Larson in 1966

Clifford Larson in 1966

Of course, no matter how close a connection the College and Conference maintained, the two were not the same entity. Each institution primarily served different constituencies within the Conference; while the denomination was oriented towards the concerns of its adult members (who tended to be older and most politically and theologically conservative), the College was tasked with the care and education of women and men largely under the age of twenty-five. These separate missions necessitated differences in language, emphasis, and tone when the same set of leaders pivoted between College and Conference, displayed most clearly in Lundquist and Larson’s writings in The Standard.

Further, the sixties were a pivotal decade for the relationship between the school of Conference for reasons unrelated entirely to Vietnam. While earlier iterations of Bethel had been smaller and thus less costly to operate, after World War II the rapid expansion of higher education across the country forced Bethel to expand significantly. The added operating costs were a heavy burden to an increasingly-Americanized Conference which over the past decades had outgrown the need for the school, given its original purpose: to train Swedish-speaking ministers for Conference churches. By the mid 1960s, Bethel’s share of operating revenue generated by Conference contributions was trending down, even as the school came into new capital requirements for the building campaign which would facilitate the school’s move (Seminary in 1965 and College in 1972) to Arden Hills over the coming years. Lundquist’s Annual Reports document the increasing tension as his matter-of-fact business reports of the mid 1950s turned into impassioned defenses of the school and its mission by the mid 1960s.

Yet ultimately, despite increasing tensions, it would be absurd to suggest that differences in institutional mission and funding needs removed Bethel from the ambit of Conference culture, particularly in the early 1960s. At least until 1966, Conference culture was reflected in Bethel students’ writing about the war. That culture was made up of two often intertwined elements: religious culture and political culture.

The present day logo of the American Baptist Churches, formerly the Northern Baptists

The present day logo of the American Baptist Churches, formerly the Northern Baptists

As did so many things during that pivotal decade, the Conference’s religious culture existed in tension. That tension was, however, less due to the war than to internal shear forces within the BGC. As the Conference established itself on American soil through the early twentieth century, it developed an ecclesial culture that fit broadly within the evolving Christian traditions of the Midwest, increasingly combining their Baptist theology, heavily influenced by German and Swedish pietism, with a new conservative impulse. That impulse is what led the BGC in 1944 to separate from the Northern Baptists with whom they had cooperated on a number of issues from evangelism to the publication of Bibles from the nineteenth century.⁵ As the Northern Baptists tracked ever closer to the mainline which they would eventually join, the Conference retreated, establishing its own Board of Foreign Missions and publication department. By the 1960s, the BGC was more or less what George Marsden described as evangelical:

theologically conservative protestants with some ties to the fundamentalist heritage who […] maintained separate organizations but did not insist on them […] opposed liberalism in theology but dropped militancy from their identity […] reevaluated their theological heritage, dropping dispensationalism though not premillennialism and allowing debate on inerrancy […] tolerated some doctrinal differences as evidence in their willingness to accept Pentecostals into their larger fellowship.⁶

As Marsden hints, many of the evangelicals of the Sixties had a none-too-distant fundamentalist heritage. That heritage — which had been created on American soil in the clash of Baconian commonsense realist biblicism with German higher criticism and scientific advances at the end of the nineteenth century — was continued into the mid-twentieth by some denominations that continued the militant separatism and dispensationalism of their fathers and added to it extreme forms of anti-communism and American patriotism.⁷

George Marsden

George Marsden

While the BGC had itself never been ‘fundamentalist’ in this sense, by the 1960s conservatives and fundamentalists existed within the denomination in an uneasy tension. Decades of uneven Americanization and the late expansion of the Conference beyond its formerly ethnic monoculture put new pressures on Conference identity. While the BGC youth were thoroughly acculturated by midcentury, their grandparents were not, leaving a core of Swedish-speaking foreign born members. To this was added a slew of new member generated both by the vigorous evangelism campaigns the Conference undertook and an expanding church base. These new members who themselves had American fundamentalist heritage joined the older contingent of Swedes, thus reinforcing their theological and political conservatism and adding a new nativist streak to BGC religious culture.

Indeed, it is difficult to overestimate how much the interaction of these two opposing forces — Conference members rooted in a shared Swedish Baptist immigrant memory and a small but occasionally vocal wing of fundamentalists whose heritage stemmed more from American controversies than from anything in the Old War — shaped the BGC, contributing to the denomination’s outlook on a host of political culture and religious issues.

The political culture of the BGC is of particular relevance to the Vietnam experience on campus because its constitutive elements functioned as important tropes of Bethel pro-war student rhetoric. It had three significant aspects: Americanistic patriotism, support for the United States government, and anti-communism.

July 1942

A July 1942 Bethel Bulletin cover

The Baptist General Conference was a patriotic denomination. As Chris Gehrz has documented, during World War I, Swedish Baptists in the midwest came under immense pressure to Americanize. As speakers of a Germanic tongue they, perhaps more than most, came under suspicion along with other “hyphenated Americans.” Gehrz’s analysis of patriotism at Bethel during the Great War did not include the Conference, yet the degree of patriotism displayed at the school during the war years suggests the sponsoring Conference likely felt similarly. In 1918-19, the language of “red-blooded American youth” appeared in Bethel publications and as late as 1931, the handbook included “The American Creed” defining a five-fold commitment to the United States.⁸ If the record is slim on World War I era patriotism within the BGC, during the next the Conference came out in full support. After Pearl Harbor, The Standard quickly shifted from an initial Augustinian caution to racist language describing the enemy.⁹ Bethel was quick to surpass her denomination; a student wrote in the Clarion: “May it never be said that Bethel is not a patriotic school, loyal to the last of her Swedish Baptist blood to the United States.”¹⁰

February 17, 1964 Standard - Bethel University Digital Library

February 17, 1964 Standard

In the mid 1960s, the Conference was still evincing strong patriotism as a hallmark of its religious style. The cover of the February 17, 1964 Standard depicted an unfurled American flag, and on the inside cover a poem by Kenneth Carlson. Carlson’s poem quoted the fourth stanza of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and connected it’s plea for divine grace to an exhortation to national pride: “This stanza […] is a prayer. It is a plea, a declaration of faith, a reminded of God’s goodness and of our dependence upon Him. It is a call for continuing patriotism.”¹¹ Carlson concluded the article by arousing patriotic fervor with a recited litany of Americana from Bradford and the Pilgrims’ survival in the Massachusetts wilderness and Washington’s perseverance at Valley Forge to the Gettysburg Address.

At the same times, the Conference displayed an ambivalence toward the power and intention of the American government. When president Johnson signed a bill in 1964 which would allow colleges like Bethel to take out federal loans for property, plant, and equipment improvements — as Bethel desperately needed — the debate over whether to accept such a loan ripped through the Conference for over a year. In a 1965 contribution to The Standard, William Widen (the eventual namesake of one of Bethel’s current dorms) summarized the nays’ position well:

…the insidious [loan] process will involve us slowly but surely in the labyrinthine ways of the federal government and gradually cause an erosion of basic Christian emphasis. This is just the beginning, for this law will never be rescinded but will increase, at first so innocently, and finally the tentacles of our federal bureaucracy will have such a grip on us that we will be forced to accept its demands.”¹²

Lundquist, for his part, pushed for the loans. Yet the controversy illustrates the extreme ambivalence many Conference Baptists felt about the power and reach of the American government.

Chaplain Warren Withrow in the July 5, 1965 Standard

Chaplain Warren Withrow in the July 5, 1965 Standard

That dichotomy — on the one hand espousing a fervent patriotism and on the other fearing an overreaching federal government — is hardly unique (today’s political conservatives express much the same combination). Yet it merits explanation, particularly on the far side of the New Right of the 1970s. I suggest that the BGC’s distinctive identity as an immigrant Swedish Baptist denomination with an expanded American membership provides the answer. As an immigrant denomination, the BGC espoused thoroughly patriotic feelings in order to evince loyalty — a particularly critical feat in wartime. Further, while acculturation is often a source of tension between older and younger immigrant populations, ‘becoming American’ had certain advantages; patriotism was a signal of Americanness. Yet as a Swedish Baptist denomination, the BGC’s collective memory of oppression under the Swedish government for nonconforming belief would have served to instill caution toward the government. Baptists in particular have historically stood against the encroachment of government as state religions seldom favour purposefully non-hierarchical, populist religions. At play here too, at least on the issue of school loans, was latent anti-Catholicism; a common line of argument Conference Baptists advanced was that Catholic parochial schools stood to benefit from the plan and that Baptist tax dollars should not be involved in promoting the Catholic faith.

While the Swedish Baptist immigrant nature of the Conference pushed more for skepticism about Americanism, the expansion of the Conference in the decades before Vietnam had brought nativist members into the fold. For these members, the Swedish Baptist immigrant experience was not something they shared; far more potent was the neo-fundamentalism of the 1960s which espoused a strict patriotism and support of government. Although clearly never a majority, this group of Conference Baptists periodically emerged from the fringe to inject an element of fundamentalist fury. This fringe notwithstanding, perhaps above all, Conference Baptists as a whole vacillated between patriotism and distrust because they sought to place an emphasis on the spiritual above the temporal — a goal often derailed by political passions in times of national distress.

The bombing of Nagasaki - Wikimedia Commons

The bombing of Nagasaki

Secondly, despite their occasional ambivalence about the intent of the government, the Conference Baptists were generally supportive of their leaders and felt that they had the best interests of the country at heart. This acquiescent attitude towards government policy — particularly foreign and war policy — was given an additional support by the attitude the BGC struck towards Vietnam. From mid 1965 to the summer of 1967, The Standard suggests the Conference staked out a typically evangelical response to the war: broadly affirm the government’s position, focus reporting on news to the exclusion of opinion, and connect the war to the missionary effort overseas.¹³ The last point merits significant emphasis. For the Conference laity, BGC chaplains provided an eye into the storm, reporting on the war, justifying its costs, and promoting the president’s view. Chaplains seldom complicated the picture with the human toll the war exacted or the moral quandaries Vietnam presented. Mediated by the chaplains, the war was neutered into something most Conference Baptists felt sorrow over — a December 1965 column in The Standard portrayed conflict as a sad but essentially inevitable part of the human experience — but also optimism. Optimism that the war would extend the Gospel into Vietnam, optimism that the Kingdom would be expanded, and optimism that Vietnam might unleash another wave of evangelism comparable to the post-World War II boom.

It’s worth noting that as military enthusiasts, the Conference were an abject failure compared to other Baptist denominations. A poll of the Southern Baptists in 1969 showed that “nearly forty percent of parishioners […] favored continuing the war even if it meant triggering World War III and nuclear destruction” (emphasis mine).¹⁴

Carl Henry

Carl Henry

The Conference outlook on Vietnam both inculcated and reflected a generalized and fairly non-decisive acceptance of the government line on the war. This outlook was, after all, consonant with the Conference’s theological perspective on governance, derived most importantly from Romans 13 (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established”). At worst, such an attitude resulted in an attitude of quiescence regarding the war — “Why question it when the war is advancing the Gospel?” — and at best, an epistemological dodge which was echoed throughout the elite of the strengthening evangelical movement. Carl Henry, the editor of Christianity Today, employed it when he expressed annoyance at war critiques offered by mainline clergy: “What special wisdom do clergymen have on the military and international intricacies of the U.S. government’s involvement in Viet Nam? None.”¹⁵ Bethel’s Carl Lundquist expressed much the same in his 1969-70 Annual Report to the Conference, although he went beyond inaction to sign a petition asking president Nixon to cease blockading and mining Vietnamese harbors.¹⁶

8793618_origThus, most Conference Baptists were perfectly willing to accept the containment and domino theories put forward by a succession of American presidents. The notion that were South Vietnam to fall to the communists, the rest of Southeast Asia would soon follow was a dogma of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and drew on even earlier work by the American diplomat George Kennan who first articulated containment policy in 1948. It helped too, that most Conference leaders were older; they would have remembered vividly the failure of Munich 1938 and determined to draw the correct lesson from Hitler’s guile: never give ground in the face of a tyrant. Yet despite their youth, Bethel students too, appreciated the containment doctrine and domino theory.

The Conference was primed to accept those geopolitical doctrines in part too because it was pervasively anti-communist. Communism was identified by The Standard as the ultimate ethical-political evil for decades prior to Vietnam, a practice which would continue through the war. The language of a reprinted editorial from F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover suggests how deep the Conference’s anti-communism ran:

[Communist man] is truly an alarming monster, human in physical form, but in practice a cynically godless and immoral machine.¹⁷

1954 Sword of the Lord

1954 Sword of the Lord

Hoover was not the only Standard writer to dwell on the evils of communism. Chief editor Donald Anderson identified communism as the first person of what George Bogaski suggests is the “unholy trinity” for evangelicals (the second and third were Catholicism and Liberalism).¹⁸

By far the most superlative statement of anti-communism in the Conference was the pamphlet published by John Ballantine, a pastor at Highland Park Baptist Church in Saint Paul. Accusing Bethel of harboring communist influences, Ballantine’s twenty page screed inveighed against everyone from Carl Lundquist, Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. to the National Student Association and the National Association of Evangelicals, accusing all of communist sympathies. The publication was more redolent of John Rice’s Sword of the Lord publication than native BGC political thought. Yet for all of that document’s extremity, Lundquist too believed that communists were active in student protests across the country.¹⁹

The conservative Baptist theology of the Baptist General Conference’s religious culture thus helped create and reinforced a threefold patriotic, government-supporting, anti-communist political culture. Those three features — summarized by the term religious conservatism — played out consistently in the words and deeds of students at Bethel from the early years of the Vietnam War (around 1964) through the end of 1966, and then intermittently into the 1970s.

Viet Cong

Viet Cong

A trio of articles in 1965 and 1966 demonstrate all three elements of the BGC ethos. Writing in March 1965, David Hartzberg offering a musing letter on the Vietnam situation, focusing on the relative benefits of continuing the war or withdrawing. While the war had significant costs, and previous Christian missionary efforts into Asia had resulted in a less-than-perfect transmission of the Gospel (Hartzfeld suggested that in spite of this, “some truth was given and after 15 years of trial some Chinese Christians are finally finding true faith in God”), Hartzfeld ultimately concluded that the war was a net benefit. The decisive factor that tipped the scales? The thought that communism might expand further in Asia: “I am in favour of resistance against atheism in its military guise in order to give the Church a freer hand in its mission.”²⁰

A little more than a year later, Douglas Ring penned an article urging Americans to support the war. While president Johnson’s recent draft calls had resulted in protest around the country and a general questioning of whether the war was worth the immense cost, Ring suggested that such results should not dissuade the country from pressing on. Instead of seeing such protest as a giant wave which will upright the national ship, Ring argued, “we should rather see the ship riding the crest of the waves, powered on its course by the mightiest engine in the world, the firm will of the American people.” “The majority of our people are loyal in supporting the cause of freedom in South Vietnam,” Ring continued, and in a jab at pacifists, dismissed their ability to ever impact the president’s policy. In spite of his optimism, Ring identified two ways in which the protests could defeat American resolve: by encouraging our enemies and by demoralizing our soldiers. These outcomes were exactly why communists were controlling the student protest movements, Ring asserted, concluding that “America must present a united front against communism. […] We must join or die. The United States, greatest of all military powers, can be defeated in war only by herself.”²¹


In the autumn of 1966, John Sailhamer reprised similar themes, commenting at a time when the United States had decided not to advance ground combat into North Vietnam. This action was prudent according to many, said Sailhamer, but was ultimately futile. Why, he wondered, did the United States care to consider world opinion in how it conducted the war? The United States was the country with the most power and its decision to use force to impose a settlement from the Viet Cong was trading a lesser evil for a greater good — peace in Vietnam. While some argued that China might intervene should the U.S. invade North Vietnam, Sailhamer dismissed such concerns out of hand, arguing that those people were merely repeating themselves from the earlier Berlin and Cuban crises; neither had resulted in World War III, so why should invading North Vietnam? “The United States cannot be content with waiting for peace,” Sailhamer concluded, “it must make peace. And to make peace requires force.”²²

Strafing in Vietnam

Strafing in Vietnam

All three articles demonstrate various elements of the BGC ethos at work on Bethel’s campus. For Hartzberg, the primacy of the Gospel and the need to restrain communism meant the war was justified; for Ring, following president Johnson’s policy was the correct response to questions about the war; and for Sailhamer, American concerns came before anything — and anyone — else. That American jingoism and desire to elevate the country above all else was displayed again the next month when an article asked rhetorically whether it was possible to wave the flag too much (“Provided of course, that you wave it with integrity”). “It seems to me that we are developing a tendency to be timid or even apologetic about waving the stars and stripes. Walk up and down the streets on July 4th and count the flags. It is our nation’s birthday, a sacred day in world history, the most important day of America,” the anonymous author wrote. In glowing tones, the author made a spirited defense of the flag and pleaded for readers to

arrest our near reverential admiration of material success and return to the spiritual and ethical values. Let us imbue and rekindle in ourselves and our children the so-called old-fashioned way of patriotism, a burning devotion to the principles and ideals upon which our country was founded.²³

Is it possible to wave the flag too much, the article asked? “I don’t think so,” the author concluded.

In the BGC, the summer of 1967 saw a brief flowering of dissent as several letter writers responded to that year’s Annual Meeting and the failure of the denomination to produce an anti-war statement. But by winter, the Conference permanently retreated from debating the war and doubled-down on its chaplain-as-missionary narrative. Curiously, that approach was in contrast to other conservative Christians and evangelicals. In the summer of 1968, in the wake of the Tet Offensive that spring which dented public opinion of the war generally, seventy percent of Missouri Synod Lutherans and ninety-seven percent of Southern Baptists supported escalating the war.²⁴

Jonathan P. Larson

Jonathan P. Larson

Interestingly, it was about the same time that vocal support for the war began to disappear at Bethel as well. While Bethel’s record of unified support had always been more fragmented than the BGC’s from the end of 1966 voices of support were nearly silenced in the school’s publications. The BGC ethos which had dominated campus hitherto began to lose legitimacy and suffer criticism. The Clarion’s editor, Jonathan P. Larson offered a series of editorials on the historical background the the war, dismantling the Johnson administration — and the BGC’s — geopolitical arguments about the necessity of the war. Vietnam was, Larson argued, a site of near-perpetual warfare for almost two thousand years and the American presence could only hurt the civil war which raged in the country. Implicit in his understanding was the notion that the Vietnam War was not primarily about communism; Ho Chi Minh’s ideology was only circumstantially derived from his earlier fight against Japanese and French colonizers.²⁵ Later, a letter gave explicit voice to concerns which had erupted periodically that the Conference was out of touch and that its incessant focus on evangelism was distracting from other important world problems.²⁶

For many students, the BGC worldview as formulated in the early 1960s had lost the ability to explain the facts students perceived in light of the developing war. No less acidic were the arguments advanced by their peers at universities across the nation. Susan Giliberg articulated the dissolution of the potency of the BGC ethos almost perfectly in a letter to the editor in November 1966, quoted in its entirety here:

As I walked out of chapel this morning, (Tuesday, November 8) I felt very uneasy. I agreed with both speakers concerning their hate for the evil of war. But I thought of the Christian boys over in the Viet Nam who, according to many, should breathe a prayer of confession as they pull the trigger.

What kind of Christian willfully sins over and over and dares ask God again and again for forgiveness? Perhaps all Christians should become pacifists? I personally don’t know.

Is killing in such a war a sin? What is our Christian duty to our country? What about the Canaanite destruction so long ago? Does the new covenant of grace nullify divine sanction of any war? If we as a nation were to pull out of Viet Nam, would the results be more evil than the war conditions right now?

Obviously, I’m confused. But I feel Christianity, somewhere, holds the answer. Today, Viet Nam, on Christian grounds, was condemned. But we still have a war. Christians are still pulling triggers and voting levers for candidates who support the war. What would Christ have us do?

Perhaps another chapel on this subject is in order.²⁷

Students plan the May 1970 protests

Bethel students plan a May 1970 protest

Lundquist’s Annual Reports again reflected the shifting sentiment on campus. His language in 1963-64 — such a clear example of late 1950s and early 1960s BGC concerns — had transitioned by 1968-69 to a new style marked by sweeping exposition on religion, culture, society, and the place of mankind in the world, a shift which mirrored the student discourse on campus.

Of course, this new style did not significantly outlast the war. The yearning of the Sixties’ social revolution would eventually splinter into a drug-fueled incoherence and the violence of an increasingly militant Students for a Democratic Society and Weather Underground, eventually shredding into the disparate concerns of identity politics. But while the new style remained in ascendency, many Bethel students for whom the old BGC worldview still made sense remained true to their roots and lived through the anti-war years on campus in relative silence.

Only occasionally did a pro-war, pro-government, or patriotic demonstration break out from the (to them) suffocating confines of Bethel’s new campus culture. In October 1968, several Bethel students attacked an anti-war picketer on campus, and during the October 1969 Moratorium events, 130 Bethel students signed a pro-war petition.²⁸ Others held a large American flag aloft along Snelling Avenue in counter-protest to the anti-war marchers across the street.²⁹

Jesus People

Jesus People

These faithful students and others like them beyond Bethel would emerge on the other side of the decade ready to be swept up in the renewal of Right politics itself effected by an infusion of religious conservatives. Joining that same movement would be many of the members of the New Left who had been influenced by the Jesus People movement and other hippie Christianities.

However, during the war years, their relative silence does not suggest their role on campus was insignificant. Indeed, such students were probably in the majority despite their absence from the historical record. David Heikkila, an anti-war protester and Conscientious Objector remembered that the actions and attitudes of many of the students most influenced by the BGC ethos were a cause of division and strife on campus:

I felt that as a peacenik I should endeavor to maintain the unity of the campus. Unfortunately, many students and prof[essor]s felt that campus unity was uniformity of opinion and avoiding the debate. Some used the goal of unity of spirit as justification for declining opportunity for dialog. Campus unity was also used by the apathetic or pro-war, pro-Nixon groups as justification for their position. Some went so far as to advocate that all students should accept the majority attitude in order to avoid controversy. Unfortunately, too, many at Bethel did not trust the Bethel pacifists to be led by the Spirit in their activities. Some faculty and administrators may have feared that Bethel students would emulate the University of Minnesota and other college students by resorting to civil disobedience, obstruction of traffic, disruption of classes, etc. Such fears were unfounded. The position of the Peace Club as to express their attitude of peace and Christian pacifism by methods consistent with its ends.³⁰

The pacifism Heikkila referred to in his recollections of life at Bethel during the Vietnam era was the second principal intellectual force on campus. Throughout the period students regularly turned to the non-resistance and pacifist beliefs of the historic Peace Churches, appropriating them for their own historical context. In some cases, students made the argument that the Baptist General Conference had itself been a pacifist denomination earlier in the century before being swept into a fervour of wartime passion. While pacifist beliefs appeared largely the purview of those most starkly opposed to the war, occasionally more moderate figures expressed support for the position; on at least one occasion, pacifists came under ridicule for the perceived selfishness of their views. Still, during this period pacifist beliefs made significant inroads at Bethel and would endure on campus for decades, in no small part due to the lengthy tenure of G. William Carlson as a professor of History and Political Science.

The Deserter — Boardman Robinson

The Deserter — Boardman Robinson

While various Christian sects have expressed pacifist beliefs almost since the origins of the religion, the doctrine has been most clearly articulated and developed by three traditions: the Mennonites, the Quakers, and the Brethren. All three had roots in the Radical Reformation —  a sixteenth century movement of reaction against both the Catholic Church and the earlier magisterial protestant traditions such as Lutheranism and the Reformed churches — whether expressed through the work of Menno Simons (the Mennonites), the central European anabaptist tradition (the Brethren) or the English dissenting sects (the Quakers). In addition to this common lineage, all three denominations were also united by their pacifist and non-resistance beliefs, hence their designation as the Peace Churches, a title stemming from their participation in a 1935 convention in Kansas. Each argued that a significant aspect of Jesus’ ministry was defined by his teaching of the way of nonviolence, exemplified by his willing submission to the state as expressed by the Roman authorities. Christians might come under the power of the state, the pacifist believed, but they could not be forced to participate in the cycle of violence that defined unredeemed humanity. Nonviolence then, was a crucial piece of the Christian pacifists’ witness to his or her own faith.

Rising tide of European tension

Rising tide of European tension

Although none of this theology had roots in the Baptist General Conference, several Bethel college and seminary students were convinced that it did. Three students attempted around 1970 a vigorous defense of a Conference pacifist heritage, largely by drawing on documents and statements the BGC produced during the interwar period. Seminarian Mark Olson’s piece in the December 1970 issue of Diakrisis (the organ of Bethel Seminary) made the most sustained argument. “If hersey is a departure from orthodoxy of the past,” Olson wrote, “there might be some heresy in the Baptist General Conference.” Olson’s claim of ‘past orthodoxy’ rested primarily on several declarations the Conference had issued in the 1930s and early 1940s. The earliest resolution, adopted by majority vote at the 1933 Annual Meeting, described war as “contrary to the teachings of Jesus” and declared that the Conference was “opposed to war, and in favor of every sincere effort for the promotion of peace.” A year later, the Conference adopted a statement concluding “we therefore express as our firm conviction that all Christians should absolutely refuse to take up arms against fellow men, and that we should teach this principle in our churches.” In 1935, the call to teach pacifism was expanded further, the resolution urging the “denominational agencies — the publications department and our schools (Bethel) as well as the Sunday schools, churches, and pastors — to devote more earnest attention and effort to the enlightening of our constituency of the un-Christian aspects of war, with a view of crystallizing a sentiment that would make possible a united stand against it in the near future.”³¹

The urgency lurking beneath the surface of the 1935 statement and its understanding that a “united stand” would be needed in the near future reflected the increasingly unstable international arena. By the summer of 1938, that instability caused the Conference to begin hedging its statements; new that year was the addition of the phrase “of aggression,” appended to the kinds of wars the Conference opposed, and in 1940, the phrase “unalterably and unequivocally opposed to any and every move on the part of the President and the Congress of these United States, and other national, state, and local legislative bodies, that will in any way tend to draw us or drive us into a war of aggression on other shores, and on other soil than our own” appeared, suggesting an increasing awareness of the critical global situation. Finally, in the summer of 1941, the Conference urged its people “to maintain, with the help of God, the spirit of forgiveness toward all enemies” — a telling statement, given its assumption that Conference Baptists did indeed have enemies that ought to have been forgiven. Several months later, all BGC statements on peace and the unacceptable notion of Christian participation in war vanished in the smoke of exploding Japanese bombs at Pearl Harbor.

The USS West Virginia sinks in Pearl Harbor

The USS West Virginia sinks in Pearl Harbor

The abruptness of the disappearance troubled Olson, who suggested that the abandonment of pre-war pacifism was indicative of either capitulation to secular war propaganda or a spiritual blindness among Conference leaders. His conclusion, that Conference Baptists seriously consider their anti-war heritage, likely prompted the Clarion to reprint the article to a wider audience a few weeks later.³²

That decision by the Clarion’s editors proved helpful for two of Bethel’s Conscientious Objectors (COs). When Harold Conrad filed for CO status, his petition was initially denied. Only when he returned to the board with a copy of Olson’s article did they reverse their decision, concluding that because Conrad’s religious organization had a concrete record of opposition to war his petition was valid. While Dave Heikkila did not quote directly from Olson’s article, he was undoubtedly influenced by it; the logic of his statement draws heavily on Olson, even quoting several of the exact same BGC statements Olson had done in his earlier article. Like Conrad, Heikkila’s petition proved successful.³³

David Heikkila, in 1973

David Heikkila, in 1973

Olson, Heikkila, and Conrad’s belief that the BGC had an authentically pacifist heritage was sincere, if mistaken. Set against the broad sweep of trans-atlantic interwar religious developments, the anti-war statements Olson identified as reflective of a deep Conference pacifism appear unremarkable. In the wake of the devastation wrought by World War I, Christians in both Britain and America modified their prior enthusiastic support for war and founded or participated in dozens of organizations dedicated to establishing worldwide peace and the avoidance of war. In Britain, the powerful labour party embraced the pacifist movement in the 1920s and early 1930s yet abandoned its declarations in the face of an increasingly aggressive Germany; its pacifism was not absolute and hinged more on the idea of collective security than moral opposition to war. While the BGC’s declarations in the early 1930s were fairly absolute, the denomination’s move towards moderation by the end of the decade mirrored similar shifts in countless other organizations across the globe. Far from Olson’s notion of a BGC pacifist orthodoxy, the Conference’s interwar declarations appear as a brief aberration, not the norm.

If the Baptist General Conference had shallow or non-existent pacifist roots, Bethel’s ran somewhat deeper. Even before the Tonkin Incident in 1964, Bethel students had formed a Peace Club with the understanding that “the principles of peace and brotherhood are at the core of Christ’s life and message” and dedicated to the exploration of “non-violent methods of resistance as a possible solution for all major social conflicts.”³⁴ In an attempt to forestall misunderstandings, the Clarion announced that “one does not have to be a confirmed pacifist or even a sympathizer in order to participate in the discussions.” Rather, the club was meant to facilitate meaningful discussion for those students who had “the desire to be informed on some of the basic issues of war, non-violent resistance and various solutions to social and international conflicts.” Given the early date of the Club’s formation, it is perhaps unsurprising that the article announcing the Club quoted Martin Luther King Jr. more than it referenced the war in Vietnam; part of the awareness of pacifism at Bethel was likely due to the tactics King had employed in the struggle for civil rights over the previous decade.

Roland Bainton

Roland Bainton

Among the books listed on the Peace Club’s reading agenda was a title by Roland Bainton, a historian at Yale. Bainton had married into Quakerism and as a result served in the Red Cross during World War I. When the war ended, Bainton embarked on an academic career and began churning out works on pacifism, Christian responsibility, and justice issues. By the 1960s, Bainton was an influential elder statesman of pacifism whose work was read widely not least in evangelical circles. Indeed, when asked to discuss pacifism at Bethel during the war, fifty-one years later G. William Carlson produced one of Bainton’s books as a primer on the subject. In addition to reading Bainton’s books, an ephemeral paper trail suggests that Bethel students solicited materials from pacifist organizations on occasion. In 1966 Ronald Stone solicited materials and advice from the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group dedicated to facilitating Conscientious Objection, and in 1972, A Quaker Action Group (AQAG) solicited a Bethel student for funds; in an era before direct mail tactics, it is likely that AQAG had been previously contacted by the student.³⁵

Students also encountered pacifist thought in chapel, the Moratorium teach-ins, and in classes. Noted pacifist Mulford Q. Sibley’s October 1968 lecture in chapel was devoted largely to defending pacifism as an historically-valid Christian perspective. Sibley retold the story of Maximilian, the Christian martyr whose refusal to serve in the third century Roman military on Christian grounds brought his immediate execution.³⁶ A year later, the Clarion reprinted portions of Sibley’s lecture as part of the 1969 Moratorium.³⁷

Maurice Zaffke, 1970 Spire - BUDL

Maurice Zaffke, 1970 Spire – BUDL

The following May, Maurice Zaffke spoke about his pacifist convictions in a similar context, ranging over much of the same ground as Sibley. Zaffke’s self-set task was to answer why he “dared to use the name of Christ in connection with [his] pacifist stance” and to provide an explanation for the problematic Old Testament passages in which God commands the Israelites to commit genocide against neighboring tribes. Neatly sidestepping the inherent theodicic question the Old Testament passages posed, Zaffke maintained that if God required Christians to kill, then they were morally obligated to kill. The Israelites were thus excused from moral culpability because their actions had been commanded by God. However, Zaffke argued, Christians would not be called to kill because they were bound by the New Testament ethic. To prove his second point, Zaffke worked his way through a complicated set of exegetical arguments, finally summarized in three points: first, the Christian was responsible for his own behaviour; second, civil disobedience could be an appropriate action, provided it was not a “political action designed to topple established power” and; third, when the Christian was confronted by authority, his natural reaction should be to submit, but not in a way which results in him participating in evil — submission might entail accepting the punishment meted out by the state for civil disobedience.³⁸

While Zaffke’s speech contained few novel arguments for pacifism, it did demonstrate the fraught method by which Bethel’s Christian pacifists attempted to prove their position. By relying almost solely on exegetical argumentation about the meaning of a given text and its overall relevance to the biblical message, Bethel’s pacifists were unable to overcome objections to their position; their opponents employed the same strategy. In failing to consider the polysemic nature of the biblical text, both Bethel pacifists and those who espoused a Just War ideology consigned themselves to endless bickering over ever more finely parsed exegesis. Thus, as much as Zaffke tried to sweep aside the issue of Old Testament genocide and rely on a supposed “New Testament ethic of peace,” he continued to face the possibility of an equally textually-based argument for the appropriateness of Christian military participation based on different passages in light of a different New Testament ethic. The result was that Bethel pacifists were able to gain little ground on the merit of their varied textual arguments.

The Clarion, 1972

The Clarion, 1972

In the midst of a war which inflamed so many passions, the pacifist ethos at Bethel was sure to attract controversy from the more hawkish students. In 1972, the Clarion ran several letters to the editor centered on one such controversy. In the September 29 issue (unfortunately missing), Marshall Shelley penned a defense of pacifism, arguing that nonviolence was the highest good for the Christian. Evidently, Shelley also allowed that Christians might fight in the armed forces; when they did, they protected the rights of pacifists and ministered to their fellow servicemen. Shelley’s article prompted disagreement from Richard Dahlberg the week later, who found the argument that Christians should be pacifists yet also participate in the armed forces incoherent. More critically, Dahlberg accused the pacifist of selfishness:

More bluntly, the pacifist is a parasite, totally dependent upon the non-pacifist for his very existence. Essentially the pacifist is saying “Now, all of you non-pacifists out there, I expect you to take up arms, if necessary, to defend my right to be a pacifist, but… uh… if anyone feels like taking away any of your rights, don’t expect me to [give] you any help… understand?

For Dahlberg, this was a “terribly immoral position” and one which he rejected as being either moral or Christian. He could, however, support one’s right to be a pacifist.³⁹

Dahlberg’s letter in turn attracted criticism from pacifist supporters. Writing somewhat belligerently, Brian Howard suggested that

Although I could respect your non-pacifist stand, I am bothered by the incongruity of your statements, one calling the pacifists a parasite of society and then in the following paragraph telling of your respect of the pacifist position. But the most irritating and sad aspect of what was said is the narrow-mindedness or lack of insight with which everyone and everything that conflicts with your personal opinions are either immoral or un-Christian.⁴⁰

In the same issue, Wade Jacobs offered a more nuanced response, contesting Dahlberg’s characterization of pacifism as a “right.” “Pacifism is not a right,” Jacobs responded, it is a “totally unique way of life. It is not the legal expression of a constitutional freedom, but a command of God for my life.” Jacobs also rejected the idea that pacifists were parasites, relying on those with fewer scruples to defend them. “Mr. Dahlberg,” Jacobs wrote, “I am a pacifist regardless of who defends or persecutes my way of life. My security is in no way related to a non-pacifist’s defense of my existence. […] It is, rather, a matter of personal integrity before God.”⁴¹

Marshall Shelley, 1972

Marshall Shelley, 1972

Pacifism continued to be an active force on campus long after the Vietnam war, due largely to the teaching advocacy of G. William Carlson. During the 1971, 1972, and 1974 interim semesters, Carlson taught classes entitled (respectively) “Pacifism: The Forgotten Option,” “Radical Christianity,” and “Nonviolence.” Those classes’ syllabi reveal titles by Sibley, Bainton, and other anabaptist, Quaker, and Mennonite authors.⁴² More than one Conscientious Objector credited Carlson — whether through class discussions, assigned readings, or personal interaction — with convincing them that pacifism was the proper Christian response. As Ken Rizzuti suggested in an interview in 1976, “I believe that the Lord will convict His people in this direction of pacifism if they genuinely seek His will. [Situations like Vietnam] do bring issues to a head.”⁴³

About five years after the U.S. involvement in the war ended, Cedric Broughton, a Bethel student, conducted a number of interviews with the school’s Conscientious Objectors. Cedric’s survey allows for the unique ability to see how individual conviction endured after the war in a group of students who were by definition pacifists. Overwhelmingly, they maintained their pacifist beliefs, responding to the question “Do you still hold the same view on war” with ten yeses, two more nuanced answers, and zero nos. While for Mark Steward, the answer was clear-cut —  “Yes. War is hell. I refuse to participate” — Douglas Gordh was not as sure, answering “I have not, of late, thought through the pacifistic position and its theological bases as related to all war. But I can say that I have moved from holding a clearly pacifistic position in the face of a Hitler in power to not being sure of my position in such circumstances.”⁴⁴ An anonymous respondent offered a similarly torn view:

During the 1973 Israeli war I know I did a lot of soul-searching. What would I have done if I was an Israeli? Would I defend my country? I could feel welling up inside me a desire to help Israel — send them war supplies, etc. But I don’t know what I would do. The thought reoccurred to me last week, just briefly. One thought I had was that I might defend my country — that it wouldn’t be a denial of “love your enemies.” But I can’t say for sure.⁴⁵

For Dave Shupe, his conversion to pacifism at Bethel inaugurated a life-long commitment to the way of nonviolence. Writing of his time performing alternative service at the Denver General Hospital in Colorado, Shupe remembered that:

The years in Denver crystallized my opposition to war. My conversion to pacifism was slow but permanent. When I decided [to stay in Denver] I understood that I was committing myself to a lifetime of resistance to war.⁴⁶

The third powerful intellectual influence on campus during the Vietnam War was the political Left. If the Right became emblematic of the forces of reaction and warmongering during the Sixties, the Left inspired young people around the world to embrace an aspirational politics. On campus, Bethel students were aware of the potency of the political revolution no less than students on other campuses. But unlike many colleges and universities around the country, Bethel played host to a specific subset of Leftist thinking — the Evangelical Left. As distinct from the larger, more ecumenical, and certainly less religious New Left currents and organizations present on other campuses, the Evangelical Left baptized the rhetoric of the secular left and sought to provide Christian solutions to social and political problems. Thus while the secular New Left influenced language and to some degree dress and demeanor on campus, it was the Evangelical Left which captured the affections of many Bethel students.

Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden

“We regard men as infinitely precious and possessed of unfulfilled capacities for reason, freedom, and love,” thundered the Port Huron Statement in 1962. Its principal author, Tom Hayden, was a former student at Michigan State University and a major figure in the infant Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Hayden had become involved during his student years in the burgeoning free speech movement but had soured on the anti-radicalism of existing organizations such as the National Student Association. In SDS, he found a calling. The Port Huron Statement, composed during a United Auto Workers retreat in eastern Michigan, articulated a number of the bedrock principles of the nascent New Left. The document lauded participatory democracy — a term launched into the mainstream vocabulary as a result of the Statement — based on non-violent civil disobedience and the conviction that individual citizens could be meaningful participants in the official decision-making that affected their lives. The two fundamental impediments to realizing such a vision for American society, the Statement argued, were the American schizophrenia over race and the societal alienation fostered by the Cold War and its attendant threat of nuclear annihilation.

The Port Huron Statement both helped initialize and came to symbolize an international movement that rejected the earlier Marxist class-based approach of the Old Left and its concern for labor and unions in favor of an expansive definition of liberty, one which sought to incorporate a broad array of diverse new interests under one political banner — feminists, gay activists, racial and economic minorities, and the alienated young. Indeed, focusing on Hayden and the SDS’ prominent role in the development of New Left principles obscures the broader nature of this defining political movement of the Sixties whose global dimensions can be better appreciated by considering the intellectual giants behind the movement’s popular expressions.

The New Left was essentially a politicized and amalgamated outgrowth of the theoretical conclusions of a generation of transatlantic thinkers. The several founders of the discipline of Critical Theory, denizens of the Frankfurt School Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, were afforded prominent roles as a result of their work on the banality of modern society and the role of technology in repressing the human spirit. Post-colonial and race theorists (Frantz Fannon, Che Guevara, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Malcolm X), writers and poets (Allen Ginsberg and Aldous Huxley), and philosophical and academic luminaries (Albert Camus, Bertrand Russell, and Claude Levi-Strauss) also contributed work that buttressed the coalescing dogmas of the New Left.

The result was a politicized language of outrage which drew on this great variety of intellectual influences to deconstruct social categories and political policies alike. Post-colonial and Marxist thinking contributed to the denunciation of the Vietnam War as naked western imperialism, the wild frenzy of an unsated capitalist military-industrial complex devouring a third world victim. The draft was denounced for its display of unfeeling, insensitive bureaucracy that scooped up predominantly African-American victims and deposited them in the jungles of Vietnam while the wealthy offspring of the rich (white) majority bought their way to safety through college deferments.

That kind of language cropped up at Bethel occasionally. For example, a 1966 Clarion article offered a biting critique of the war:

There is one matter that casts its ugly shadow over our lives, over everything we do. This is the criminal, brutal U.S. imperialist aggression against the people of Vietnam. This is the most vicious, savage, uncivilized assault on a small national in all the annals of human history.⁴⁷

Lynn Bergfalk

Lynn Bergfalk

Other aspects of New Left rhetoric presented themselves when Bethel students debated the issue of student power. In a typical New Left-inspired critique, Lynn Bergfalk provocatively connected the treatment of Bethel students under the school’s parochial behavioural rules to the treatment of the “nigger” (used for provocative effect — Bergfalk’s point was to decry racial oppression) in American society. “The rule of thumb is to talk and work with students in a paternalistic and condescending way. Treat a student as a man only when it’s no longer possible to treat him as a schoolboy,” the Clarion editor wrote witheringly.⁴⁸

Bergfalk’s rhetoric, and the language of the anonymous critic of the Vietnam War, were aspects of the New Left which president Lundquist despised. These “hard core revolutionists” and “rebels of the New Left” made up the larger portion of what Lundquist called in 1969 the “withdrawal” and “destruction” fronts — groups of students who variously shunned the responsibilities of society in order to explore their personal freedom or who sought to destroy the Establishment by means of “pillage, arson, conflict, violence, [and] bloodshed.”⁴⁹

Leonard Sammons

Leonard Sammons

Lundquist’s reaction — and the fragmented comments made by innumerable students throughout the Clarion — speaks to the probability that only a very few students at Bethel were actively part of the self-identified New Left. Leonard Ray Sammons may have been the closest Bethel saw to an unabashed New Left proponent on campus, but even his attitudes were redolent of the Evangelical Left more often than not. The documentary record contains hints of more radical action among Bethel students — murmurs of off campus meetings in clandestine locations, an offhand comment about an underground newspaper — but no concrete evidence of such activism exists. Even more striking was the complete absence of prominent New Left groups such as SDS or the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on campus. While both were active at the nearby University of Minnesota, there was never any suggestion that such a group would be welcome on Bethel’s campus.

The reluctance among Bethel students to participate in New Left organizations may have stemmed from the fairly anti-religious ethos of the movement. Like the Evangelical Left after them, secular radicals often saw religion as a fundamentally reactionary institution designed to prop up the Establishment; unlike the Evangelical Left, the secular movement was often outright hostile toward religion. And if many Bethel students felt that their BGC heritage did not hold adequate answers for world problems, few felt the need to abandon Christianity entirely, even if they did seek a more nuanced faith that could respond more flexibly to the modern world.

More prevalent on campus than its secular peer was the Evangelical Left. Indeed, the Evangelical Left provided the intellectual foundation for nearly all of Bethel’s anti-war students. The movement provided a language that was both deeply spiritual and action-oriented. It participated in the currents of the New Left, but threw the door wide for Christian conclusions — a direct contrast to the simmering undercurrent of anti-religious hostility in the New Left.

A portrait of Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis today (he’s lost the jeans and scruffy beard) – Sojourners

Jim Wallis’s conversion from his conservative upbringing to evangelical radical was a microcosm of the development of Evangelical Left thought. Although Wallis, the future founder of the organization known today as Sojourners, had grown up in a tight-knit Plymouth Brethren church and had had an conversion experience at an early age, by the time he enrolled at Michigan State University in 1967, he had “rebelled against the suburban pieties of his youth.”⁵⁰ Wallis was shocked by the racism and police brutality of the inner-city Detroit he had begun exploring in his late teens, so during his first semester at MSU, he became active in the local SDS chapter. By his senior year, Wallis had risen to the top of his chapter’s leadership.

That spring, SDSers and Weathermen attacked the Lansing City Hall, smashing windows and tangling with police. The event shattered Wallis’ faith in the movement which he rejected bitterly as being grounded only in “humanistic platitudes” and whose logical end was moral confusion. Wallis watched in horror as the movement degenerated into violence and fragmentation.⁵¹ Making his way to the outskirts of Chicago, Wallis enrolled in the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he underwent a profound spiritual reawakening and experienced a new commitment to social justice. David Swartz, an historian at Asbury University and the foremost scholar of the Evangelical Left described his time in Chicago:

With unrelenting appeals to Scripture, the young firebrand managed to persuade many of his classmates [often through an] emphasis on peacemaking, prayer, and radical generosity as preached by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Wallis ripped out all the pages in the Bible that dealt with money and poverty, leaving only a tattered shell remaining, to make his point that social justice mattered. While others in the New Left made their case using sociological arguments, Wallis ‘made it theological’ and insisted on scriptural justification for arguments.⁵²

Detroit in the Sixties

Detroit in the Sixties

Wallis and several friends from Trinity would go on to found The Post American, a quarterly journal dealing with issues of Christian faith and social justice. The cover of their first issue featured a statue of Jesus, crowned with thorns and wreathed in an American flag. The symbolism was obvious – America was the new Rome, crucifying Jesus through her policies in Southeast Asia.

Judged on the major positions the Evangelical Left espoused, its debt to the New Left was apparent. Like their secular co-politicists, those in the Evangelical Left rejected the materialism and decadence of American culture. Again echoing the New Left, evangelical radicals called for greater participation in democracy, more transparency from leaders, and an end to the military-industrial complex. Rampant capitalism, many in the Evangelical Left believed, was destroying human life and creativity, and an increasingly bureaucratized state sapped vitality from the political process and inspired apathy. The Evangelical Left adopted many of the tactics of the New Left, including, as Swartz suggested, “guerilla theater, picketing, leafleting, and direct confrontation,” all of which “marked a profound departure from evangelical quietism.”⁵³


Jacques Ellul

A particular concern of the Evangelical Left, Swartz identified, was with the concept of technocracy.⁵⁴ The word was a reference to a concept articulated by the French philosopher, sociologist, and Christian anarchist Jacques Ellul, and was first introduced to Anglophone audiences through the 1964 translation of Ellul’s The Technocratic Society. Ellul conceived of technocracy as a descriptor for the society which strove toward the goal of continuous economic growth and prosperity while ignoring all human aspirations unrelated to that goal.⁵⁵ Further developed by Marcuse and Roszak, the concept of technocracy was soon imbued by college students with critiques of capitalism and American cultural decadency. The technocratic society, they felt, was one which silenced all human endeavours not quantifiable by the market. It destroyed individualism, freedom, and diversity and sought to mechanize the production of interchangeable consumers whose value was only predicated on their ability to feed the never-ending cycle of exploitation, consumption, and ultimately, death. The language of technocracy was employed in increasingly diverse settings from critiques of the draft and the impersonal nature of University administration to still inchoate environmental concerns and generational alienation.

Unlike their secular counterparts who saw economic and sociological causes behind many problems, evangelical radicals “saw international and economic issues, not just as practical difficulties with technical or managerial solutions, but as moral issues. To them, good and evil were not abstract concepts, but were actual constructs infesting historic and modern institutions.”⁵⁶ While the New Left saw victory through the awakening of a mass movement of popular political mobilization, evangelical radicals maintained that the only ultimate victory could be won through the world-transforming power of the crucifixion, resurrection, and triumph of Christ. The Evangelical Left thus married liberal political and social concerns with a distinctively conservative theology.

David Swartz

David Swartz

That the movement was so readily — and so quickly — accepted on a campus whose political culture had until the mid 1960s been defined largely by the politically and theologically conservative milieu of the Baptist General Conference is unsurprising for several reasons. First, the movement’s distinctive blend of New Left politics and essentially conservative theology held great appeal to evangelical youth as they grew increasingly ill content with the seeming irrelevancy of the BGC ethos. And as Swartz argues, the adoption of New Left principles and their subsequent baptism and transformation into the doctrines of the Evangelical Left by conservative evangelical youth was facilitated by a number of key shared characteristics between the movements. Swartz lists four: the importance of searching for true meaning, the value of authenticity, the demand for total commitment, and an almost-manichean division of the world between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.⁵⁷ Transitioning between the conservative BGC political ethos and the liberal Evangelical Left was cognitively easy; the new system of thought used the same mental pathways as the old, regardless of how politically distant it was.

Second, the Evangelical Left arrived at precisely the right moment to take advantage of unrest at Bethel. Just as the old BGC consensus began to splinter in 1966, the Evangelical Left were gaining rapid cultural ground. Mark Hatfield, a governor of Oregon and prominent figure within the Evangelical Left, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1966, giving him a national platform to spread his views. Even before elected, Hatfield went on record against the war, voting against a Governor’s resolution supporting the war. The vote did nothing to stop his candidacy, and Hatfield was swept into office.⁵⁸ Hatfield’s views were published in The Clarion numerous times, and in 1984, gave the commencement speech at Bethel.⁵⁹ Wallis’ conversion to the Evangelical Left began only a few years later. Of course, neither man comprised the entirety of the movement.

Cover of the first issue of the Post American journal, 1971

The inaugural issue of the Post American, 1971

Bethel’s anti-war students eagerly embraced the doctrines, language, and views of the Evangelical Left; G. William Carlson remembered seeing copies of the Post American “everywhere” on campus in the early 1970s.⁶⁰ The movement struck a careful balance between the intellectual offerings available to students. At the same time conservative and rebellious, the Evangelical Left allowed students to authentically resist and critique politically conservative reactions to the war while retaining much of the conservative theology that the BGC and Bethel espoused. Indeed, “for angst-ridden students,” wrote Swartz, the Evangelical Left provided a way to participate in the tumult of the era without engaging in its more destructive practices; for those students, “afflicted in the early 1970s with alienation over Vietnam, the ‘Sixties’ came in a belated but accelerated rush.”⁶¹

The foremost Bethel example of Evangelical Left thinking in action was Clarion editor Bob Miko. Mike served in Vietnam for two years before coming to Bethel. In an editorial in October 1971, Miko reflected on that experience in an extended meditation on the effects of an American withdrawal. While against the war, Miko recognized a host of difficulties should the United States leave quickly, not least the problem of reprisals against Vietnamese who had aided Americans. Beyond the material damage, Miko was concerned with the cultural and spiritual effects the American presence had wrought on the country:

We have completely won them over to the All American God, Money. I saw money become the prime motivator to the Vietnamese. I saw girls who sold themselves for five dollars to support their families on a GI inflated economy. Everywhere there were scars of The American Way of Death as it ripped through a fragile community of people.⁶²

Miko’s columns as editor were not always well accepted; Dick Halverson recalled that many students made comments similar to, “It’s nothing that I haven’t heard since I was a kid. If I want a sermon, I will go to church.”⁶³ Those responses illustrate just how close the Evangelical Left and its conservative evangelical roots were — students could not always distinguish the two. Yet as Halverson suggested in a letter defending Miko,

If you want a sugar coated Sunday religion, well then you’ve got it. But Bob is saying something different. He is saying all of life is religious, that God is the Creator of all things, and that all of life is either lived serving Him or serving Moloch — there is no neutral ground. […] Bob has been saying that we have accepted a Christian-coated educational life that is secular to the core. We’ve bought the American Way of Life with all its political options as the Christian Way of Life. Worst of all, we have reduced the Body of our Beloved Savior to an individualistic, personal and private affair involved only in “soul” winning, while letting the Body of Humanism reign united everywhere but in church on Sunday morning.⁶⁴

Bob Miko, 1973

Bob Miko, 1973

If Miko’s conception of Christianity as a force which should infuse all aspects of life sounds similar to conservative religion, consider Swartz’s assertion that evangelical radicals purposefully blurred the lines between politics and faith — “to tie the sacred to the temporal so closely that the two were indistinguishable.”⁶⁵ Halverson’s letter also echoed language Jim Wallis had used to describe his disillusionment with the secular Left — it was grounded only in “humanistic platitudes” — and participated in the evangelical radical preoccupation with critiquing the “United States of Babylon” foremost among the nations.⁶⁶ Paul Swenson continued this line of criticism against American culture, writing in 1972 that “the capitalistic value of competition and consumerism in this country have overflowed the boundaries of economic activity and flooded virtually the entire American way of life.” His subject was a recent television program that pioneered the dating show concept. For Swenson, the invasion of market forces into the realm of romance was intolerable:

Love has become a consumer product to be bought and sold, advertised and cheapened. If you are unloved, it is because you wear the wrong perfume, gargle with the wrong mouthwash, splash on the wrong after-shave, spray on the wrong deodorant, dress in the wrong fashion, have ho-hum mouth from chewing the wrong gum. […] …the fear of rejection, the insecurity, the frantic striving after acceptance even through the wearing of a mask.⁶⁷

The most significant extant statements of Evangelical Leftist principles was the Conscientious Objector statement Maurice Zaffke submitted to his local board in 1969 or 1970. While the sprawling, fifteen page document might not have been the wisest choice of submission for his CO petition, Zaffke’s detailed document makes clear his thinking.

Technocratic illustration in the Clarion

Technocratic illustration in the Clarion

Zaffke developed a lengthy argument which took care to develop a conception of the Church as a “community of cooperation.” Having done that, the essay turned to a critique of America. “I must insist,” Zaffke began, “that it is mandatory that one reject the American Religion to follow Jesus.” The American Religion was in direct contradiction with the way of Jesus displayed in the New Testament and the Church as a community of cooperation. Zaffke developed four aspects of the American Religion that he found particularly egregious. First, the Deus ex Machina (“God out of the Machine”) represented the American Religion’s tendency to call upon God only in dire circumstances, “when one faces a cataclysmic event.” Second, the God of the Gaps treated God as an explanation for the unexplainable — a minimizing and deeply condescending attitude. The Majesty Object tendency in the American Religion tended to reduce God to an object of adoration, nothing more. Finally, Zaffke objected to the Decadence of Personal Salvation by which followers of the American Religion sloughed off their responsibilities to follow Christ in favour of the cheap grace which promised that no change was required of them; in contrast, Zaffke used the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German protestant minister who remained faithful during the Nazi years.

Zaffke turned quickly to capitalism, alleging that

As Christians are being “nice” and “sensitive” personally they are cooperating with the world. Today the American thing is [to be] rich. The American religion responds, engaging in the great cycle of waste/consumption, waste/consumption. We can talk of food, clothing, housing, transportation. We gorge ourselves in luxury.

“We act as if this economic system were ordained by God,” Zaffke mused. Why? Capitalism was not even inherently moral as it “accomplishes its objective by harnessing the most destructive aspect of man to the economic machine,” in other words, the selfishness of human nature.⁶⁸

Zaffke’s repeated use of mechanical language — Deus ex Machina, “the economic machine” — was reflective of the pervasive influence of the Evangelical Left’s technocratic critique. On this subject, Lundquist regularly employed the language of technocracy, suggesting that his sympathy for the Evangelical Left was far deeper than for the New Left. His Annual Reports from 1967-68 and 1968-69 all contained lengthy passages employing technocratic language (seriatim):

The forces of depersonalization threaten even the small school in a day of cybernetic revolution.⁶⁹

It seems to me that the youth revolt of our day is a protest against the dehumanization of man in a world of science. It is a protest against the depersonalization of man in mass society. It is a protest against progress in science without progress in human relationships. It is a protest against the conquest of new worlds without resolving the problems of the old one. It is a protest against man becoming an unfeeling automaton rather than a free person.

Th youth revolt is part of a world-wide social revolution. It is a cry of anguish over the infringement of individual liberty everywhere. It is raised not only against the technological machine but against the political machine, the military machine, the industrial machine, the educational machine, and the ecclesiastical machine. Wherever people may be dealt with as means and not as ends, the restless discontent of the new generation can be heard.⁷⁰

Such fears were entirely understandable. In the sphere of Higher Education alone, university administrations had expanded rapidly in the post-war period and had growth increasingly out of touch with their student constituencies — one of the major impeti towards the Free Speech Movement in the University of California system. Even at a school like Bethel, professionalization gradually separated teaching and administrative functions over the decade, prompting concerns that a bureaucratized class were exerting far too much control.  

Yet somewhat ironically, even as students decried the increasingly professionalization, specialization, and management of the world they lived in, their college choices helped contribute to the actualization of the world they dreaded. Two of the most popular majors during the period, psychology and sociology, were both concerned with classifying and quantifying humans and human behavior. And in 1973, Bethel added its first Business major, founded with a startup grant of $25,000 from a local bank president. The program quickly established itself, and within a few years was the single largest undergraduate program at the school.⁷¹

Together, the political and religious culture of the Baptist General Conference, anabaptist and Peace Church pacifist convictions, and the political Left comprising the secular New Left and the religious Evangelical Left, made up the principal intellectual influences Bethel’s students experienced during the Vietnam War years on campus.

The words and deeds of students reflected to varying degrees the influence of each of these socio-political movements. While the BGC ethos may have been numerically strongest, its proponents generated the fewest number of documents about the war. By far the most prominent, at least judged by the amount of published material, was Evangelical Left thinking, followed closely by pacifist thought.

The debates these ideas underlined were conducted with an intensity born of the importance of the age; during the Sixties, students struggled to envision and birth a new world. These three systems of thought were part of the aspirational politics that drove students to consider fundamental questions — the very nature of the common weal, who would be included in the new political dispensation, and for whom would American institutions fundamentally advocate. They could not all succeed in actualizing the worlds they envisioned; in truth, all failed in great measure. Yet the systems of thought they both drew upon and created reflected a common yearning — a yearning, in the words of Lundquist,

that every human being is a person of importance and worth, that material security ought not have the highest priority in life, that love ought to characterize all of our interpersonal relationship, that right ideals are worth suffering for, that honesty should characterize our actions, that unconventional methods may open exciting new doors into the future, and that whatever ought to be done ought to be done now.⁷²

Consider the words the editors of the Spire yearbook chose to describe the Departments of History and Political Science in 1969:

A study of History and Political Science allows a student to view the issues that man has been forced to face since his creation — issues such as the evolution and nonevolution of human potential, the nature and continual meaninglessness of prejudice, the unending futility of war and violence, the conflict of national and international ideals, the significance and often divisive nature of religion, the ultimate purpose of God’s working in the solution of human affairs, and the role of human responsibility in the consequences of world history.⁷³

That yearning for a better world, that groping for a more fair reality, was shot through nearly every document generated at Bethel during the war.

— Fletcher Warren

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¹ Fletcher Warren, “A School Divided: Protest, Support, and Alienation at Bethel College,” Bethel at War 1914–2014.
² Adolf Olson, A Centenary History as Related to the Baptist General Conference (Chicago: Baptist Conference Press, 1952).
³ William Carlson and Dianna Magnuson, “Bethel College and Seminary on the Move,” in Five Decades of Growth and Change: The Baptist General Conference and Bethel College and Seminary 1952-2002 edited by James and Carole Spickelmier (Minneapolis: The History Center, 2003), 33.
⁴ Carl Lundquist, “Annual Report of the President,” Report of the Board of Education, In 1956 Annual of the Baptist General Conference, 129.
⁵  Olson, A Centenary History.
⁶ George Marsden, “From Fundamentalism to Evangelicalism: A Historical Analysis” in The Evangelicals: What They Believe, Who They Are, Where They Are Changing edited by David F. Wells (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975) quoted in Andrew Pratt, “Religious Faith and Civil Religion: Evangelical Responses to the Vietnam War, 1964-1975” (PhD diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1988), 63.
⁷ Ibid., 84.
⁸ Chris Gehrz, “‘Are you Loyal?’: An Immigrant School Faces ‘100 Percent Americanism,’” Bethel at War 1914–2014.
⁹ Chris Gehrz, “A Cautious Patriotism?,” Bethel at War 1914–2014.
¹⁰ The Bethel Clarion 1942-02-24.
¹¹ Kenneth Carlson, [Poem], The Standard 1964-02-17, 1.
¹² William Wide, “Letter to the Editor,” The Standard 1965-05-24.
¹³ Andrew Pratt, “Religious Faith and Civil Religion: Evangelical Responses to the Vietnam War, 1964-1975” (PhD diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1988), 177-97.
¹⁴ George Bogaski, American Protestants and the Debate Over the Vietnam War: Evil Was Loose in the World (Lantham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014), 100.
¹⁵ David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 47-8.
¹⁶ Carl Lundquist, “Annual Report of the President,” Report of the Board of Education, In 1970 Annual Report of the Baptist General Conference, 120-1.
¹⁷ Edgar Hoover, “Red Goals and Communist Ideals,” The Standard 1964-08-31.
¹⁸ Donald Anderson, “Threats to America’s Greatness,” The Standard 1964-11-23; Bogaski, American Protestants, 83.
¹⁹ Carl Lundquist, “Annual Report of the President,” Report of the Board of Education, In 1970 Annual of the Baptist General Conference, 123-4.
²⁰ David Hartzfeld, “U.S. Stand in Vietnam Supported,” The Clarion 1965-03-17.
²¹ Douglas Ring, “National Front Lacks Cohesiveness; Vietnam Differences Lead to Strife,” The Clarion 1965-05-18.
²² John Sailhamer, “Diagnoses for Vietnamese Maladies Seek Aggressive American Policies,” The Clarion 1966-09-28.
²³ Anonymous, “Fellowcitizens,” The Standard 1966-10-20.
²⁴ David Levy, The Debate over Vietnam, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 94.
²⁵ Jonathan P. Larson, “Long Pull of Vietnamese History Muddied by Micro Preoccupation,” The Clarion 1967-09-28; Jonathan P. Larson, “Failure of France and America at Geneva Spurs Asian Violence,” The Clarion 1967-10-11.
²⁶ Patricia Faxon, “Ingrown Attitudes Depict the College,” The Clarion 1970-04-10.
²⁷ Susan Giliberg, “Letter to the Editor,” The Clarion 1966-11-17.
²⁸ Steve Marquardt, “Jesus Protectors Attempt to Preserve Bethel’s Nice, Safe, Christian Image,” The Clarion 1968-10-28; “Students and Faculty Reaffirm Faith in Government,” The Clarion 1969-10-24.
²⁹ Richard Evans to Fletcher Warren, Personal email correspondence, 2014-11-22.
³⁰ David Heikkila, “Questionnaire,” Responses to 1976 Cedric Broughton survey, Personal Collection of G. William Carlson (hereafter GWC), 3.
³¹ Mark Olson, “Whither Orthodoxy,” Diakrisis 1970-12.
³² Ibid.
³³ Harold Conrad, “Questionnaire,” Responses to 1976 Cedric Broughton survey, GWC; David Heikkila, “Questionnaire,” Responses to 1976 Cedric Broughton survey, GWC, 3.
³⁴ Minda Pearson, “Student Congress for Peace Seeks Campus Role,” The Clarion 1963-10-01.
³⁵ Letter to Ronald Stone from Dayton Olson, Student Senate Minutes 1961-71, The History Center: Archives of the Baptist General Conference and Bethel University (Hereafter HC); Letter from A Quaker Action Group, GWC.
³⁶ Mulford Q. Sibley, “Justifiable Dissent: The Courage of the Christian Conscience,” Lecture presented October 29, 1968 at Bethel College, GWC.
³⁷ Mulford Sibley, “Dissent Seen as Christian,” The Clarion 1969-10-17.
³⁸ Maurice Zaffke, “Why I am a Pacifist,” May 1970, GWC.
³⁹ Richard Dahlberg, “Letter to the Editor,” The Clarion 1972-10-06.
⁴⁰ Brian Howard, “Letter to the Editor,” The Clarion 1972-10-13.
⁴¹ Wade Jacobs, “Letter to the Editor,” The Clarion 1972-10-13.
⁴² Syllabus for “Pacifism: The Forgotten Option,” GWC; Syllabus for “Radical Christianity,” GWC; Syllabus for “Nonviolence,” GWC.
⁴³ Ken Rizzuti, “Questionnaire,” Responses to 1976 Cedric Broughton survey, GWC.
⁴⁴ Douglas Gordh, “Questionnaire,” Responses to 1976 Cedric Broughton survey, GWC; R. Mark Steward, “Questionnaire,” Responses to 1976 Cedric Broughton survey, GWC.
⁴⁵ [Unknown], “Questionnaire,” Responses to 1976 Cedric Broughton survey, GWC.
⁴⁶ Dave Shupe, “Questionnaire,” Responses to 1976 Cedric Broughton survey, GWC.
⁴⁷ “Fellowcitizens,” The Clarion 1966-10-27.
⁴⁸ Lynn Bergfalk, “The Student as Nigger Finds Application Where?” The Clarion 1968-11-15.
⁴⁹ Carl Lundquist, “Annual Report of the President,” Report of the Board of Education, In 1969 Annual Report of the Baptist General Conference, 123-4.
⁵⁰ David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 49.
⁵¹ Ibid., 50.
⁵² Ibid., 52.
⁵³ Ibid., 59.
⁵⁴ Ibid., 58.
⁵⁵ Preston Shires, “Hippies of the Religious Right: The Counterculture and American Evangelicalism in the 1960s and 1970s” (PhD thesis — University of Nebraska, 2002), 30-1.
⁵⁶ Swartz, Moral Minority, 64-5.
⁵⁷ Ibid., 63.
⁵⁸ Donald G. Balmer, “The 1966 Election in Oregon,” The Western Political Quarterly, 20:2 (June, 1967).
⁵⁹ Mark Hatfield, Commencement Address, Bethel College 1984, GWC.
⁶⁰ Interview with G. William Carlson, Author’s personal collection.
⁶¹ Swartz, Moral Minority, 49.
⁶² Bob Miko, “Editorial,” The Clarion 1971-10-29.
⁶³ Dick Halverson, “Letter to the Editor,” The Clarion 1971-10-29.
⁶⁴ Ibid.
⁶⁵ Swartz, Moral Minority, 66.
⁶⁶ Ibid., 64-5.
⁶⁷ Paul Swenson, “The Great American Dating Game — Artificial, Competitive, Shallow, Commercial, Hedonistic, Utilitarian,” The Clarion 1972-02-25.
⁶⁸ Maurice Zaffke, Conscientious Objector Statement, GWC.
⁶⁹ Carl Lundquist, “Annual Report of the President,” Report of the Board of Education, In 1968 Annual Report of the Baptist General Conference, 127.
⁷⁰ Carl Lundquist, “Annual Report of the President,” Report of the Board of Education, In 1969 Annual Report of the Baptist General Conference, 122.
⁷¹ G. William Carlson and Diana Magnuson, “Bethel College and Seminary on the Move,” 33-4.
⁷² Lundquist, “Annual Report,” 1969.
⁷³ History and Political Science Departmental Overview, The Spire 1969, 180.

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