Birthday of Will D. Campbell | Naming the Days

Will D. Campbell (1924-2013) impressed, challenged, and edified us along with his expansive skills and imaginative and prescient. He turned generally known as a civil rights activist, a renegade preacher, an iconoclastic author, and a minister and not using a church who presided at weddings, baptisms, and funerals for a band of unruly souls that included Johnny Money, Willie Nelson, Jules Feiffer, and Studs Terkel.

This nation boy attended three faculties and graduated from Yale Divinity Faculty. After serving as a Baptist minister in a southern parish for 2 years, he turned the director of non secular life on the College of Mississippi. He later served as a race relations troubleshooter for the Nationwide Council of Church buildings from 1956 to 1963.

He was one of many few white individuals who escorted the “Little Rock 9” into Central Excessive Faculty. His work as a behind-the-scenes bridge-builder between the races resulted in him being the one white in attendance when Martin Luther King, Jr., based the Southern Christian Management Convention. He additionally joined the Freedom Riders in 1961 and accompanied Dr. King for the marches in Birmingham in 1963 and in Selma in 1968.

Maybe essentially the most startling instance of his religion was his ministry of reconciliation, a phrase he took from 2 Corinthians 5:18. Campbell firmly believed that social change doesn’t come solely via laws and government-sponsored initiatives. Enduring and heart-felt racial justice is the results of real reconciliation between individuals who have hated or been at odds with each other.

Campbell walked his discuss and got here beneath heavy criticism for visiting racist James Earl Ray in jail after he assassinated Dr. King in 1968. Often requested to sum up the Christian message, he quipped, “We’re all bastards, however God loves us anyway.” Whereas many liberal Christians couldn’t carry themselves to embrace such an inclusive view of divine grace, Campbell went even additional by saying of the poor southern whites who crammed the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan, “They’ve been victimized one step past the black. I am professional Klansmen as a result of I am pro-human being.” It was this imaginative and prescient that led him to be known as “the chaplain of the Ku Klux Klan.

In his later years, Campbell campaigned to cease the warfare in Vietnam, to abolish capital punishment, and to ascertain equal rights for girls and LGBTQ individuals. Former President Jimmy Carter characterised this unconventional minister as “a social activist in service of marginalized individuals of each race, creed, and calling.”

To Identify This Day . . .


Learn in Campbell’s books or from his articles and interviews accessible on-line. What elements of his unconventional ministry converse to you and to our instances? Listed below are some classes that stand out for us.

* Brother to a Dragonfly by Will D. Campbell is a vivid and mesmerizing non secular diary containing a mixture of reminiscences, portraits of attention-grabbing individuals, accounts of non-public tragedies, and plenty of significant vignettes. This extraordinary paperback was a finalist for the 1977 Nationwide Ebook Award; Time journal named it one of many 10 most notable works of nonfiction of the Nineteen Seventies.

If we had been to decide on one motto we have discovered from Campbell, it could be: “If you happen to’re gonna love one, you have to love all of them.”

After working onerous to win freedom for blacks, Campbell determined to minister to Klansmen and different bigots. Here is how he defined this transfer: “I had turn into a doctrinaire social activist, with out consciously selecting to be. And I might proceed to be some type of social activist. However there was a determined distinction. As a result of from that time I got here to know the character of tragedy. And one who understands the character of tragedy can by no means take sides.”

* Soul Among Lions: Musings of a Bootleg Preacher is a e book of meditations or “bubblings from the depths of 1 man’s soul.” Campbell covers all kinds of topics, saying essential issues about race relations, flag burning, ethnic cleaning, legislated morality, the killing of kids, and extra. Listed below are some examples of how Campbell disturbed the snug within the identify of God.

He tells a narrative a few time he needed to debate the demise penalty with a widely known scholar:

“He gave a prolonged and discovered assertion on why he favored it. I used to be embarrassed as a result of I had no ready remarks. So I mentioned. “I simply suppose it is ‘cheesy,’ ” and I sat down.

“That led to confusion as to only what ‘cheesy’ meant. Effectively cheesy means ugly, no type, no class. I did not win the talk, however I do consider that America as a nation has an excessive amount of class, an excessive amount of character, and an excessive amount of type to go on sinking to the crude degree of demise practiced in executions. So for the sake of our personal soul, let’s simply reduce it out.”

On this excerpt from the book, Campbell gives an answer to “houselessness”:

“Let each congregation undertake one one that lives on the streets. Ask no questions as to the worthiness of those individuals. Who amongst us is worthy? Simply discover them lodging, a job, associates — give them hope.”


Watch the movie God’s Will directed by Michael Letcher and narrated by Ossie Davis; it’s accessible for free viewing on Vimeo. This 60-minute profile of the life and ministry of Will D. Campbell (1924-2001) was produced by the Heart for Public Tv on the College of Alabama.

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