Reflections on the Origins of Ecumenical Campus Ministry at the University of Oklahoma

 

by Don E. Gibson

Campus Minister: 1961- 1983

 

Introduction

I became a co-pastor with Don Scruggs, Director of Westminster Foundation, at the University of Oklahoma in Norman in November, 1961.  I was called to work with Don in merging the denominational ministries of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) and the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  The merger (United Campus Christian Fellowship- UCCF) represented a wide-spread movement that resulted in creating ecumenical campus ministry  centers across the nation.   I became motivated to write about the formation of united ministries on the OU campus when I learned that 2014 is the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the National Campus Ministry Association (NCMA).   My tenure in campus ministry stretched from 1961 to 1983. Don Scruggs and I worked together for approximately ten years.  After receiving his doctorate degree in Political Science from OU, he took a teaching position at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri where he currently lives.   Thus, we were what might be called “charter members” of NCMA.  Indeed, I was privileged to serve as a Regional Representative to the national organization, which usually held a couple of meetings a year in Chicago.

Thad Holcomb followed me as campus minister at OU in 1983.  He had previously served as campus minister at the University of Tulsa and later at the University of Kansas.

The Dramatic Change in Perspective

It is my intent to make objective observations and commentary regarding the advent of ecumenical campus ministry at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.  But such objectivity is exceedingly difficult.  The twenty two years I was engaged in this ministry stretched from my age of 27 to 50. It was a time in my life when I personally solidified my theological convictions; attempted to live out those convictions within the context of deep conflicts within our nation; was learning to be a husband and parent; and experienced friendships and vital collegiality among other campus ministers that included Presbyterian, Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopal, Jewish, and Catholic colleagues. UCCF also included the United Church of Christ, although there were only 3-4 UCC congregations in Oklahoma.

Though we were not legally bound to one another, I would like to recognize the following persons with whom I had strong, vital personal and professional relationships:  Jim Shields, Cathy Carlson, Clay Ballard and John Crooch –United Methodist (Wesley Foundation); Father Bill Ross, Father Charles Sweat and Father Joe Ross, Catholic priests; David Klumpp, pastor of University Lutheran Church; Norman Alexander and Father Don Owens, St. John’s Episcopal; Rabbi Victor Epstein, Hillel Foundation.  I also wish to acknowledge the special friendship and support from Mrs. Audrey Maehl, who was instrumental in the formation and leadership of the Oklahoma Commission for United Ministries in Higher Education. We also received valuable support and leadership from laity who were on the faculty and administration of the University and members of First Christian, First Presbyterian and Memorial Presbyterian congregations in Norman. This included two Presidents of the University, Dr. George Cross and Dr. Paul Sharp.

Three crucial changes took place within my first three years as campus minister at OU. First, the work changed from denominational to ecumenical.  As denominational ministries both the Disciples Student Fellowship (DSF) campus minister and United Presbyterian Westminster Foundation campus minister worked as staff members of the local congregations, with representation from denominational judicatories.  As ecumenical campus ministers, Don Scruggs and I worked under the guidelines and authority of a Local Board composed of representatives of local congregations and denominational judicatories.  Most Board members were faculty, administration or students at the University.

Second, the orientation changed from “student work” to ministry within higher education. This change in orientation had immense impact upon staff and Board member’s perception of our agenda…how we spent our time and available resources.  The student work orientation focused primarily on contacting, inviting undergraduates to attend local churches, programming “fellowship” events and discussion groups for undergraduates and providing “pastoral care” to students as they adjusted to becoming young adults.  I will describe the orientation for “ministry in higher education,” as part of the third crucial change that took place on college campuses in the Sixties.

Third, the context of life on the campus turned from casual to confrontational, representing the controversial and conflicting voices that divided our nation. At this moment, 2014, I’m now 80, and easily forget that persons under fifty years of age today lack ‘first- hand knowledge’ about the specific issues and the intensity of feelings and rhetoric triggered by issues about abortion, war in Vietnam, civil rights movement, war on poverty, women’s rights, gay/lesbian rights, freedom of speech, drugs, the “Hippie” movement  and religious cults.

From my perspective, Don Scruggs and I had complete agreement with Board members of United Campus Christian Fellowship (UCCF) that the core purpose of our ecumenical ministry required that the agenda for our work was primarily defined as appropriate engagement and response to controversial issues spawned by the Sixties and Seventies.  A foundational conviction for ministries in higher education is that Church and University share a vision and mission related to defining and implementation of views and values that serve “the common good.”   For instance, the so-called radical student group known as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held their weekly meeting in the UCCF Center.  That did not mean we agreed or gave blessing to everything SDS leadership said or did, but we were present and interactive with the leadership of SDS….and we were severely criticized for such involvement.

My approach in describing twenty two years as ecumenical campus minister at OU is to co-mingle theory and practices, theology and deeds during those years.  As grandiose as it may sound, I believe the theological foundation for this ministry, not only at OU, but across the nation, emerged from interpretation and wrestling with the implications of the following quotations:

“Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over the creatures that move along the ground.”  Genesis 1:26

Imperative: The human species is given rights and responsibility for partnership with God in the stewardship of creation. Both Church and University have missional assignments related to this imperative.

“The Lord said, ‘I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering.  —So, go, I’m sending you to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.’”   Exodus 3: 7,10

Imperative:  The Judeo-Christian tradition requires that we listen to “The Human Cry!” and respond with compassion to any and all expressions of human suffering. Also, see Matthew 25: 31-45 – “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  The Church’s agenda should be determined by sensitivity to and appropriate  responses  to  “the human cry” within our world.

In highlighting the drastic change in perspective from “student work” to the ministry in higher education at the University of Oklahoma we adopted  H. Richard Niebuhr’s comments as our organizing principle:

“Finally, the social responsibility of the Church needs to be described as that of the pioneer. It is the sensitive and responsive part in every society and mankind as a whole.  In ethics it (church) is the first to repent for the sins of a society, and it repents on behalf of all.  When it became apparent that slavery is transgression of the divine commandment, then the Church repents of it, turns its back upon it, abolishes it within itself.”  H. Richard Niebuhr

This perspective, the church as social pioneer, is in sharp contrast to what I describe as “The Fiasco” of post World War II religion in the United States. Here are two questions which help capsule the history of Protestant Christianity in the U.S. following World War II:  Who was the most popular and highly respected religious leader in America after 1945 until 1965?   What was the essence of his message and mission strategy?  His name was Billy Graham.  His message was personal salvation exclusively through Jesus and his strategy was mass revivals.  I call this era “The Church-ianity Era.”  The Church as social pioneer is in sharp contrast to the focus on personal salvation and building mega-institutions based on personalities.

The Great War ended in 1945!  We were jumping for joy and singing, “When the boys come marching home…Hurrah! Hurrah!”  Another song hit Broadway where Momma asked  her husband, “Reuben, I’ve been thinking, said his wifey dear –  Now that all is peaceful and calm, the boys will soon be back on the farm.”  Reuben starting winking and rubbed his chin.  He pulled his chair up close to mother and he asked her with a grin — “How you gonna’  keep’em  down  on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? They’ll never want to see a rake or plow and who the deuce can parleyvous a cow?”

Reuben was correct.  The boys came marching home, got married along with those already married and headed for college to learn a new career where the jobs were mostly in the city.  Post World War II was the beginning of what we called “urbanization –moving from the farm to the city!  They were having babies and going to church!!

The chemistry of the urbanization, mass revivals and the church growth movement  were at their peak from 1945 to 1965.  We couldn’t build new churches and expand the old ones fast enough to accommodate the birth rate and urbanization influx to our cities. After 1965 the trends of the previous 20 years slowly turned downward.

I call this era “The Church-ianity Era” because there was a gradual switch in emphasis from “Come, follow Jesus!” to “Come, join the church!”  That may not sound like a serious change.   But I believe it was a disastrous change.  I became convinced that the Church-ianity era was what Soren Kierkegaard called “a crime against Christianity.” We had lost focus.  Kierkegaard’s  radical evaluation of the church led him to the conclusion that:

“The Christianity of the New Testament simple does not exist.  There is nothing to reform; what has to be done is to throw light upon a criminal offense against Christianity, prolonged through the centuries, perpetrated by millions whereby they have cunningly under the guise of perfecting  Christianity, sought little by little to cheat God out of Christianity, and have succeeded in making Christianity exactly the opposite of what it is in the New Testament. ” Attack Upon ‘Christendom, Beacon Press,   p. 32, 33

To summarize the enormous dramatic change in orientation from “student work” to ministry in higher education, the church-ianity movement of post WW II began to run out of gas with younger generations.  The balloon burst.  By the middle Sixties, the growth pattern started a downward trend.  It was the advent of a new breed…a new breed of student on the college campus and a new breed of ministers called campus ministers. I remember that the first book we used in discussion groups in the early Sixties was entitled, “The Noise of Solemn Assemblies” by sociologist, Peter Berger.  It was critical of institutional Christianity that held worship at 11 a.m. on Sunday – the most segregated hour of the week!

The Crisis of Conscience

“What is a rebel?   A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation.

He is also a man who says yes, from the moment of his first gesture of rebellion.”    Albert Camus,  “The Rebel”

How can we explain what brought about the rebellion and protests on college campuses in “The Sixties?”  It seems to me that the roots of the issues of the Sixties were evident in the birth of our nation.  Historically, unresolved conflicts, lingering hatred, fears, anger and guilt mixed together in the cauldron of our political, economic, religious and educational institutions again came to the boiling point.

Living in the greatest nation in the world seems to require that we repress and try hard to ignore the atrocities in our history — atrocities against Native Americans and African slaves. Repressing these atrocities requires that we practice self-deceit.  George Orwell observed that “during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act!”  Forces had been at work within our society that triggered what might be called “an existential crisis” in our national psyche….a moment in which we were rudely forced to examine who we are and ask questions about where we’re headed; as if we were engaged in a mid-life crisis. It was a look in the rear-view mirror and what we saw was a very confusing mixture of progress and failure. We had failed miserably, especially in keeping the promise of the Constitution that promised life, liberty and justice for all.  We have proudly held up the vision expressed by the statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor;

your huddled masses yearning to breath free..

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;

Send these, the homeless, tempest tos’t to me .

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Yet, we were continually reminded of those atrocities in our past, not yet resolved. Slave ships from Africa! Brutality! Klu Klux Klan! A Civil War that ended slavery, but the racism became institutionalized in segregation.   Then in the Fifties, youth were leading sit-ins at lunch counters in Oklahoma City, a bus strike in Montgomery, Freedom riders found murdered, Bull Conner with his dogs and police knocking people down with fire hoses, five children killed in Birmingham church bombing.

Then came “that war!”   Vietnam!  Let’s remember the warning issued by the former  General and former President, Dwight Eisenhower (a Republican!), whose farewell speech in 1961 warned us of the danger of the military-industrial complex following World War II.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry   is new in the American experience. The total influence –economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

..the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research.  Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employme project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.”                   Public Paper of the Presidents, Dwight E. Eisenhower, 1960, p.1035-1040

Eisenhower’s warning anticipated the seduction and gullibility of the American public. We would do well to remember what happens to a nation filled with wine that makes us drunk with belief in what has been called our “Manifest Destiny.”  In 1900 Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana, who later won a Pulitzer Prize, presented the reasons why the United States was justified, even obligated, to invade the Philippines and beyond: “God has not been preparing the English speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self admiration.  No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns.  He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth.  He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples.  Were it not for such a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night…..This is the divine mission of America, and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness possible to man.  We are trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous people.  The judgment of the Master is upon us: ‘Ye have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things.”

Endgame, vol. 1; Derrick Jensen, Seven Stories Press, 2006,  p. 221

Two US ships were fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin in August, 1964.  Congress, in the spirit of our Manifest Destiny, gave authority to the President to send in the troops.  To build sufficient military forces to fight this war required drafting young men.  As the draft escalated so did the opposition to the draft.  Opponents to the war began the chant –“Hell no!   We won’t go!” With parades of people chanting  “Hell no! We won’t go!” and others singing “Ain’t Nobody Goin’ to Turn Me ‘Round” and “I Shall Not Be Moved!” – the “Establishment” replied, “America: Love it or Leave it.”  The nation was seriously divided!  Which meant the churches were divided! Which meant the university campus became a battle ground.  We were caught in the crisis of conscience! 

The Practice of Ecumenical Campus Ministry

at University of Oklahoma, Norman campus

1961- 1983

  • Covenant Study Groups –  study/discussion groups that met weekly for  4-6 weeks.  Included biblical, theological studies.
  • Mission trips to southwest Oklahoma to work with Hispanic migrant workers picking cotton. 4-5 weekends in Fall – cooperative program with local churches in southwest Oklahoma; included considerable involvement with Catholic representatives.
  • Involved with Civil Rights Movement – One of my most memorable experiences was the role four campus ministers had in response to “The 19 Demands” presented to the University President, Herbert Hollomon by the Black Student Union on March 9, 1969   This was at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  Holloman’s public posture was, “I will not respond to anyone’s ‘demands!”    But secretly he did respond.

Credit Don Scruggs as the one who suggested that we. four campus ministers, offer President Hollomon and Sterlin Adams, a graduate student and leader of the Black Student Union, our “good office.”  We had developed friendly relationships with both the Administration and leaders of the Black Student Movement.  They  accepted our invitation to meet in secret meetings in the UCCF Center.  We negotiated a few guidelines to be mutually respected in their discussions.  We agreed to intervene only if the conversation became hostile.

Many of the participants in those discussions are deceased.  I tell the story for two reasons.  It is an illustration of campus ministry that transcends “student work,” and focuses on what’s best for the university and best for our world.  It is a real source of inner satisfaction to focus on what I consider to be a significant example and contribution made by united ministries in higher education.  In his book, Race and the University, (University of Oklahoma Press, 2010) Dr. George Henderson, goes through each of the 19 Demands and documents positive responses made by the University to the Black Demands.  Dr. Henderson was the third full time African American professor at OU, and the first Black family to own property in Norman.

  • Project ’68 – (1968)-  It was common place for some students to engage in mission projects in the summer months. With encouragement from Scruggs, I made a proposal to our Board that I raise the funds and recruit students for Project  ’68, which was a summer service project in the inner city of Oklahoma City.  I found an old deserted three story “mansion” and made a deal with the owner to rent it for three months.  The house was surrounded by Black neighbors who welcomed us.  I recruited 11 students to live with our family, when our three children were ages 8, 6 and 2.  The day participants moved into ‘the Mansion,’  was the day Robert Kennedy was killed in California.  Students engaged in working in neighborhood recreation programs, voter registration, assisting in church’s vacation bible schools.  I was able to recruit only 1 Black student so we were highly visible as the only Whites in the neighborhood.  Friendships among the students and with our neighbors had enduring meaning.
  • The Eschaton Coffee House…was a focal point gathering place on weekend, which met at the United Methodist Wesley Foundation.  Jim Shields and his associates, Cathy Carson and Clay Ballard gave creative leadership that held lively conversations in an informal environment.
  • Draft Counseling –   Staying in school with passing grades was one way of avoiding being drafted and sent to Vietnam.  Also, receiving standing as a Conscientious Objector (CO), required engagement in community service, but prevented being drafted.  I went through extensive training to learn all the classifications and procedures related to the Draft.  It was quite common to have requests for draft consultations from at least two young men each day for 2-3 years.
  • Students for a Democratic Society – held their weekly meetings in the UCCF Center.    I mentioned this earlier, but want to comment on the significance  of having SDS meetings in our Center.  I well remember Mokey Webb, a lay leader in First Christian Church, who attended meetings of SDS. First he came to observe what really happened in their meetings, which was intriguing to say the least. He continued attending and I highly respect the voice that he became for our ministry.  Mokey told critics of SDS meeting in our Center, “They have a right to think and express their views.  We, as church, have a responsibility to defend their rights!”

Approximately 8 years after SDS met in UCCF Center, an article appeared in the Norman Transcript (daily newspaper) interviewing a young man running as a candidate for the Norman City Council.  He confessed that he had been active in SDS…as a paid informant of the FBI.  I readily recognized his picture and name as a leader in SDS who was the most vocal person in wanting to escalate protests  to the point of violence!

*  The Gay Student Alliance –  Within the first month of William (Bill)  Banowsky’s arrival as President of the University, he issued a ruling that the Gay Student Alliance would not be recognized as an official student organization.  This prompted four campus ministers to submit a letter to the editor of Norman Transcript stating we were disturbed and strongly disagreed with Banowsky’s decision.  We stated our belief that students who were members of the Gay Student Alliance should have all the rights to organize as other students on campus had.  I had three quick responses to the letter to the editor. One,  President Banowsky called to invite me and others signing the letter for a visit in his office – “tomorrow.”   Second, I received an anonymous letter in the mail threatening my life! Third, information about the letter made it all the way to the village that raised me igniting my Father and an elder in the church who laid hands on my head at my ordination to jointly sign a letter that said I had lost my right to be called a minister in the Christian church!

So, I made friends with five or six gay students who agreed to be on a panel I moderated. The panel received invitations from a few churches who invited them to tell their story.

  • Values Clarification Seminars –   On a less controversial subject, I became very interested in a book entitled, Values Clarification by  Sidney Simon and  Howard Kirchenbaum, (Hart Publishing Co., 1972) It was written to help public school teachers engage students in clarification of their values;  being careful not to impose the teacher’s values on students.  Each Spring I offered a Friday evening and Saturday morning seminar on a couple of weekends –Friday evening and Saturday morning. I put publicity about the seminar in the College of Education.  Friends on the faculty in the College of Education encouraged their students to attend and a number did attend. I was asked to facilitate the seminar as part of a continuing education program within the Oklahoma City Public Schools.

My last story is one of my favorites.  The UCCF center had a parking lot for about 18 cars. Monitoring the parking lot to prevent “poachers” from parking was a nightmare task.  When a “violator “ parked, we put a notice on the windshield..”This is your one and only warning.  Next time, we will have police impound your car.”

One coed with a new Black Buick continued to park, so I parked my car directly behind hers.  There was no way for her to leave until I moved my car.  The Center door opened and a voice yelled, “Whoever is parked behind me needs to move their car!

I replied, “Come in!  Please be seated!  Now watch while I call the police to have your car towed!”  She said, “You touch that car and I’ll call my Daddy!”   I said, “Give me your Daddy’s phone number and I’ll call him!”  She calmed down and I moved my car.

Approximately three years later, during a break in the values clarification seminar, a participant came to me and said, “You won’t remember me, but when I was a freshman I parked in your parking lot…”   I interrupted her and said, “And you drove a new Black Buick!”   She laughed!  “You do remember! I want to apologize to you. I can’t believe how arrogant and rude I was!”  I offered my hand to receive her apology and she opened her arms requesting a hug!” We had clarified our values!!

 

Submitted by:    Don E. Gibson

2720 NW 31st Street, Oklahoma City, Ok.   73112

405 609 4143

April 20, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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O r I g I n s

Of  ecumenical campus ministry

(United Ministry in Higher Education)

at the

university  of  Oklahoma

by

Don E. Gibson

Campus Minister: 1961- 1983

 

Introduction

 

I became a co-pastor with Don Scruggs, Director of Westminster Foundation, at the University of Oklahoma in Norman in November, 1961.  I was called to work with Don in merging the denominational ministries of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) and the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  The merger (United Campus Christian Fellowship- UCCF) represented a wide-spread movement that resulted in creating ecumenical campus ministry  centers across the nation.   I became motivated to write about the formation of united ministries on the OU campus when I learned that 2014 is the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the National Campus Ministry Association (NCMA).   My tenure in campus ministry stretched from 1961 to 1983. Don Scruggs and I worked together for approximately ten years.  After receiving his doctorate degree in Political Science from OU, he took a teaching position at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri where he currently lives.   Thus, we were what might be called “charter members” of NCMA.  Indeed, I was privileged to serve as a Regional Representative to the national organization, which usually held a couple of meetings a year in Chicago.

 

Thad Holcomb followed me as campus minister at OU in 1983.  He had previously served as campus minister at the University of Tulsa and later at the University of Kansas.

 

The Dramatic Change in Perspective

 

It is my intent to make objective observations and commentary regarding the advent of ecumenical campus ministry at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.  But such objectivity is exceedingly difficult.  The twenty two years I was engaged in this ministry stretched from my age of 27 to 50. It was a time in my life when I personally solidified my theological convictions; attempted to live out those convictions within the context of deep conflicts within our nation; was learning to be a husband and parent; and experienced friendships and vital collegiality among other campus ministers that included Presbyterian, Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopal, Jewish, and Catholic colleagues. UCCF also included the United Church of Christ, although there were only 3-4 UCC congregations in Oklahoma.

 

Though we were not legally bound to one another, I would like to recognize the following persons with whom I had strong, vital personal and professional relationships:  Jim Shields, Cathy Carlson, Clay Ballard and John Crooch –United Methodist (Wesley Foundation); Father Bill Ross, Father Charles Sweat and Father Joe Ross, Catholic priests; David Klumpp, pastor of University Lutheran Church; Norman Alexander and Father Don Owens, St. John’s Episcopal; Rabbi Victor Epstein, Hillel Foundation.  I also wish to acknowledge the special friendship and support from Mrs. Audrey Maehl, who was instrumental in the formation and leadership of the Oklahoma Commission for United Ministries in Higher Education. We also

received valuable support and leadership from laity who were on the faculty and administration

-1-

of the University and members of First Christian, First Presbyterian and Memorial Presbyterian

congregations in Norman. This included two Presidents of the University, Dr. George Cross and Dr. Paul Sharp.

 

Three crucial changes took place within my first three years as campus minister at OU. First, the work changed from denominational to ecumenical.  As denominational ministries both the Disciples Student Fellowship (DSF) campus minister and United Presbyterian Westminster Foundation campus minister worked as staff members of the local congregations, with representation from denominational judicatories.  As ecumenical campus ministers, Don Scruggs and I worked under the guidelines and authority of a Local Board composed of representatives of local congregations and denominational judicatories.  Most Board members were faculty, administration or students at the University.

 

Second, the orientation changed from “student work” to ministry within higher education. This change in orientation had immense impact upon staff and Board member’s perception of our agenda…how we spent our time and available resources.  The student work orientation focused primarily on contacting, inviting undergraduates to attend local churches, programming “fellowship” events and discussion groups for undergraduates and providing “pastoral care” to students as they adjusted to becoming young adults.  I will describe the orientation for “ministry in higher education,” as part of the third crucial change that took place on college campuses in the Sixties.

Third, the context of life on the campus turned from casual to confrontational, representing the controversial and conflicting voices that divided our nation. At this moment, 2014, I’m now 80, and easily forget that persons under fifty years of age today lack ‘first- hand knowledge’ about the specific issues and the intensity of feelings and rhetoric triggered by issues about abortion, war in Vietnam, civil rights movement, war on poverty, women’s rights, gay/lesbian rights, freedom of speech, drugs, the “Hippie” movement  and religious cults.

 

From my perspective, Don Scruggs and I had complete agreement with Board members of United Campus Christian Fellowship (UCCF) that the core purpose of our ecumenical ministry required that the agenda for our work was primarily defined as appropriate engagement and response to controversial issues spawned by the Sixties and Seventies.  A foundational conviction for ministries in higher education is that Church and University share a vision and mission related to defining and implementation of views and values that serve “the common good.”   For instance, the so-called radical student group known as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held their weekly meeting in the UCCF Center.  That did not mean we agreed or gave blessing to everything SDS leadership said or did, but we were present and interactive with the leadership of SDS….and we were severely criticized for such involvement.

 

My approach in describing twenty two years as ecumenical campus minister at OU is to co-mingle theory and practices, theology and deeds during those years.  As grandiose as it may sound, I believe the theological foundation for this ministry, not only at OU, but across the nation, emerged from interpretation and wrestling with the implications of the following quotations:

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“Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over the creatures that move along the ground.”  Genesis 1:26

 

Imperative: The human species is given rights and responsibility for partnership with God in the stewardship of creation. Both Church and University have missional assignments related to this imperative.

 

“The Lord said, ‘I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering.  —So, go, I’m sending you to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.’”   Exodus 3: 7,10

 

Imperative:  The Judeo-Christian tradition requires that we listen to “The Human Cry!” and respond with compassion to any and all expressions of human suffering. Also, see Matthew 25: 31-45 – “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  The Church’s agenda should be determined by sensitivity to and appropriate  responses  to  “the human cry” within our world.

 

 

In highlighting the drastic change in perspective from “student work” to the ministry in higher education at the University of Oklahoma we adopted  H. Richard Niebuhr’s comments as our organizing principle:

 

“Finally, the social responsibility of the Church needs to be described

as that of the pioneer. It is the sensitive and responsive part in every society

and mankind as a whole.  In ethics it (church) is the first to repent for the sins of

a society, and it repents on behalf of all.  When it became apparent that

slavery is transgression of the divine commandment, then the Church repents

of it, turns its back upon it, abolishes it within itself.”  H. Richard Niebuhr

 

This perspective, the church as social pioneer, is in sharp contrast to what I describe as “The Fiasco” of post World War II religion in the United States. Here are two questions which help capsule the history of Protestant Christianity in the U.S. following World War II:  Who was the most popular and highly respected religious leader in America after 1945 until 1965?   What was the essence of his message and mission strategy?  His name was Billy Graham.  His message was personal salvation exclusively through Jesus and his strategy was mass revivals.  I call this era “The Church-ianity Era.”  The Church as social pioneer is in sharp contrast to the focus on personal salvation and building mega-institutions based on personalities.

 

The Great War ended in 1945!  We were jumping for joy and singing, “When the boys come marching home…Hurrah! Hurrah!”  Another song hit Broadway where Momma asked  her husband, “Reuben, I’ve been thinking, said his wifey dear –  Now that all is peaceful and calm, the boys will soon be back on the farm.”  Reuben starting winking and rubbed his chin.  He pulled his chair up close to mother and he asked her with a grin — “How you gonna’  keep’em  down  on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? They’ll never want to see a rake or plow and who the deuce can parleyvous a cow?”

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Reuben was correct.  The boys came marching home, got married along with those already married and headed for college to learn a new career where the jobs were mostly in the city.  Post World War II was the beginning of what we called “urbanization –moving from the farm to the city!  They were having babies and going to church!!

 

The chemistry of the urbanization, mass revivals and the church growth movement  were at their peak from 1945 to 1965.  We couldn’t build new churches and expand the old ones fast enough to accommodate the birth rate and urbanization influx to our cities. After 1965 the trends of the previous 20 years slowly turned downward.

I call this era “The Church-ianity Era” because there was a gradual switch in emphasis from “Come, follow Jesus!” to “Come, join the church!”  That may not sound like a serious change.   But I believe it was a disastrous change.  I became convinced that the Church-ianity era was what Soren Kierkegaard called “a crime against Christianity.” We had lost focus.  Kierkegaard’s  radical evaluation of the church led him to the conclusion that:

 

“The Christianity of the New Testament simple does not exist.

There is nothing to reform; what has to be done is to throw light

upon a criminal offense against Christianity, prolonged through

the centuries, perpetrated by millions whereby they have cunningly,

under the guise of perfecting  Christianity, sought little by little

to cheat God out of Christianity, and have succeeded in making

Christianity exactly the opposite of what it is in the New Testament.”

Attack Upon ‘Christendom, Beacon Press,   p. 32, 33

 

To summarize the enormous dramatic change in orientation from “student work” to ministry in higher education, the church-ianity movement of post WW II began to run out of gas with younger generations.  The balloon burst.  By the middle Sixties, the growth pattern started a downward trend.  It was the advent of a new breed…a new breed of student on the college campus and a new breed of ministers called campus ministers. I remember that the first book we used in discussion groups in the early Sixties was entitled, “The Noise of Solemn Assemblies” by sociologist, Peter Berger.  It was critical of institutional Christianity that held worship at 11 a.m. on Sunday – the most segregated hour of the week!

The Crisis of Conscience

 

“What is a rebel?   A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation.

He is also a man who says yes, from the moment of his first gesture of rebellion.”

                                                            Albert Camus,  “The Rebel”

 

How can we explain what brought about the rebellion and protests on college campuses in “The Sixties?”  It seems to me that the roots of the issues of the Sixties were evident in the birth of our nation.  Historically, unresolved conflicts, lingering hatred, fears, anger and guilt mixed together in the cauldron of our political, economic, religious and educational institutions again came to the boiling point.

 

-4-

Living in greatest nation in the world seems to require that we repress and try hard to ignore the atrocities in our history — atrocities against Native Americans and African slaves. Repressing these atrocities requires that we practice self-deceit.  George Orwell observed that “during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act!”  Forces had been at work within our society that triggered what might be called “an existential crisis” in our national psyche….a moment in which we were rudely forced to examine who we are and ask questions about where we’re headed; as if we were engaged in a mid-life crisis. It was a look in the rear-view mirror and what we saw was a very confusing mixture of progress and failure. We had failed miserably, especially in keeping the promise of the Constitution that promised life, liberty and justice for all.  We have proudly held up the vision expressed by the statue of Liberty:

 

“Give me your tired, your poor;

your huddled masses yearning to breath free..

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;

Send these, the homeless, temptest tost to me .

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

 

Yet, we were continually reminded of those atrocities in our past, not yet resolved. Slave ships from Africa! Brutality! Klu Klux Klan! A Civil War that ended slavery, but the racism became institutionalized in segregation.   Then in the Fifties, youth were leading sit-ins at lunch counters in Oklahoma City, a bus strike in Montgomery, Freedom riders found murdered, Bull Conner with his dogs and police knocking people down with fire hoses, five children killed in Birmingham church bombing.

Then came “that war!”   Vietnam!  Let’s remember the warning issued by the former  General and former President, Dwight Eisenhower (a Republican!), whose farewell speech in 1961 warned us of the danger of the military-industrial complex following World War II.

 

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry

is new in the American experience. The total influence –economic, political,

even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the

Federal government. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the

very structure of our society.

 

..the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery,

            has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research.  Partly because of the huge

            costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual

            curiosity. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment,

            project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be

           regarded.”                   Public Paper of the Presidents, Dwight E. Eisenhower, 1960, p.1035-1040

Eisenhower’s warning anticipated the seduction and gullibility of the American public. We would do well to remember what happens to a nation filled with wine that makes us drunk with belief in what has been called our “Manifest Destiny.”  In 1900 Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana, who later won a Pulitzer Prize, presented the reasons why the United States was justified, even obligated, to invade the Philippines and beyond: “God has not been preparing

-5-

the English speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self admiration.  No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns.  He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth.  He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples.  Were it not for such a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night…..This is the divine mission of America, and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness possible to man.  We are trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous people.  The judgment of the Master is upon us: ‘Ye have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things.”

Endgame, vol. 1; Derrick Jensen, Seven Stories Press, 2006,  p. 221

 

Two US ships were fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin in August, 1964.  Congress, in the spirit of our Manifest Destiny, gave authority to the President to send in the troops.  To build sufficient military forces to fight this war required drafting young men.  As the draft escalated so did the opposition to the draft.  Opponents to the war began the chant –“Hell no!   We won’t go!”

With parades of people chanting  “Hell no! We won’t go!” and others singing “Ain’t Nobody Goin’ to Turn Me ‘Round” and “I Shall Not Be Moved!” – the “Establishment” replied, “America: Love it or Leave it.”  The nation was seriously divided!  Which meant the churches were divided! Which meant the university campus became a battle ground.  We were caught in the crisis of conscience! 

 

The Practice of Ecumenical Campus Ministry

at University of Oklahoma, Norman campus

1961- 1983

 

  • Covenant Study Groups –  study/discussion groups that met weekly for  4-6 weeks.  Included biblical, theological studies.
  • Mission trips to southwest Oklahoma to work with Hispanic migrant workers picking cotton. 4-5 weekends in Fall – cooperative program with local churches in southwest Oklahoma; included considerable involvement with Catholic representatives.
  • Involved with Civil Rights Movement – One of my most memorable experiences was the role four campus ministers had in response to “The 19 Demands” presented to the University President, Herbert Hollomon by the Black Student Union on March 9, 1969   This was at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  Holloman’s public posture was, “I will not respond to anyone’s ‘demands!”    But secretly he did respond.

 

Credit Don Scruggs as the one who suggested that we. four campus ministers, offer President Hollomon and Sterlin Adams, a graduate student and leader of the Black Student Union, our “good office.”  We had developed friendly relationships with both the Administration and leaders of the Black Student Movement.  They  accepted our invitation to meet in secret meetings in the UCCF Center.  We negotiated a few guidelines to be mutually respected in their discussions.  We agreed to intervene only if the conversation became hostile.

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Many of the participants in those discussions are deceased.  I tell the story for two reasons.  It is an illustration of campus ministry that transcends “student work,” and focuses on what’s best for the university and best for our world.  It is a real source of inner satisfaction to focus on what I consider to be a significant example and contribution made by united ministries in higher education.  In his book, Race and the University, (University of Oklahoma Press, 2010) Dr. George Henderson, goes through each of the 19 Demands and documents positive responses made by the University to the Black Demands.  Dr. Henderson was the third full time African American professor at OU, and the first Black family to own property in Norman.

  • Project ’68 – (1968)-  It was common place for some students to engage in mission projects in the summer months. With encouragement from Scruggs, I made a proposal to our Board that I raise the funds and recruit students for Project  ’68, which was a summer service project in the inner city of Oklahoma City.  I found an old deserted three story “mansion” and made a deal with the owner to rent it for three months.  The house was surrounded by Black neighbors who welcomed us.  I recruited 11 students to live with our family, when our three children were ages 8, 6 and 2.  The day participants moved into ‘the Mansion,’  was the day Robert Kennedy was killed in California.  Students engaged in working in neighborhood recreation programs, voter registration, assisting in church’s vacation bible schools.  I was able to recruit only 1 Black student so we were highly visible as the only Whites in the neighborhood.  Friendships among the students and with our neighbors had enduring meaning.
  • The Eschaton Coffee House…was a focal point gathering place on weekend, which met at the United Methodist Wesley Foundation.  Jim Shields and his associates, Cathy Carson and Clay Ballard gave creative leadership that held lively conversations in an informal environment.
  • Draft Counseling –   Staying in school with passing grades was one way of avoiding being drafted and sent to Vietnam.  Also, receiving standing as a Conscientious Objector (CO), required engagement in community service, but prevented being drafted.  I went through extensive training to learn all the classifications and procedures related to the Draft.  It was quite common to have requests for draft consultations from at least two young men each day for 2-3 years.
  • Students for a Democratic Society – held their weekly meetings in the UCCF Center.    I mentioned this earlier, but want to comment on the significance  of having SDS meetings in our Center.  I well remember Mokey Webb, a lay leader in First Christian Church, who attended meetings of SDS. First he came to observe what really happened in their meetings, which was intriguing to say the least. He continued attending and I highly respect the voice that he became for our ministry.  Mokey told critics of SDS meeting in our Center, “They have a right to think and express their views.  We, as church, have a responsibility to defend their rights!”

Approximately 8 years after SDS met in UCCF Center, an article appeared in the

-7-

Norman Transcript (daily newspaper) interviewing a young man running as a

candidate for the Norman City Council.  He confessed that he had been active in

SDS…as a paid informant of the FBI.  I readily recognized his picture and name                            as a leader in SDS who was the most vocal person in wanting to escalate protests                                  to the point of violence!

 

  • The Gay Student Alliance –  Within the first month of William (Bill)  Banowsky’s arrival as President of the University, he issued a ruling that the Gay Student Alliance would not be recognized as an official student organization.  This prompted four campus ministers to submit a letter to the editor of Norman Transcript stating we were disturbed and strongly disagreed with Banowsky’s decision.  We stated our belief that students who were members of the Gay Student Alliance should have all the rights to organize as other students on campus had.  I had three quick responses to the letter to the editor. One,  President Banowsky called to invite me and others signing the letter for a visit in his office – “tomorrow.”   Second, I received an anonymous letter in the mail threatening my life! Third, information about the letter made it all the way to the village that raised me igniting my Father and an elder in the church who laid hands on my head at my ordination to jointly sign a letter that said I had lost my right to be called a minister in the Christian church!

 

So, I made friends with five or six gay students who agreed to be on a panel I                               moderated. The panel received invitations from a few churches who invited them                          to tell their story.

 

  • Values Clarification Seminars –   On a less controversial subject, I became very interested in a book entitled, Values Clarification by  Sidney Simon and  Howard Kirchenbaum, (Hart Publishing Co., 1972) It was written to help public school teachers engage students in clarification of their values;  being careful not to impose the teacher’s values on students.  Each Spring I offered a Friday evening and Saturday morning seminar on a couple of weekends –Friday evening and Saturday morning. I put publicity about the seminar in the College of Education.  Friends on the faculty in the College of Education encouraged their students to attend and a number did attend. I was asked to facilitate the seminar as part of a continuing education program within the Oklahoma City Public Schools.

My last story is one of my favorites.  The UCCF center had a parking lot for about

18 cars. Monitoring the parking lot to prevent “poachers” from parking was a nightmare task.  When a “violator “ parked, we put a notice on the windshield..”This is your one and only warning.  Next time, we will have police impounded your car.”

One coed with a new Black Buick continued to park, so I parked my car directly behind hers.  There was no way for her to leave until I moved my car.  The Center door opened and a voice yelled, “Whoever is parked behind me needs to move their car!

 

-8-

I replied, “Come in!  Please be seated!  Now watch while I call the police to have your car towed!”  She said, “You touch that car and I’ll call my Daddy!”   I said, “Give me your Daddy’s phone number and I’ll call him!”  She calmed down and I moved my car.

Approximately three years later, during a break in the values clarification seminar, a participant came to me and said, “You won’t remember me, but when I was a freshman I parked in your parking lot…”   I interrupted her and said, “And you drove a new Black Buick!”   She laughed!  “You do remember! I want to apologize to you. I can’t believe how arrogant and rude I was!”  I offered my hand to receive her apology and she opened her arms requesting a hug!” We had clarified our values!!

 

Submitted by:    Don E. Gibson

2720 NW 31st Street, Oklahoma City, Ok.   73112

405 609 4143

April 20, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

O r I g I n s

Of  ecumenical campus ministry

(United Ministry in Higher Education)

at the

university  of  Oklahoma

by

Don E. Gibson

Campus Minister: 1961- 1983

 

Introduction

 

I became a co-pastor with Don Scruggs, Director of Westminster Foundation, at the University of Oklahoma in Norman in November, 1961.  I was called to work with Don in merging the denominational ministries of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) and the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  The merger (United Campus Christian Fellowship- UCCF) represented a wide-spread movement that resulted in creating ecumenical campus ministry  centers across the nation.   I became motivated to write about the formation of united ministries on the OU campus when I learned that 2014 is the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the National Campus Ministry Association (NCMA).   My tenure in campus ministry stretched from 1961 to 1983. Don Scruggs and I worked together for approximately ten years.  After receiving his doctorate degree in Political Science from OU, he took a teaching position at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri where he currently lives.   Thus, we were what might be called “charter members” of NCMA.  Indeed, I was privileged to serve as a Regional Representative to the national organization, which usually held a couple of meetings a year in Chicago.

 

Thad Holcomb followed me as campus minister at OU in 1983.  He had previously served as campus minister at the University of Tulsa and later at the University of Kansas.

 

The Dramatic Change in Perspective

 

It is my intent to make objective observations and commentary regarding the advent of ecumenical campus ministry at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.  But such objectivity is exceedingly difficult.  The twenty two years I was engaged in this ministry stretched from my age of 27 to 50. It was a time in my life when I personally solidified my theological convictions; attempted to live out those convictions within the context of deep conflicts within our nation; was learning to be a husband and parent; and experienced friendships and vital collegiality among other campus ministers that included Presbyterian, Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopal, Jewish, and Catholic colleagues. UCCF also included the United Church of Christ, although there were only 3-4 UCC congregations in Oklahoma.

 

Though we were not legally bound to one another, I would like to recognize the following persons with whom I had strong, vital personal and professional relationships:  Jim Shields, Cathy Carlson, Clay Ballard and John Crooch –United Methodist (Wesley Foundation); Father Bill Ross, Father Charles Sweat and Father Joe Ross, Catholic priests; David Klumpp, pastor of University Lutheran Church; Norman Alexander and Father Don Owens, St. John’s Episcopal; Rabbi Victor Epstein, Hillel Foundation.  I also wish to acknowledge the special friendship and support from Mrs. Audrey Maehl, who was instrumental in the formation and leadership of the Oklahoma Commission for United Ministries in Higher Education. We also

received valuable support and leadership from laity who were on the faculty and administration

-1-

of the University and members of First Christian, First Presbyterian and Memorial Presbyterian

congregations in Norman. This included two Presidents of the University, Dr. George Cross and Dr. Paul Sharp.

 

Three crucial changes took place within my first three years as campus minister at OU. First, the work changed from denominational to ecumenical.  As denominational ministries both the Disciples Student Fellowship (DSF) campus minister and United Presbyterian Westminster Foundation campus minister worked as staff members of the local congregations, with representation from denominational judicatories.  As ecumenical campus ministers, Don Scruggs and I worked under the guidelines and authority of a Local Board composed of representatives of local congregations and denominational judicatories.  Most Board members were faculty, administration or students at the University.

 

Second, the orientation changed from “student work” to ministry within higher education. This change in orientation had immense impact upon staff and Board member’s perception of our agenda…how we spent our time and available resources.  The student work orientation focused primarily on contacting, inviting undergraduates to attend local churches, programming “fellowship” events and discussion groups for undergraduates and providing “pastoral care” to students as they adjusted to becoming young adults.  I will describe the orientation for “ministry in higher education,” as part of the third crucial change that took place on college campuses in the Sixties.

Third, the context of life on the campus turned from casual to confrontational, representing the controversial and conflicting voices that divided our nation. At this moment, 2014, I’m now 80, and easily forget that persons under fifty years of age today lack ‘first- hand knowledge’ about the specific issues and the intensity of feelings and rhetoric triggered by issues about abortion, war in Vietnam, civil rights movement, war on poverty, women’s rights, gay/lesbian rights, freedom of speech, drugs, the “Hippie” movement  and religious cults.

 

From my perspective, Don Scruggs and I had complete agreement with Board members of United Campus Christian Fellowship (UCCF) that the core purpose of our ecumenical ministry required that the agenda for our work was primarily defined as appropriate engagement and response to controversial issues spawned by the Sixties and Seventies.  A foundational conviction for ministries in higher education is that Church and University share a vision and mission related to defining and implementation of views and values that serve “the common good.”   For instance, the so-called radical student group known as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held their weekly meeting in the UCCF Center.  That did not mean we agreed or gave blessing to everything SDS leadership said or did, but we were present and interactive with the leadership of SDS….and we were severely criticized for such involvement.

 

My approach in describing twenty two years as ecumenical campus minister at OU is to co-mingle theory and practices, theology and deeds during those years.  As grandiose as it may sound, I believe the theological foundation for this ministry, not only at OU, but across the nation, emerged from interpretation and wrestling with the implications of the following quotations:

-2-

“Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over the creatures that move along the ground.”  Genesis 1:26

 

Imperative: The human species is given rights and responsibility for partnership with God in the stewardship of creation. Both Church and University have missional assignments related to this imperative.

 

“The Lord said, ‘I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering.  —So, go, I’m sending you to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.’”   Exodus 3: 7,10

 

Imperative:  The Judeo-Christian tradition requires that we listen to “The Human Cry!” and respond with compassion to any and all expressions of human suffering. Also, see Matthew 25: 31-45 – “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  The Church’s agenda should be determined by sensitivity to and appropriate  responses  to  “the human cry” within our world.

 

 

In highlighting the drastic change in perspective from “student work” to the ministry in higher education at the University of Oklahoma we adopted  H. Richard Niebuhr’s comments as our organizing principle:

 

“Finally, the social responsibility of the Church needs to be described

as that of the pioneer. It is the sensitive and responsive part in every society

and mankind as a whole.  In ethics it (church) is the first to repent for the sins of

a society, and it repents on behalf of all.  When it became apparent that

slavery is transgression of the divine commandment, then the Church repents

of it, turns its back upon it, abolishes it within itself.”  H. Richard Niebuhr

 

This perspective, the church as social pioneer, is in sharp contrast to what I describe as “The Fiasco” of post World War II religion in the United States. Here are two questions which help capsule the history of Protestant Christianity in the U.S. following World War II:  Who was the most popular and highly respected religious leader in America after 1945 until 1965?   What was the essence of his message and mission strategy?  His name was Billy Graham.  His message was personal salvation exclusively through Jesus and his strategy was mass revivals.  I call this era “The Church-ianity Era.”  The Church as social pioneer is in sharp contrast to the focus on personal salvation and building mega-institutions based on personalities.

 

The Great War ended in 1945!  We were jumping for joy and singing, “When the boys come marching home…Hurrah! Hurrah!”  Another song hit Broadway where Momma asked  her husband, “Reuben, I’ve been thinking, said his wifey dear –  Now that all is peaceful and calm, the boys will soon be back on the farm.”  Reuben starting winking and rubbed his chin.  He pulled his chair up close to mother and he asked her with a grin — “How you gonna’  keep’em  down  on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? They’ll never want to see a rake or plow and who the deuce can parleyvous a cow?”

-3-

Reuben was correct.  The boys came marching home, got married along with those already married and headed for college to learn a new career where the jobs were mostly in the city.  Post World War II was the beginning of what we called “urbanization –moving from the farm to the city!  They were having babies and going to church!!

 

The chemistry of the urbanization, mass revivals and the church growth movement  were at their peak from 1945 to 1965.  We couldn’t build new churches and expand the old ones fast enough to accommodate the birth rate and urbanization influx to our cities. After 1965 the trends of the previous 20 years slowly turned downward.

I call this era “The Church-ianity Era” because there was a gradual switch in emphasis from “Come, follow Jesus!” to “Come, join the church!”  That may not sound like a serious change.   But I believe it was a disastrous change.  I became convinced that the Church-ianity era was what Soren Kierkegaard called “a crime against Christianity.” We had lost focus.  Kierkegaard’s  radical evaluation of the church led him to the conclusion that:

 

“The Christianity of the New Testament simple does not exist.

There is nothing to reform; what has to be done is to throw light

upon a criminal offense against Christianity, prolonged through

the centuries, perpetrated by millions whereby they have cunningly,

under the guise of perfecting  Christianity, sought little by little

to cheat God out of Christianity, and have succeeded in making

Christianity exactly the opposite of what it is in the New Testament.”

Attack Upon ‘Christendom, Beacon Press,   p. 32, 33

 

To summarize the enormous dramatic change in orientation from “student work” to ministry in higher education, the church-ianity movement of post WW II began to run out of gas with younger generations.  The balloon burst.  By the middle Sixties, the growth pattern started a downward trend.  It was the advent of a new breed…a new breed of student on the college campus and a new breed of ministers called campus ministers. I remember that the first book we used in discussion groups in the early Sixties was entitled, “The Noise of Solemn Assemblies” by sociologist, Peter Berger.  It was critical of institutional Christianity that held worship at 11 a.m. on Sunday – the most segregated hour of the week!

The Crisis of Conscience

 

“What is a rebel?   A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation.

He is also a man who says yes, from the moment of his first gesture of rebellion.”

                                                            Albert Camus,  “The Rebel”

 

How can we explain what brought about the rebellion and protests on college campuses in “The Sixties?”  It seems to me that the roots of the issues of the Sixties were evident in the birth of our nation.  Historically, unresolved conflicts, lingering hatred, fears, anger and guilt mixed together in the cauldron of our political, economic, religious and educational institutions again came to the boiling point.

 

-4-

Living in greatest nation in the world seems to require that we repress and try hard to ignore the atrocities in our history — atrocities against Native Americans and African slaves. Repressing these atrocities requires that we practice self-deceit.  George Orwell observed that “during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act!”  Forces had been at work within our society that triggered what might be called “an existential crisis” in our national psyche….a moment in which we were rudely forced to examine who we are and ask questions about where we’re headed; as if we were engaged in a mid-life crisis. It was a look in the rear-view mirror and what we saw was a very confusing mixture of progress and failure. We had failed miserably, especially in keeping the promise of the Constitution that promised life, liberty and justice for all.  We have proudly held up the vision expressed by the statue of Liberty:

 

“Give me your tired, your poor;

your huddled masses yearning to breath free..

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;

Send these, the homeless, temptest tost to me .

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

 

Yet, we were continually reminded of those atrocities in our past, not yet resolved. Slave ships from Africa! Brutality! Klu Klux Klan! A Civil War that ended slavery, but the racism became institutionalized in segregation.   Then in the Fifties, youth were leading sit-ins at lunch counters in Oklahoma City, a bus strike in Montgomery, Freedom riders found murdered, Bull Conner with his dogs and police knocking people down with fire hoses, five children killed in Birmingham church bombing.

Then came “that war!”   Vietnam!  Let’s remember the warning issued by the former  General and former President, Dwight Eisenhower (a Republican!), whose farewell speech in 1961 warned us of the danger of the military-industrial complex following World War II.

 

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry

is new in the American experience. The total influence –economic, political,

even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the

Federal government. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the

very structure of our society.

 

..the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery,

            has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research.  Partly because of the huge

            costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual

            curiosity. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment,

            project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be

           regarded.”                   Public Paper of the Presidents, Dwight E. Eisenhower, 1960, p.1035-1040

Eisenhower’s warning anticipated the seduction and gullibility of the American public. We would do well to remember what happens to a nation filled with wine that makes us drunk with belief in what has been called our “Manifest Destiny.”  In 1900 Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana, who later won a Pulitzer Prize, presented the reasons why the United States was justified, even obligated, to invade the Philippines and beyond: “God has not been preparing

-5-

the English speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self admiration.  No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns.  He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth.  He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples.  Were it not for such a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night…..This is the divine mission of America, and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness possible to man.  We are trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous people.  The judgment of the Master is upon us: ‘Ye have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things.”

Endgame, vol. 1; Derrick Jensen, Seven Stories Press, 2006,  p. 221

 

Two US ships were fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin in August, 1964.  Congress, in the spirit of our Manifest Destiny, gave authority to the President to send in the troops.  To build sufficient military forces to fight this war required drafting young men.  As the draft escalated so did the opposition to the draft.  Opponents to the war began the chant –“Hell no!   We won’t go!”

With parades of people chanting  “Hell no! We won’t go!” and others singing “Ain’t Nobody Goin’ to Turn Me ‘Round” and “I Shall Not Be Moved!” – the “Establishment” replied, “America: Love it or Leave it.”  The nation was seriously divided!  Which meant the churches were divided! Which meant the university campus became a battle ground.  We were caught in the crisis of conscience! 

 

The Practice of Ecumenical Campus Ministry

at University of Oklahoma, Norman campus

1961- 1983

 

  • Covenant Study Groups –  study/discussion groups that met weekly for  4-6 weeks.  Included biblical, theological studies.
  • Mission trips to southwest Oklahoma to work with Hispanic migrant workers picking cotton. 4-5 weekends in Fall – cooperative program with local churches in southwest Oklahoma; included considerable involvement with Catholic representatives.
  • Involved with Civil Rights Movement – One of my most memorable experiences was the role four campus ministers had in response to “The 19 Demands” presented to the University President, Herbert Hollomon by the Black Student Union on March 9, 1969   This was at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  Holloman’s public posture was, “I will not respond to anyone’s ‘demands!”    But secretly he did respond.

 

Credit Don Scruggs as the one who suggested that we. four campus ministers, offer President Hollomon and Sterlin Adams, a graduate student and leader of the Black Student Union, our “good office.”  We had developed friendly relationships with both the Administration and leaders of the Black Student Movement.  They  accepted our invitation to meet in secret meetings in the UCCF Center.  We negotiated a few guidelines to be mutually respected in their discussions.  We agreed to intervene only if the conversation became hostile.

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Many of the participants in those discussions are deceased.  I tell the story for two reasons.  It is an illustration of campus ministry that transcends “student work,” and focuses on what’s best for the university and best for our world.  It is a real source of inner satisfaction to focus on what I consider to be a significant example and contribution made by united ministries in higher education.  In his book, Race and the University, (University of Oklahoma Press, 2010) Dr. George Henderson, goes through each of the 19 Demands and documents positive responses made by the University to the Black Demands.  Dr. Henderson was the third full time African American professor at OU, and the first Black family to own property in Norman.

  • Project ’68 – (1968)-  It was common place for some students to engage in mission projects in the summer months. With encouragement from Scruggs, I made a proposal to our Board that I raise the funds and recruit students for Project  ’68, which was a summer service project in the inner city of Oklahoma City.  I found an old deserted three story “mansion” and made a deal with the owner to rent it for three months.  The house was surrounded by Black neighbors who welcomed us.  I recruited 11 students to live with our family, when our three children were ages 8, 6 and 2.  The day participants moved into ‘the Mansion,’  was the day Robert Kennedy was killed in California.  Students engaged in working in neighborhood recreation programs, voter registration, assisting in church’s vacation bible schools.  I was able to recruit only 1 Black student so we were highly visible as the only Whites in the neighborhood.  Friendships among the students and with our neighbors had enduring meaning.
  • The Eschaton Coffee House…was a focal point gathering place on weekend, which met at the United Methodist Wesley Foundation.  Jim Shields and his associates, Cathy Carson and Clay Ballard gave creative leadership that held lively conversations in an informal environment.
  • Draft Counseling –   Staying in school with passing grades was one way of avoiding being drafted and sent to Vietnam.  Also, receiving standing as a Conscientious Objector (CO), required engagement in community service, but prevented being drafted.  I went through extensive training to learn all the classifications and procedures related to the Draft.  It was quite common to have requests for draft consultations from at least two young men each day for 2-3 years.
  • Students for a Democratic Society – held their weekly meetings in the UCCF Center.    I mentioned this earlier, but want to comment on the significance  of having SDS meetings in our Center.  I well remember Mokey Webb, a lay leader in First Christian Church, who attended meetings of SDS. First he came to observe what really happened in their meetings, which was intriguing to say the least. He continued attending and I highly respect the voice that he became for our ministry.  Mokey told critics of SDS meeting in our Center, “They have a right to think and express their views.  We, as church, have a responsibility to defend their rights!”

Approximately 8 years after SDS met in UCCF Center, an article appeared in the

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Norman Transcript (daily newspaper) interviewing a young man running as a

candidate for the Norman City Council.  He confessed that he had been active in

SDS…as a paid informant of the FBI.  I readily recognized his picture and name                            as a leader in SDS who was the most vocal person in wanting to escalate protests                                  to the point of violence!

 

  • The Gay Student Alliance –  Within the first month of William (Bill)  Banowsky’s arrival as President of the University, he issued a ruling that the Gay Student Alliance would not be recognized as an official student organization.  This prompted four campus ministers to submit a letter to the editor of Norman Transcript stating we were disturbed and strongly disagreed with Banowsky’s decision.  We stated our belief that students who were members of the Gay Student Alliance should have all the rights to organize as other students on campus had.  I had three quick responses to the letter to the editor. One,  President Banowsky called to invite me and others signing the letter for a visit in his office – “tomorrow.”   Second, I received an anonymous letter in the mail threatening my life! Third, information about the letter made it all the way to the village that raised me igniting my Father and an elder in the church who laid hands on my head at my ordination to jointly sign a letter that said I had lost my right to be called a minister in the Christian church!

 

So, I made friends with five or six gay students who agreed to be on a panel I                               moderated. The panel received invitations from a few churches who invited them                          to tell their story.

 

  • Values Clarification Seminars –   On a less controversial subject, I became very interested in a book entitled, Values Clarification by  Sidney Simon and  Howard Kirchenbaum, (Hart Publishing Co., 1972) It was written to help public school teachers engage students in clarification of their values;  being careful not to impose the teacher’s values on students.  Each Spring I offered a Friday evening and Saturday morning seminar on a couple of weekends –Friday evening and Saturday morning. I put publicity about the seminar in the College of Education.  Friends on the faculty in the College of Education encouraged their students to attend and a number did attend. I was asked to facilitate the seminar as part of a continuing education program within the Oklahoma City Public Schools.

My last story is one of my favorites.  The UCCF center had a parking lot for about

18 cars. Monitoring the parking lot to prevent “poachers” from parking was a nightmare task.  When a “violator “ parked, we put a notice on the windshield..”This is your one and only warning.  Next time, we will have police impounded your car.”

One coed with a new Black Buick continued to park, so I parked my car directly behind hers.  There was no way for her to leave until I moved my car.  The Center door opened and a voice yelled, “Whoever is parked behind me needs to move their car!

 

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I replied, “Come in!  Please be seated!  Now watch while I call the police to have your car towed!”  She said, “You touch that car and I’ll call my Daddy!”   I said, “Give me your Daddy’s phone number and I’ll call him!”  She calmed down and I moved my car.

Approximately three years later, during a break in the values clarification seminar, a participant came to me and said, “You won’t remember me, but when I was a freshman I parked in your parking lot…”   I interrupted her and said, “And you drove a new Black Buick!”   She laughed!  “You do remember! I want to apologize to you. I can’t believe how arrogant and rude I was!”  I offered my hand to receive her apology and she opened her arms requesting a hug!” We had clarified our values!!

 

Submitted by:    Don E. Gibson

2720 NW 31st Street, Oklahoma City, Ok.   73112

405 609 4143

April 20, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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