Friday, June 26, 2015

No Country for Old Men

The Legacy of Dr. Morton H. Smith

It has been asserted to me by one of my younger Facebook friends, who is kind enough sometimes to call me "Mr. Bill" and sometimes "Fr. Bill" but so far not "you old geezer" or worse, that the legacy of Dr. Morton H. Smith is diminished by the fact that he, like most Southerners of his generation, was a segregationist, and further by the fact that he never repudiated his spoken or written words in defense of segregation and in opposition to intermarriage of the races. It should not be necessary for me to repeat this again, but for the sake of absolute clarity, I do not agree with Dr. Smith on these matters. I am probably one of the last true integrationists (as integration was conceived in pre-multiculuralism days), and I hold the right of heterosexual people to marry pretty much any one they darn well please, except that Christian communicants should marry only Christian communicants.

This exchange with my friend, set me to thinking about what Dr. Smith's legacy might be. Here are a few things that might be included :
1. Instructor of B-17 Bomber pilots during World War II.
2. Doctor of Theology, Free University of Amsterdam, under G.C. Berkouwer
3.  Professor of Bible and Department Chair, Belhaven College
4. Original Faculty Member, Professor and Chair of Department of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary
5. A Founder of the Presbyterian Church in America
6. First Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PCA
7. The Only Trained Theologian Among the Founders of the PCA 
8. Professor of Systematic and Biblical Theology, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
 9. The Hundreds of Students He Taught and To Whom He Imparted a Knowledge of, Love for, and Practice of the Reformed Faith in Minstry and Other Callings
10. The Christian Character of His Life: Faith, Humility, Meekness, Courtesy, Courage, and Heart to Know and to Do the Will of God

Ten will suffice. I could wish I might have one of the ten as a legacy. But this set me thinking about what Dr. Smith has aspired to in his life. I think that it was that he might be faithful in his time to God, to Christ, to the Bible, and to the Church. I have no doubt that, as well as any sinner I have known, he has attained that to which he aspired.

But, then, this led to my further thinking, How concerned is Dr. Smith about his legacy? Understand that Dr. Smith would never speak this way, but I don't think he gives a rat's ass about his legacy. I think he is well content to leave any legacy to God. 

I told my friend, when he said Dr. Smith's legacy is damaged, that it all depends on who gets to decide. Dr. Smith's generation? Mine? My friend's? But I have reconsidered. Dr. Smith's legacy will be determined by none of us but by God. 

Would I put Dr. Smith on a pedestal? No, I would not. He and I disagree about too many things besides racial matters. He has burned my butt too many times. Our temperaments could hardly be more different. I can't imagine socializing with him.

Merle Haggard sang, "If you're runnin' down my country, hoss, you're walkin' on the figthin' side of me." When it comes to Dr. Smith, there are some folks out there who are walking on the fighting side of me - and not a few others - and I will fight. 

It's becoming no ecclesiastical country for old men. In the case of Dr. Smith it is because he is one of whom his country is not worthy. 



JD Wetterling said...

Thank you for this, Bill. I've known Dr Smith for 14 years, and have sat under his SS teaching for over 6 years (it was like attending seminary at no charge). I have socialized with him, ridden with him to Presbytery meetings and seen him settle many a contentious issue in those meetings. I have the highest love and respect for him and his gracious wife, Lois. Thanks for going to bat for him when he is in such poor health (and Lois even poorer shape). I don't expect to see him in the Church Eternal--he'll be worshiping in the front pew and I'll be in the back row of the balcony, just grateful to be in the sanctuary. My life has been immensely blessed by his presence and I know I am far from alone. JD Wetterling

Joseph Pipa said...

Bill, I was thinking the same thing last night. Furthermore, why something a man wrote 50 years ago suddenly becomes an issue. Anyone who has observed him with students knows there is not a hateful bone in his body. Reminds me if Calvin and Servetus. As much men will try Calvin's legacy is not tarnished because he concurred with an act that was far worse than racism.