Commencement Chaos: DLC, 1920

Or, “A. B. Lipscomb Pulls a Kanye.”

The semester is over and I have returned to Lewis-related matters. Some reading the other day reminded me of the following story. Since it’s May, it seemed like a good time to share.

The final chapter of Ottis Castleberry’s He Looked for a City contains transcripts of Castleberry’s interviews with a number of people who knew John T. Lewis very closely. Leonard Johnson, co-founder (along with Rex Turner and Joe Greer) of Montgomery Bible College (now Faulkner University), recounts the following story:

“Brother Lewis went back to David Lipscomb College to give the commencement address [in 1920]. His subject was ‘Compromise,’ and in his lesson, he went back, as I recall, and took Biblical examples of men and women who compromised. He addressed the students and said, ‘Young men and women, I want to give you some modern examples of compromise. (Well, there had been a Christian Church preacher, who was well known in his day and he had been holding a meeting in one of the Christian Churches in Nashville; and several of the brethren including Brother Pittman, A. B. Lipscomb, F. B. Srygley, and a host of others — I don’t know how many more had gone out to hear this man, and each one of them had been invited to lead in prayer and had done so.) All of these men were present for the commencement address. Brother Lewis began to tell the young people about the Christian Church preacher having been in town not long ago. He said, ‘S. P. Pittman, A. B. Lipscomb, F. B. Srygley,’ and he named several others, ‘were present and they participated in this worship and led the prayer — now that’s a modern example of compromise.’

“Well, when he said that, Brother A. B. Lipscomb stopped him, and for the next several minutes, with the exception of Brother Pittman — Brother Pittman never did defend himself — all the rest of these men jumped up right there in public, and they had it over and under. A. B. said, ‘Uncle Dave would have done so and so.’

“Well, Brother Lewis pretty well whipped them down to the point that they were willing for him to go on and finish his address.

F. B. Srygley (1859-1940)

Brother Srygley said to him after it was over, ‘Won’t you eat dinner with me?’ Brother Lewis said, ‘Naw, F. B., I’ve already got an appointment.’ So F. B. said, ‘ Well then, come up to the Gospel Advocate office this afternoon,’ and Brother Lewis said, ‘I’ll be right there.’

“A whole host of these men gathered because they knew Brother Srygley would be on him. Brother Srygley and Brother Lewis were good friends — dear friends — but Brother Srygley was quite a bulldog. He wasn’t used to anyone skinning him in public, and he wasn’t about to take it. So they got down there, and Brother Lewis walked in. Brother Srygley started, ‘Now John–‘ and he jumped him immediately. He said, ‘I want to tell you something, John T., I never allow any man to stand between me and my God.’ Brother Lewis said, ‘You don’t?’ Brother Srygley answered, ‘No sir.’ Brother Lewis said, ‘Now F. B., wasn’t R. H. Boll in town a few weeks ago? Didn’t you go out to hear him, and didn’t they ask you to lead in prayer?’ Brother Srygley said, ‘Yessir.’ Brother Lewis asked, ‘Didja?’ Brother Srygley began to stammer, ‘um, ah, um, well, I just couldn’t get down on my knees.’

“Brother Lewis looked straight at him, ‘Srygley, that’s too thin. I thought you never let any man get between you and your God.’

“Well, that broke that thing up. Brother Srygley had refused to lead the prayer in an R. H. Boll meeting, and then had gone out and led the prayer in this Christian Church.

“The thing about Brother Lewis was that he was fearless when he believed a thing. He wasn’t angry at anybody, but he thought they ought to be exposed. He didn’t wait until he was behind their backs. He just got them there in a crowd and let them have it. The interesting thing is that he did it — he just told them — its rather an unusual situation for you don’t commonly think of a man’s commencement address being broken up because he exposed someone.” (Castleberry, He Looked for a City, 245-246.)

****

Castleberry also publishes, at a different point in the book, a letter written to Lewis by H. Leo Boles. (Boles, in 1920, was on his way out of his first stint as president of DLC.) Here it is:

May 25, 1920

Dear Brother:

I have been wanting to write you ever since you were up here, but have just now found time. In addition to the other work that I have had to do, I have been moving.

I wanted to say that after calm deliberation I am more confirmed in the opinion that your speech was scriptural and timely. I have heard a number of thoughtful people who were present express themselves and they all think as I do. Some of the other side have expressed themselves as making a mistake that day in trying to answer or discredit some of the statements that you made.

May the Lord bless you for your faith, zeal and courage. I appreciated very much your speech and the courage that you manifested in giving it.

Yours fraternally,

H. Leo Boles

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2 responses to “Commencement Chaos: DLC, 1920

  1. Interesting history. And yet, brother Lewis himself was criticized for attending meetings at the Homewood and Central congregations in Birmingham after the divisions over institutionalism. (I don’t think he was called on to lead in prayer.) So, in his older age he received criticism similar to that which he gave to the brethren in Nashville in 1920.

  2. Good point. My impression of Lewis’ views of fellowship is that he’s sort of walking a tightrope from situation to situation. I think he understands his own position, but where he comes down in a given case seems to have inevitably made others mad for one reason or another.

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