(Fourth in a series.)

This is fourth in a series examining the public denunciation of former Wheaton College President  J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. as a racist by Wheaton’s Board of Trustees and current president, Phil Ryken. A former Sr. Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Ryken’s pastoral credentials are held by Revoice’s Presbyterian Church in America. He is also the son of longtime Wheaton English prof, Leland Ryken.

Tenth was formerly served by Jim Boice, but for our present purposes, what is more important to note is that Tenth was served by Donald Grey Barnhouse from 1927 to 1960. While serving as Tenth’s senior minister, in 1930 Barnhouse founded Revelation magazine. Later renamed Eternity magazine, Barnhouse was the publication’s editor in chief until his death in 1960.

Why mention Ryken’s connection to Tenth and Barnhouse?

My last piece on Ryken’s denunciation of Buswell as a racist ended with this:

After days searching for evidence in favor of President Buswell’s character and convictions concerning race, our next article will bring forward one distinct category, Dr. Buswell’s sons. This line of evidence was excluded from the Task Force Report. There is no mention of the testimony of President Buswell’s biological and spiritual sons to their father’s innocence of their charge of racism.

So then, we will start with President J. Oliver Buswell’s biological son, James Oliver Buswell, III, who served as a professor of anthropology at Wheaton College for a few years beginning in the late fifties—fifteen years after his father’s tenure as Wheaton’s president. We will disclose significant portions of Buswell the Son’s writings against racism, demonstrating how the Task Force failed to disclose that, if they were correct and Buswell the Father was a segregationist racist, his son James Oliver Buswell, III, bore not the slightest resemblance to his father.

For the testimony of J. Oliver Buswell’s biological son, James Oliver Buswell III,  we turn to an article he contributed to Eternity published in 1962, two years after Barnhouse’s death. I have taken the liberty of emphasizing portions of this article for those too busy to read the article in its entirety.

Why did Ryken and his trustees not present Buswell the Son’s published commitments as evidence of President Buswell’s theological and moral opposition to racism? When they hired Phil as Wheaton’s president, did the trustees not have it in mind that Ryken the son would follow in the footsteps of his respected father, Leland? What was their justification for concluding the opposite concerning President Buswell and his son?

Segregation— Is It Biblical?1

By James O. Buswell III

(The author is assistant professor of anthropology at Wheaton College.)

The defense of racial inequality is a deeply rooted vine. The overthrow of slavery merely twisted it, instead of stamping it out. This vine has continued to grow into other forms, including the now-prevalent segregation. Yet, in the Scriptures there is less basis for segregation than for slavery.

Supporters of racial segregation, both North and South, are certain that it is “a law of God,” “the plan and purpose of God,” and “in accord with the divine will of God as manifested in the created order.” Just as the Nazi racists believed that “each race on this earth represents an idea in the mind of God,” so the defenders of segregation invoke similar sanction for it, imagining that “God, in His divine wisdom, ordained that man should maintain a pure blood stream in their own race.”

Segregationists sometimes hold that separation of the races is also of great benefit to the Negro. G. T. Gillespie in an address before the Mississippi Synod of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. has said,

. . . the Southern Negro has somehow managed to acquire a great number of homes, farms, banks, and other properties, has achieved a higher standard of living, and today enjoys larger educational and economic opportunities, is happier and better adjusted, than can be said of any comparable number of his race at any time in their history or in any part of the world today.

In most cases, those who take such pains in pointing out the progress of the Negro under segregation, also take equal pains to paint a dark picture of his disease, his immorality, his shiftlessness, and his stupidity. It seems never to have dawned on them that when such inferiorities are attributed to race, and offered as reason to perpetuate segregation, the Negroes continued to be treated in such a way as to actually increase these negative symptoms thought to make separation necessary in the first place!

Other segregationists contend that segregation is “one of nature’s universal laws.” Perhaps the last word among such opinions of the natural order of things was Citizen Councilman Tom Brady’s concluding statement of an address in San Francisco in 1957:

I now fervently say, “Dum vivamus turn segregabimur et post mortem— deo volente, etiam nunc sic erit,” which literally translated means, “As long as we live, so long shall we be segregated, and after death, God willing, thus will it still be!”

But most frequently, segregationists try to use the Bible in defense of their views. However, although there are numerous examples in Scripture of the existence of slavery, there is no mention anywhere of segregation based on a criterion of racial difference. Segregationists are aware of this fact, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. Gillespie, for example, frankly admits that “the Bible contains no clear mandate for or against segregation as between the white and Negro races,” but he finds support in “that it does furnish considerable data from which valid inferences may be drawn in support of the general principle of segregation as an important feature of the divine purpose and providence throughout the ages.”

The all-important case (Gen. 10) of the “segregation” of the progeny of Noah’s three sons, which are supposed to be the progenitors of the three races, is always cited by segregationists, not merely as the factual report of their distribution or migration, but as God’s pattern of keeping people apart. It is made to imply “that an all-wise Providence has ‘determined the bounds of their habitation.’” Inference is piled upon inference with no Scriptural basis whatever, until the proposition sounds most logical:

“Noting that each of these three groups was to keep to its own tongue and family and nation, do we not face the fact that God drew the lines of segregation (or separation) according to His purpose?”

It does not seem to matter that the migration of the sons of Ham was not limited to the South, nor that the population involved were all of the same race at the time this “segregation” took place.

The remaining examples do not involve race as a factor any more than the preceding cases. But Gillespie summarizes the argument as follows:

Since for 2,000 years the practice of segregation was imposed upon the Hebrew people by divine authority and express command and infractions of the command were punished with extreme severity, there is certainly no ground for the charge that racial segregation is displeasing to God, unjust to man, or inherently wrong.

The whole argument fails to see that current improvements toward desegregation do not plan to do away with any other criteria for separation except race. Christians certainly must uphold the teachings implicit in the examples of divine separation: but to extend them to cover criteria of separation other than those in the Scriptural context would lead to ridiculous ends. Not only races, but language groups, the sexes, and many other “divinely ordained” differences would be segregated.

Scriptural injunctions concerning separation almost always involve the preservation of moral and never racial purity, and to read into such cases any racial implication is entirely unwarranted, simply because the people referred to all presumably belonged to the same racial stock at the time.

Established at Babel?

One other case in the Old Testament is that of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11), used by segregationists to indicate God’s wrath upon an attempt at integration. Of course, the Scripture is clear that God was displeased with their pride (“let us make a name for ourselves”) , and that the population involved was probably not racially differentiated (“Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language”) . Nevertheless, Gillespie believes that the confusion of tongues from Babel “indicates that the development of different tongues was not merely natural or accidental, but served a divine purpose, in becoming one of the most effective means of preserving the separate existence of the several racial groups.” If this proves anything at all, it shows that men should not cross linguistic barriers. It certainly has nothing to do with race.

At least one pro-segregationist writer of today incorrectly equating Hamites and Negroes seems to hold that the tower was solely the project of Negroes. According to this account, “as a result of the rebellion of the Hamites against the decree of God came the judgment of Babel.”

Favorite Verse of Segregationists

Of all the New Testament references, the one most cited by defenders of segregation is Acts 17:26. The first half of this verse was and is used to support the argument for racial unity and equality: “And he made from one [blood] every nation of men…” To which the segregationist replies, “Yes, but it ends with the words ‘having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation.’” This seems to clinch the argument. If God has set boundaries for man’s habitation, is it not violating God’s program to mix populations together?

One phrase of this verse, however, is always overlooked or ignored by the defenders of segregation. The verse reads:

And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation.

Thus an alternative interpretation is suggested, namely, that God gave man the whole earth to live on. One correspondent, replying to a segregationist article, wrote: “Those two verses (Acts 17:26, 27) might better be used against those who someday expect to inhabit the planet Mars rather than applying them to the segregation of races.”

In the nineteenth century, when men were defending slavery as segregation is defended now, there were three main interpretations of Scripture relating to it:

(1) Slaveholders saw examples of slavery in the Bible, found no direct condemnation of it, and considered that its overthrow would destroy that way of life of which it was a part.

(2) Abolitionists, basing their arguments upon every teaching of equality and man’s responsibility to man, found slavery to be sin, and demanded immediate emancipation.

(3) The effect of Christianity on slavery, however, was seen by others as being fundamentally opposed to the basic conception on which it was based— “the essential superiority of one class of men over another,” and Christianity was working a gradual revolution in society which would ultimately give the deathblow to the entire institution.

Three Parallel Views

In the case of racial segregation, we may identify parallel views held by those concerned.

(1) The “Christian View on Segregation” held by the segregationists, summarized as follows:

Since Christ and the apostles taught the love of God for all mankind, the oneness of believers in Christ, and demonstrated that the principles of Christian brotherhood and charity could be made operative in all relations of life, without demanding revolutionary changes in the natural or social order, there would appear to be no reason for concluding that segregation is in conflict with the spirit and teachings of Christ and the apostles, and therefore unchristian.

The slaveholder’s view of Scripture is paralleled by that of the segregationist, who notes examples of various kinds of separation in the Bible, that “the Bible contains no clear mandate for or against” racial segregation, and who assumes that desegregation would constitute a “revolutionary change in the natural and social order.”

(2) Those represented by the N.A.A.C.P., the most vocal agitators for desegregation, base their Scriptural case on the very same elements as the abolitionists did, demanding “desegregation now.”

(3) The impact of the Gospel upon the institution of racial segregation within American culture is exactly parallel to its impact on slavery. In the first place, since one of the fundamental bases for segregation is the same— “the essential superiority of one class of men over another”— it follows that the Bible remains as unalterably opposed to segregation on this point as to slavery. These teachings, increasingly corroborated by science since slavery times, constitute an important factor in the same gradual revolution in our society. In so far as they coincide, it may be said that the force of science and Christian principles are gradually accomplishing the deathblow of the institution.

To claim that the common ground held by science and Christianity is the field where racial segregation will finally fall, however, is to invite a challenge from those who either claim this common ground as supporting the foundations of segregation, or else, on the part of those who repudiate the findings of science concerning racial inequality, deny that there is any common ground at all. Nevertheless, we find the slow process of social revolution more in evidence today than ever before. Indeed, it is tacitly recognized by the segregationist as the development to fear most. Senator Eastland, surely more concerned with the process than with its moving forces, sounds a warning by drawing a clearsighted distinction:

The present condition in which the South finds itself is more dangerous than Reconstruction. …It is more dangerous in that the present court decisions are built on gradualism. … In Reconstruction there was the attempt to force the hideous monster upon us all at once. It will take special precautions to guard against the gradual acceptance and the erosion of our rights through the deadly doctrine of gradualism.

Arnold Lunn similarly spoke of slavery as being “slowly eroded by the Christian atmosphere.”

How Equal Is Equal?

The very change from the doctrine of “separate but equal” to the complete removal of legal segregation in the classroom also finds its parallel in the history of slavery. There were various attempts in the first half of the nineteenth century to clean up slavery and make it “Christian” by doing away with the various abuses which were drawing the fire of the abolitionists. Where progress of this sort was made, the biggest guns of the abolitionists were silenced.

A counterpart of this “Christian” slavery may be seen in the conscientious attempts to make Negro schools equal in all respects to the white schools. The energy of the Southern states in this direction is a major argument against the charges of the North, and its successful accomplishment might largely silence segregation’s most vocal critics. Yet, both were finally superseded by the official overthrow of their parent institutions. In this regard note Arnold Lunn’s trenchant comment:

The modern Christian wholeheartedly condemns slavery not because the academic defense of Christian slavery …is easy to refute, but because the practical experience of centuries has proved that it is impossible to maintain those safeguards which alone render slavery reconcilable with Christianity.

Thus slavery itself was found on an ideology incompatible with Christianity, no matter how “Christian” were its forms. Likewise it is found by the social sciences and the prevailing legal opinion of our day that “separate but equal” public educational facilities are inherently unequal.

The segregation defense system retains most of the basic arguments regarding the Negro race that were incorporated into the slavery defense system. Those derived from the Bible are still centered in the person of Noah’s son, Ham. Briefly, the curse that Noah pronounced upon the son of Ham is believed to remain over his progeny forever, as well as indicating Ham’s sinful and rebellious nature. His progeny, considered to be the present-day Africans and Negroes, are therefore not to be considered the equal of the sons of Shem and Japheth, clearly apart from any physical or racial considerations.

Dr. Kenneth Kinney, as well as many others, develops this pattern by discussing the “spirit of rebellion” in the Hamites that resulted in willful crossing of the boundaries set by God and the Babel episode. Since God separated the three groups and intended that they should retain their identity, “the descendants of these groups are, therefore, Scripturally bound to do so. Hence, there should be no crossing of the line by way of intermarriage between those of Japhetic (European) , Shematic (Oriental) , and Hamitic (African) groups.” Kinney sees the attempts to violate this rule largely initiated by the Negroes in their attempts to become fully integrated. “Thus the Hamitic spirit of rebellion continues.”

The surprising thing is that such views persist despite the fact that there is not a shred of historical, ethnological, or Scriptural proof identifying the present Negroes as the descendants of the sons of Ham. In the first place, only one of them, Canaan, received the supposedly all-important curse. Moreover, all of the regions specified in the account of the dispersal of Ham’s progeny have been populated not with Negroids, but with Caucasians from the dawn of historic times.

Some still refer to Cain as the original “segregated” one for killing his brother, Abel. Rabbi Arthur Gilbert even finds as one of the “most commonly uttered charges of the ‘religious’ segregationists” today the belief that “the sign placed upon Cain …was the color black. The Negro race therefore calls to mind the man who was an outcast of God and society.” Thus the curse, and the continuity— “the vine . . . rooted in slavery.” This branch continues to flourish.

There remains only one question which can only be asked, not answered, at this point: Since the vine of racial inequality beliefs was only twisted by the overthrow of slavery and continues now in segregation, what effect will the present revolution have? What form is the vine likely to take as a result of its current twisting? What can be done to challenge it where its strength lies— in the minds of men?

Some would answer that it will never be overthrown, but will only continue twisting and growing with changing pressures. Education will certainly help. Anthropology, the principal science concerned with race, is one of the fastest growing subjects on the undergraduate level.

What about our churches? In 1956, four outstanding Negro leaders sitting in Dr. Donald G. Barnhouse’s office asked him this question: “Why is it that we Negroes are accepted by the communists, by the Roman Catholics, and by the modernists, but that we have our hardest fight among the evangelicals to win any acceptance?”

Is the answer not to be found in part, at least, in the very conservatism of these groups? Theologically, conservatism is certainly to be desired. But far too many fundamentalists and evangelicals whose theology is “founded on the Rock,” who view modernists, Catholics, and communists with normal hostility, also regard with suspicion the advances of science which they accept, simply because of the association. The social teachings of the Gospel as they relate to the status and treatment of minority groups need not be held aloof from the social sciences in the same field. Our theological conservatives must realize the distinction between the conservatism in the fundamentals of the faith, and the social and racial folk beliefs that too often are held to be as sacred as the rest. The message of the Gospel in collaboration instead of conflict with social science over its common ground, will carry a much greater impact upon the social thinking of our times and the times that lie ahead.

When Buswell the Son wrote the above, he was on the faculty of Wheaton College and his father was Dean of Covenant Theological Seminary, a few hundred miles away.

Buswell the Son’s opposition to racism and segregation, specifically in schooling, was passed over by Phil Ryken and his trustees as any slightest evidence of similar opposition to racism and segregation by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.

As we have written before, President Ryken and the trustees of Wheaton College have slandered a godly father in the faith, which required that they deny the convictions of President Buswell’s son bore any resemblance to the convictions of his father.

Donors to Wheaton should take a page from donors at University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Stanford who presently are announcing the end of their financial support for these schools. This is in response to school administrators, faculty, and students’ condemnations of Israel and support of Hamas in the wake of Hamas’s terrorist massacre of Israelis attending the Tribe of Nova Music Festival on October 7.

This has now begun at Wheaton. Recently, a group of Wheaton donors representing a billion dollars of capital met with a trustee to inform him the slander of Buswell was the final in a long list of craven actions by Wheaton’s trustees and administration. They are prepared to pull their support.

Praise God for this.

God’s people should not give the children or the money God has made them stewards of to reward leadership that trembles before the wicked, and therefore denounces the righteous.

Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend. (Proverbs 27:10)

(Fourth in a series.)

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1Gospel Herald, February 5, 1963; reprinted by permission from Eternity magazine, copyright 1962, The Evangelical Foundation, 1716 Spruce St., Philadelphia 3, PA.

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