1920: Berkeley Divinity School Accused

Bill Jr:

In 1920, according to an undated news report, Berkeley Divinity School was turned over to the C.L.I.D. for three days. Representatives of the League taught all classes and a public meeting was held one evening with Dean Ladd presiding. The courses were conducted by Vida Scudder of Wellesley College who gave three lectures on the Franciscans, Prof. Norman Nash of Cambridge Seminary who lectured on the Church and Labor; W.B.S. Sr., who conducted a class on “labor agreements,” and the Rev. G.A. Studdert-Kennedy, then on the Berkeley faculty and the National Messenger of the Industrial Christian Fellowship, a C.L.I.D. counterpart. (Studdert-Kennedy, of course, was the most famous chaplain of the British Expeditionary Forces in France during W.W. 1; a famous preacher and poet and, as a result of his witness as ‘Woodbine Willie’ in the trenches, had turned into a leading pacifist.)

Quickly, there was a negative response in Middletown and throughout the Connecticut church. The Berkeley trustees established an investigative committee. It was a famous conflict and both the report and Dean Ladd’s response tells a lot about the Episcopal ‘ethos.’

In June of 1920, following extensive study, the board of trustees issued a report responding to the charges that ‘the school was . . . a spawning place for Bolshevik propaganda, and radical Socialist principles.” As illustration of this a certain lecture given on December 19, 1919, by Mr. Wilfred Humphries was cited. According to the CHURCHMAN (July 3, 1920), Humphries was an overseas staff member of the YMCA from 1917, and rendered faithful service and piloted over one thousand refugees across Siberia and was the means of saving the lives of hundreds.

The report stated, however, that Humphries’ lecture was more or less a defense of the Soviet government and, while allowing that it would have been much better if the lecture had not been given, it had also been delivered at Smith, Vassar, Simmons, Clark and other New England colleges. The lecture was sponsored by the Intercollegiate Socialistic Society.

The lecture stirred up Middletown citizens and the Middletown Press, which said that the ‘school had been the centre of radical Socialism’ for some time, and that the teachings there promote socialistic ideas.

The trustees’ report says:

“So far as your trustees have been able to learn, however, Socialism in a radical or advanced form is not taught in the school. There was a course dealing with social problems introduced before Dr. Ladd became dean, in Dean Hart’s administration. The course, however, has not been pursued as actively in the last few years as before. As to the charge that young men are taught Socialism in the school, we find no evidence thereof, and the faculty deny that such is the case, and the students also deny it. The dean believes, however, in allowing a broad latitude in the curriculum, and in granting the students a wide liberty, with means for the discussion of many different subjects so as to give them an opportunity to look into the different problems of life. In this respect, however, we think that the students should be guided in their studies and be taught to discriminate carefully between the good and evil effects of the various theories presented to them for their consideration and investigation.”

The report exonerates Dean Ladd and any member of the faculty of approving “anything of a violent or revolutionary nature, and we further find, which fact is quite unnecessary, as is well known to every trustee, that the removal of the school to another location has nothing whatever to do with the question involved.”

“As to the claim that God’s Word should be taught and that alone, we are quite in sympathy with it, but opinions may well differ in these days when the agencies for teaching and preaching the Gospel are so varied, as to whether that Word is not being taught by recognizing the manifold difficulties of the day and preparing men to meet them.”

The Trustees’ report concludes with the statement that they are going to be more involved in the management of the school and its curriculum and that the Dean and some faculty should withdraw from some organizations, with the C.L.I.D. being implied as one of them.

Thus, Wm. Palmer Ladd issued an equally long response, expressing appreciation for the exoneration and then saying that he would not quit the C.L.I.D.:

“The committee thinks it unwise for the dean and members of the faculty … to belong to such an organization. Why unwise? Is there anything unchristian or heretical in trying to make justice and love the controlling motive in all social conditions? No, the committee says, ‘there can be no objection to such a platform from the standpoint of Christianity, so far as the application of the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is involved.’ Is the society in any other way unchristian or un-Churchly? Has it been discovered in any serious fault? Have the bishops and others who have joined it suffered from their contact with it? None of these things is alleged. …

“…the reason given for withdrawing from the C.L.I.D. is not one which makes any appeal to the members of the Berkeley faculty. They do not desire to regulate their conduct with reference to the present state of the public mind and the standpoint of the citizen of the world whether a Christian or not. One would have thought that even a citizen of the world would prefer that a member of the faculty of a Christian divinity school should regulate his conduct not with reference to the world and the prevailing state of the public mind but according to the principles of the religion which he professes.”

The second item, which Dean Ladd saw as much more important, was the issue of seminary management and the trustees’ involvement in curriculum control. After showing where such control could lead, he concluded:

“And what would ‘the public say?’ I think they would say that the Episcopal Church was a Church where those inauthority did not desire to make justice and love the controlling motive in all social conditions, not a democratic Church but a Church of the privileged classes, a Church where the clergy were not free to teach and act according to their honest convictions, and where even the future clergy of the Church were under the control of the wealthy and influential laymen and were trained up after a fashion which these same laymen imposed upon them. All this would be mistaken. As the committee says ‘the public does not always see clearly.’ But since the report has a good deal to say as to what the public at present thinks of the school it would seem fair to consider what it might think of the school and of the Church in case the committee undertook to arrange this whole matter after a manner acceptable to themselves.

“…The Berkeley Divinity School is, of course, desperately in need of money. And trustees and others have repeatedly said that no money will be forthcoming so long as our present policy continues. I hope this is not so. But if the school has to die in a losing fight for a policy, one feature of which is to try to make justice and love the controlling motive in all social conditions, I am quite ready to say, with Bishop Brewster [of Maine], ‘Then let it die.’ Better so to die than to live on prosperously in an attitude of subservience and compromise.”

It was an interesting and early fight, which WBS, Sr., was to be embroiled in on many fields and in many arenas. Dean ‘Billy’ Ladd, that quiet scholar and liturgist, could get his dander up when pushed. It was he who sent Dad down to the New School to study with Scott Nearing, among others.

Berkeley was moved from Middletown to New Haven in 1928 and associated with Yale University and its Divinity School. And, in 1948, Bishop. Budlong, of Connecticut, as head of the trustees, gave WBS, Sr. a D.S.T. (honoris causa), in the same ceremony similarly honoring the Rev. Samel Shoemaker, rector of Calvary Church, N.Y.C.

Share

Leave a Reply