Pastor, Peacemaker, Prophet
This is the story of Edwin T. Dahlberg, who helped found the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Baptist Peace Fellowship. His pronouncements when president of the Northern Baptists, and later as president of the National Council of Churches, were damned by some who misunderstood him, but he lived to see many of those statements adopted as national policies of Republican and Democratic presidents alike.
While signing my newest books in a small town in Idaho, I ran into a sweet older man with a bright intellect, insight and experience. I liked him and we traded books. His book, a biography on his father, Edwin T. Dahlberg, I read first.
Written in that careful, educated, yet somewhat unconsciously nostalgic manner, Keith Dahlberg draws in broad strokes the setting for the appearance of Edwin T. Dahlberg, (Pastor, Peacemaker, Prophet) in the United States from the fractured Lutheran Church of Sweden to the factioned Baptist Church of the Northern US. It's a relaxing read. It’s very interesting to see how a son might recount the life of an outstanding father/citizen/preacher. Keith definitely sets out to create a more objective biography, and the words look objective, perhaps it is I then who am reading the subjectivity into it -- as I met the son first.
Though written in a more old-school style, I must say I enjoyed a bio that wasn't riddled with scandal. These days it seems no one will take seriously a bio without some lucid affair here and there or a drug addiction, or abusive behavior.
Anyway, if you ever wondered how a young boy might find himself in the pulpit one day, and then later, talking with international leaders like Ike and MLK about war and social justice -- pick it up.
As a C.O. myself, I certainly appreciate how Edwin T. Dahlberg came to form his views on this topic. And though at one time the president of his denomination, he still was against prayer in the schools -- I find that quite open-minded. That said, I can't quite agree with him regarding his method of consulting to-be-wedded couples: "I explain the differences between masculine and feminine psychology"
Though the book is subtitled: "Pastor, Peacemaker, Prophet," I see very little call for the word prophet save for Edwin being a bit of a visionary in his optimism for the future. Pastor clearly works. But I think it's the word Peacemaker that best describes the book. Especially in the second half, the book marches strongly on the futility of war. Keith (the son and author) hits that point home in the last few pages ending on Edwin's epitaph, "Blessed are the Peacemakers." Organizing a long full life in one short book is no easy task, and sometimes the sections repeat information and occasionally experience a tad of chronological jolting. And in later chapters, Keith reserves some pages to talk about what it was like to be the child of such a man. He only touches (and gently, at that) on a subject on which a volume could be written. Keith also spends only a paragraph on his own views of pacifism - first agreeing with his father, then disagreeing given the horrors he'd come to see overseas, then agreeing again -- full circle. Again, I would have liked to read a full chapter on that changing of views.
Overall, this is an easy read, tame, probably not newsprint-harshly-hyper real -- but certainly, a factual and loving summary of a man who spent his life doing a world of good.
“’Not much to say, when he’s as drunk as that,’ said Dad, ‘he’s not going to remember it. The best you can do sometimes is just keep a man alive, to understand something another day, when his mind is clearer.’ That stayed in the back of my mind over the years as a primary rule: moralizing and blaming are not first priority; in the moment of crisis, keep the person alive, if you can, and hope for opportunities to help in other ways later.”
“For where the need of the world and your talents meet, that is where you are called of God to go.”
“Dad expressed his philosophy about war and peace in a radio broadcast entitled “The Minister and War” on Monday evening, 6 May 1940, over station WSYR. He reminisced briefly about his own decision not to bear arms or kill in World War I and then continued: ‘Now it is 1940; once more the ministers of church must seriously consider their responsibility to Christ. Nothing could be more important than that we study what the Master of men had to say about war and peace. Peace convictions must be founded in something deeper than party platforms. Unless they are rooted in the will of God and some basic religious philosophy, they will not stand up against the pressure of public opinion in wartime.”
“In a family letter, Dad explained, ‘I offered to step out of the picture, as I certainly don’t want to be the cause of any division either in the convention or in the Linden Avenue church. It’s a puzzle to me how a peaceful, no controversial guy like me always seems to become such a bone of contention -- never in my own church, but among people I have never seen nor known.”