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From LBJ to Zimbabwe

SEVERAL PRESIDENTS have been members of the Stone-Campbell tradition. The first was James Garfield. Baptized at age 18, Garfield began preaching at age 21 and is the only U.S. president who was a minister (of a Christian Church in Cleveland, Ohio). He was also among the group that launched the magazine Christian Standard, still published today. 

The second was Lyndon Baines Johnson. As a young man, he was baptized in a small Christian Church in Johnson City, Texas, where he also attended services in his retirement. 

Church was also a focal point of Ronald Reagan’s youth in Dixon, Illinois. He was a member of First Christian Church and graduated from Disciples-affiliated Eureka College in 1932. While there, one of his first stage roles was as a Christian Church minister.

Politician Sir Garfield Todd (see “Worldwide disciples, worldwide Christians,” pp. 34–36) was a minister at a New Zealand Church of Christ before moving to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1934. For a decade, he wore the hats of missionary, schoolteacher, bricklayer, and occasional doctor. He entered politics in 1942 and by 1953 was prime minister of Southern Rhodesia, where he worked for equal rights for all Africans. Queen Elizabeth II knighted Todd in 1986,  but in 2002 he was stripped of Zimbabwean citizenship. 

Top man at yale; hoops hero

He visits Civil War battlefields for fun and at his day job explains how early Jews and Christians adapted to the culture around them without adopting its values. He is Greg Sterling, appointed dean of Yale Divinity School in  2012—a noted New Testament scholar, former dean at Notre Dame, and minister in Churches of Christ. Sterling’s appointment at Yale testifies to the passion for biblical scholarship that has always characterized the Stone-Campbell tradition (see “Reading the Bible to enjoy the God of the Bible,” p. 16).

In 1963 Disciples’s magazine World Call featured basketball phenomenon John Wooden. He later won 10 NCAA Championships, appeared 16 times in the Final Four, had 40 strong seasons, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame twice—as a student and as a coach. A deacon at and generous donor to First Christian Church of Santa Monica, California, Wooden was present every Sunday except when his team was on the road. 

Songs by the dead

Janis Joplin grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, a “rough” refinery town near Houston. Before she burst onto the national music scene in 1967, she taught Sunday school and sang in the youth choir at First Christian Church. 

The church’s historian noted on Joplin’s baptism card: “Died of a drug overdose in a Beverly Hills hotel. . . . She was cremated and her ashes were strewn along the coastline of Northern California. She had also set aside $2,500 for [her] wake. The Grateful Dead and others provided music for the wake.” 

Stardust and country music

Though Hoagland (Hoagy) Carmichael failed at practicing law, he had music to fall back on—inspired by his mother, who played for dances and accompanied silent movies. He wrote “Stardust” (one of the most recorded songs ever), “Old Buttermilk Sky,” and “Georgia on My Mind.” An active member at North Hollywood Christian Church in California, he performed for the 1962 convention of the Disciples of Christ.

And, does singing unaccompanied in church spark a musical career? Pop and country singers Pat Boone, Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison, and Loretta Lynn were all raised in or converted to Churches of Christ. 

Woman with the hatchet

Carry Nation was born in Kentucky and baptized in a stream in Missouri with ice floating in the water. She began her temperance crusade after the death of her first husband from alcoholism and earned the nickname “The Home Defender” as a result of taking her hatchet to whiskey bottles and saloon furnishings. 

Her second husband, David Nation, divorced her in 1901, citing abandonment. In 1902, calling her a “stumbling block and a disturber of the peace,” her Disciples church disfellowshipped her. But frightened of their decision, they provided her a letter of commendation so she could transfer her membership elsewhere. 

Other famous, or infamous, people connected with the tradition included golfer Ben Hogan, bank robber John Dillinger, Lew Wallace (author of Ben-Hur), and James Warren Jones, pastor at Jonestown, Guyana. CH

By McGarvey Ice and the editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #106 in 2013]

Ice has worked at the Brown Library at Abilene Christian University and the Disciples of Christ Historical Society. He writes and speaks widely on Stone-Campbell history.
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