Story and photos by John Pierce

EDITOR’S NOTE: Will Campbell died June 3 at age 88. In tribute, we are reprinting this feature story that appeared in the January 2005 issue of Baptists Today.

Will Campbell at his writing cabin in Mount Juliet, Tenn., where he penned books and ministered to country music stars and others who sought his counsel. 2004 Baptists Today photo by John Pierce.

Will Campbell at his writing cabin in Mount Juliet, Tenn., where he penned books and ministered to country music stars and others who sought his counsel. 2004 Baptists Today photo by John Pierce.

MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. — Will Davis Campbell grew up during the Depression years in Amite County, Miss. He has been called a bootleg preacher, an agitator, a liberal and several things not fit to print. He generally describes himself as one who “writes rare books for a living.”

Campbell, who turned 80 last July (2004), does not seem to have lost sleep over what others think or say about him. He has never offered himself as a model for ecclesiastical excellence.

Yet Campbell’s unique ministry has touched the famous and the forgotten. His words — written, spoken or sung — knock the varnish off pretense and cause a reexamination of faith commitments claimed.

Campbell is best known for Brother to a Dragonfly (1977, Continuum Press), a moving account of his deep involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and of his close and painful relationship with his beloved brother Joe. An anniversary edition with a foreword by President Jimmy Carter was released in 2000.

Will’s late father, a longtime Baptist deacon, excused his son’s stark language in the book that some found offensive, saying: “My boy was writing about hornets’ nests.”

Although that book won the Lillian Smith Prize, Campbell considers his 1982 novel, The Glad River (Holt, Rinehart and Winston), to be his best writing. The novella, Cecilia’s Sin (1983, Mercer University Press), was spun off of that book. These two works of fiction reveal Campbell’s interest in Anabaptist history.

Other titles include Forty Acres and a Goat (1986, Peachtree Publishers), The Convention: A Parable (1988, Peachtree Publishers), Providence (1992, Longstreet Press) and The Stem of Jesse: The Costs of Community at a 1960s Southern School (1995, Mercer University Press).

Campbell’s most recent release is Robert G. Clark’s Journey to the House: A Black Politician’s Story (2003, University Press of Mississippi).

Baptists Today editor John Pierce spent a September (2004) morning with Brother Will at his writing cabin on the spread of land near Nashville that he and his wife Brenda have shared for more than four decades.

The conversation was rambling, often off subject and simply delightful. The following exchange is pulled from that interview.

BT: How did you first meet Waylon Jennings?

WC: Right here in this cabin. A fellow named Johnny Darrow, who never had but one big song and I forgot what it was, wanted me to do his wedding. Waylon was his best man.

I got to the part about “Who brings this woman to be married to this man?” and nobody said anything. The girl’s daddy was here, but he was nervous. Read More…

By David Cramer

David Cramer

David Cramer

I believe that it is inconsistent for one to be a strong complementarian and a Protestant at the same time. Complementarians often hold that, though women can be involved in various forms of ministry, they cannot become “ordained ministers.” But consider the following simple argument:

According to one of the fundamental tenets of Protestantism, the priesthood of all believers (hereafter, PAB):

(1) All baptized believers are ordained by God as priests.

From here the rest of the argument quickly follows:

(2) Some women are baptized believers.


(3) Some women are ordained by God as priests. Read More…

Jennifer Harris Dault's book, released Nov 2012

Jennifer Harris Dault’s book, released Nov 2012

Growing up Baptist, Jennifer Harris Dault says her calling into the ministry was clouded by comments and assumptions along the way that the pulpit was no place for women.

“I had this feeling as a kid that women could not be pastors,” said Harris Dault, 30, a May Central Baptist Theological Seminary graduate who lives in St. Louis  “It wasn’t until I was already in seminary and had preached my first sermon that I realized I did have these gifts.”

She also realized she wasn’t alone – that many Baptist women, even those traditions OK with women’s ordination – faced the same opposition and doubts she did.

So Harris Dault compiled 23 of those experiences (including her own) into Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God, a book released in November.

A common denominator in their stories is the experience of being told by churches they would not be hired despite being the most qualified candidates.  Read More…

By John D. Pierce 

John Pierce

President Jimmy Carter’s 75th birthday in October 1999 coincided with the completed restoration of the beautiful Rylander Theater in downtown Americus, Ga. So Sumter County residents rolled the grand opening of the revived historic theater and the milestone birthday of their favorite son into one big celebration.

Primarily this was a local event, but the former president invited seasoned singers Pat Boone (with his white shoes and clean reputation) and Lynn Anderson (of “Rose Garden” fame) to perform. To balance the act, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter asked the Indigo Girls to sing — and they agreed.

Just before the event, President Carter met with the handful of media present that included former ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson and UPI correspondent Helen Thomas — who had covered the Carter campaigns and presidency and seemed delighted to be back in Southwest Georgia.

Donaldson asked if the Carters stilled jogged as he remembered from years ago. President Carter said they did not, but enjoyed riding bikes around their small hometown of Plains — and visiting a neighborhood where several African-American families live.

Intrigued, Thomas asked: “What do they do when a former President of the United States comes riding up on a bicycle?” Read More…