George S. Benson, Pt. 2
In my original post on George S. Benson I made the comment that some people say that Benson married Harding College and other Church of Christ institutions to the anti-communist cause. Some confusion may fall on why that was such a big deal or such a deviation from the norm, and that is what I am going to talk about here.
J.N. Armstrong was Harding College’s first president. Armstrong had been trained at the Nashville Bible School under James A. Harding and David Lipscomb (for whom the Nashville school later took its name). Both Harding and Lipscomb imparted their wisdom and ideas on students who would go on to work in Christian education across the United States.
Harding and Lipscomb’s ideas were many, but a notable aspect of their teaching was noninvolvment in politics and war. Lipscomb published his most memorable piece of work Civil Government which was a long discussion about a Christians role in earthly matters. In its pages he encouraged all Christians to stay away from war and government since they were institutions of Satan. Harding was in accord.
This sentiment on war and government was taught at Nashville Bible School and its students carried these ideas to places like Beamsville, Ontario at Beamsville Bible College, Bowling Green, Kentucky at Potter Bible College and Cordell, Oklahoma at Cordell Christian College, where Armstrong was president until World War One.
When World War One started and the draft was initiated, many of the staff and students took the position of Conscientious Objectors, refusing combat service. Additionally two members of the Cordell community refused any service at all and instead were sent to Fort Leavenworth Prison. Armstrong himself took the CO position, but discouraged those who would do no service at all. Armstrong continued to teach and write on the noninvolvment and peace position for Christians through World War One, the Depression and World War Two.
Sadly, the school had become such a point of hostility from the locals who claimed that Armstrong and his faculty were German sympathizers or at the least unpatriotic, that the Board decided to close the doors before the fall of 1918. Armstrong would say the school was a martyr to its beliefs and the beliefs of its faculty and students.
Eventually, Armstrong would come to Searcy as the president of Harding College. He still wrote often on his peace and noninvolvment positions. In 1935 he drafted a letter to the War Department on behalf of two congregations in Searcy stating their opposition to carnal warfare and any participation in it.
So, in 1936 when Benson took the reigns of the college and began his speeches and campaigns against communism, this was a shift in thinking for Harding College. More than just differing opinions of two college presidents, by 1948 the National Education Program was an important part of the college. A faculty prepared assessment of the college stated that Harding College had a responsibility to the general public to educate them on important issues. These issues included Benson’s big three: free enterprize, constitutional government and Biblical learning.
This was much to the dismay of the still living, J.N. Armstrong according to his biographer and good friend L.C. Sears. Armstrong continued to write pieces encouraging Christians to stay out of the fray of anti-communism, Nazism and socialism.
In the end however, Benson won out, some credit him with shifting many of the Church of Christ institutions to a position. I would agree. His National Education Program brought an average of a million dollars a year to Harding and other Church of Christ schools, often struggling financially, asked him to help them do the same which he did. Oklahoma Christian, Lubbock Christian, Pepperdine, Freed-Hardeman, and others benefitted from his work, which shifted their loyalties and helped them become more pro-American, anti-Communist and ultimately more willing to encourage killing in the name of those values.
There is a demonstratable shift in ideas and politics between Armstrong and Benson. That shift would have remained in Searcy if not for Benson’s tenacity in spreading his ideas and the colleges willingness to accept that for financial stability.
The comment is made in almost any work that you read about Benson that had he not started the National Education Program Harding College would have closed, which I agree with. There is no doubt that Benson’s program is what kept Harding afloat during many turbulent times both financial and doctrinal at Harding College.
*Sources avaliable upon request.