"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.VI No.XI Pg.1-4
June 1944

The Big President Of A Little College

Cled E. Wallace

I have read with more than passing interest and a wide variety of reactions an article in the Saturday Evening Post of June 3rd. In it Philip S. Rose draws a sensational picture of Dr. George S. Benson, president of Harding College, as the "Arkansas Crusader." Now there are some things about both Dr. Benson and Harding College that I frankly do not like, but I do not believe that this dislike is violent enough to make me abnormally caustic in my personal appraisal of an unusual situation among us. Indeed, I would have to veer far to the left in the way of criticism to balance the Post's excursion to the right in the way of praise. It is understood that there are some things involved in this situation that interest some of us immensely; things the Post knows nothing about, and cares nothing about, since "The Churches of Christ" are just a vague movement "more frequently called the Campbellites." This is not a criticism of the Post on my part but an explanation that the Post is looking at Dr. Benson and Harding College from one angle and I am shooting at them from another. The Post bombards them with bouquets; I'll probably hurl a brickbat or so before I finish. Really, the Post has done such a swell job of praising our "Arkansas Crusader" that I feel no impulse whatever to add anything to it, but on the other hand feel perfectly justified in damping the fire with a bit of cold water. I think it is burning too fiercely for either Dr. Benson's good or that of the little college he is the big president of.

First, it may be well to take a look at the picture of Dr. Benson drawn by the enthusiastic Mr. Rose.

"George Stuart Benson came back from China to put a small country college on the map--and found there was a bigger job that needed doing first."

It was the "doing" of this "bigger job" that won the big president of "a small country college" his nation-wide notoriety. It was not the conversion of sinners or the extension of the borders of the kingdom of heaven; it was arousing America to the danger of paralysis that was threatening "democracy and human liberty." The difficulties that beset the college were only "local." He could not do much with them until he administered treatment to the whole nation first. "He vowed to himself that he would do what he could to help arouse America." He did not keep his vows to himself for long. He first stunned the "House Ways and Means Committee" and all the reporters present with his wisdom. They were almost speechless, asking only a very few questions, but let loose a torrent of publicity for Dr. Benson and his suggestions as soon as they could contact their various papers. It "turned out to be something of a triumph" for Dr. Benson. This tidbit of publicity gave the doctor a voracious appetite, for more. It really tasted good.

"One success, no matter how spectacular, Dr. Benson well knew, did not constitute a campaign

Dr. Benson had demonstrated that he is no amateur in the highly competitive field of publicity.

But welcome as this first year of publicity had been, Benson realized that it was only the frosting on the cake. It was not sufficient to impress his ideas upon a nation of 130,000,000 people. To accomplish that result would require a well-organized, continuous campaign. And to be effective, the campaign he had in mind must include newspapers, radio and public addresses"

So the crusading wonder of the State of Arkansas took to the country newspapers and various radio stations and finally crashed the Saturday Evening Post. And there are new worlds looming in view to conquer in the crusade to save "democracy and human liberty."

"Benson's enormous popularity with people in many walks of life--farmers, business and professional men and factory workers-has not escaped the attention of the political slate makers in his state. He could probably be elected to any state office he might choose, a circumstance which the politicians recognized by offering him the best they had, the governorship. They suggested also that he might aspire to the high office of United States senator."

We are told that this "tempting opportunity" was blushingly turned down by the modest president of the little college. He obviously prefers to be a big frog in a little pond, at least for the time being. Of course if the pressure is persistent, our Arkansas Caesar may finally succumb to having the crown placed on his able brow. Then what in the world will Harding College do? Possibly they can find a crumb of comfort in the thought that what Harding has lost, Arkansas and the nation have gained! However, Harding's patriotism has a few yellow spots on it, as we shall note a little later on in this essay.

Let us see if we can find something in Dr. Benson's background to account for his uncanny insight into the nation's needs, socially, politically and economically. He left this country for China in the year of our Lord 1925, when we had a Republican president and the nation was "sound," its people independent and employed and "democracy and human liberty" sitting high in the saddle and riding fast.

He was, then twenty-seven years old, with a wisdom no doubt far beyond his years. He was not in this country when the great depression hit us. More's the pity, for had he been here it likely wouldn't have happened! But he got back about 1936 and got the shock of his life over the paralysis that had settled upon our nation after he left. So it was up to him to correct it. So he "vowed to himself that he would do what he could to help arouse America." The upshot of it is that they are about to make an Arkansas governor or United States senator out of him and rob Harding College of its great president. And even then it is likely that he could not swing the nation entirely from the path of its peril. He might have to have just a wee bit of scotching from Senator O'Daniel of Texas. It looks as though Senator O'Daniel is also going to have some trouble keeping out of the draft for President or something bigger than he is. He also knows the value of publicity. I'm not much of a politician but from my seat in the bleachers, I'm not expecting either George Benson or W. Lee O'Daniel to knock a home run as a national saviour. As it looks from here Lee has a slight edge on George "in the highly competitive field of publicity." He has him a hill-billy band and can write poetry. But give George a little more time. He hasn't been out of China long, you know, and even in so short a time has "demonstrated that he is no amateur in the highly competitive field of publicity." He is not apt to overlook any possibilities in the "field of publicity."

In the midst of this dizzy publicity, we can be pardoned if we ask some questions and do a little speculating. This vast amount of publicity for the big president, with a modest amount thrown in for the little college, may be due to demonstrated genius on his part but if it is I have overlooked something. Some of us just can't see it. I confess that I am a bit puzzled just here. I and some others are wondering. Can it be that the notorious promoter from New Jersey who has become something of "a financial angel" for Harding college is connected in some way with this publicity crusade? There are some suspicious angles to the case. This same promoter once invaded Texas while he was pursuing a grandiose scheme to get control of the papers published among "The Churches of Christ--more frequently called the Campbellites." When that scheme collapsed he suddenly began to hover like a guardian angel over Harding College. It may be just a coincidence. I wonder and I wonder again.

Some of Dr. Benson's social and economic "philosophy" has a universal appeal but we get a peculiar flavor now and then, which suggests the possibility that some interested and organized groups from the East are finding him a convenient Charlie McCarthy for propaganda purposes. It would be pretty slick on their part to pick an innocent looking president of a little college down in Arkansas and properly publicize him as a mouth-piece, and does he enjoy the publicity! Sure, he would scornfully deny such a suggestion. He in all likelihood doesn't even know it. He stayed a long time in China, you know, and hasn't been back very long, not long enough to know as much about the nation's ills and their cures as he claims he does. Besides, his credulity is rather well known. Some of us have not forgotten about how he "saw" some demons cast out of some of the Chinese by sectarian missionaries and miracle workers. He has "changed" now but at one time in the not too remote past he was a premillennialist. Of course, the Saturday Evening Post is not particularly interested in this angle but we have one or two connected with the Harding college administration it may be interested in, or ought to be.

We have assurance that

"Despite the long hours of sweaty work which have gone into his crusade for bed-rock Americanism, President Benson has not neglected Harding College. The school and what it stands for are close to his heart."

As the great physician for a sick America, "No one was better qualified than Doctor Benson to evaluate and diagnose these symptoms." It appears that he had two patients on his hands at the same time, both in a rather bad way. Harding College was sick nigh unto death when he got to it. It appears that the doctor got there just in time.

"Obviously, there was enough work involved in the reorganization of the college and its financial affairs to tax the abilities of any executive."

The ability of this "bed-rock" American was equal to the Herculean task of saving America and making a convalescent out of Harding College. What a man! But what was the matter with Harding College? Brother Armstrong had been its president for a great many years. What Dr. Benson saw "as his first discovery," and it was "obvious," is a serious reflection on the administration that preceded him. Nobody did anything much right until Dr. Benson got on the job! According to my limited information Dr. Armstrong had more confidence in Providence than he had in executive ability. He was somewhat inclined to let the Lord run it. Brother Benson "obviously" saw that whoever was running it, he needed a man of his caliber to help him, for it was a job "to tax the abilities of any executive." Brother Armstrong was inclined to feel that if the Lord was with him, it was sufficient with "no endowment, no financial angel and no certain source of income." It appears that Dr. Benson has more respect for endowments, financial angels and certain sources of income. At least he has gone in strong for reorganization and publicity. He has "demonstrated ability as a financial manager." But with all this his salary is "only $1800 a year" and "Harding-faculty people with Ph.D. degrees are willing to spend their lives back there in the country teaching for thirty-five dollars a week." It seems to me that with all his financial and executive ability he ought to manage somehow to pay his teachers better than that. We are not asking him to tell us who his "financial angel" is or who they are, but everybody knows that he is not carrying on this crusade to save America, with its expensive advertising, on a salary of "only $1800 a year." Somebody is paying for it. Even if "Benson seems uninterested in money for its own sake," pretense is not palatable unless it is very skillfully camouflaged.

Some years ago I heard a president of a school describe the sacrifices he and his teachers were making. He said that he had been president for lo, these many years, had received no salary at all and in addition had contributed some thousands of dollars of his own money to the work. In my simplicity I asked him how he managed to do it. His reply was that "The Lord has been good to me." I explained it to a fellow-soldier in the army of the Lord and got a blunt rejoinder: "He is just a big liar." Of course, I wouldn't know. Maybe the Lord was good to him. But when men publish their ability and unselfishness, they should be careful not to leave the wrong impression on simple people like me and a lot of others.

We learn some interesting things from the Post article which brings up something else besides:

"Within three years, Benson had cleared the college of debt, reorganized the institution paving the way for the, far-flung crusade of Americanism in which he and the college are now involved."

"We teach the sanctity of life, the dignity of labor, the importance of decency and good citizenship."

The thought that Harding college is in a crusade for Americanism and good citizenship is intriguing to me. My impression is that it is a hotbed of conscientious objector sentiment Sure, Dr. Benson told the Ways and Means Committee that "This country must prepare to defend itself against any aggressor nation," and some Harding college students turned down money from the government that "might better be used for military purposes." Others invested some money they had made "in War Bonds and presented them to the college treasurer." This looks good and no doubt is good. At least it makes good publicity But if Harding college is not shot through and through with the sentiment that Christians should take no active part in government affairs, and cannot bear arms under any circumstances, then I am sadly misinformed. In a late issue of the Firm Foundation there is an advertisement of Harding College. It stresses endowment, new buildings and a "strengthening of faculty." Two outstanding men" are to be added to the faculty. Both are conscientious objectors, and I am wondering what they think of Dr. Benson's publicity stunts in behalf of "bedrock Americanism." And I wonder what he thinks of one of them.

"James D. Bales, who is now completing requirements for his Ph.D. in the University of California, is expected to join the faculty in December of this year."

James D. Bales has recently published a book setting forth and endorsing the position of the conscientious objector. He insists that a Christian should not bear arms, or become a part of the armed forces, even as a so-called "noncombatant;" that he must not put on a uniform or drill; that he must not contribute directly or indirectly to any war effort by anybody for any purpose. If necessary he should go to jail or die if that is the alternative. "Bed-rock Americanism," indeed! The sources of the Post's information about Dr. Benson and Harding College did not reveal this. Bales is, according to rumor, in line for the head of the Bible Department in Harding College. The Post and some others might be shocked to find out just how much of this sort of sentiment there is in Harding College. It just doesn't jibe with crusading for "bed-rock Americanism," and buying bonds and suggesting to the government to use its funds for "military purposes," and exhorting the government to "prepare to defend itself against any aggressor." Are Christian citizens? Can they evade some of the righteous demands of citizenship?

Finally, Dr. Benson:

"wants America to rededicate itself to human freedom, to divest itself of all foreign ideologies and resume its march forward. This is his platform. Win, lose or draw, he is in the fight to the end."

What some of us want to know is this: when the doctor gets America aroused, rededicated, divested and resumed, will it still be the devil's government which Christians cannot afford to defend or promote? Dr. James D. Bales who is to "strengthen" the Harding faculty right away will doubtless teach Harding students the contents of his late book. If Dr. Benson starts a fight in the school, he stands a chance to "lose or draw" right in his own faculty. Some of his own faculty members could not vote for or against him should he run for governor or senator for they do not believe a Christian has a right to vote. I really do not think this is the Saturday Evening Post's idea of good citizenship...

I really feel for the schools in the embarrassment some of their crackpots, mostly young preachers, are causing them in these critical times. Ones writes a book on "Can A Christian Kill For His Government?" Another sends out a tract ranting against aiding killers, meaning soldiers, our armed forces, by working in munitions factories, buying bonds or even giving them a cup of water. Here is a very fair sample.

"And a third situation that may arise at the Judgment will be this. A Jap will be condemned to Hell. He will point his finger at some preacher and say, I never heard the Gospel either. I was killed with the bomb that your War Bonds paid for. And it contained the iron sold from your backyard. And the powder was made from old grease which your wife saved in her kitchen and sold to the government to make a bomb with. And members of your congregation were working in the aircraft plant that made the plane that dropped the bomb which took me out of the world without one chance to hear the Gospel.' "

"Some brethren take the position that a Christian cannot kill but that he can help others do it, load their guns and carry them drinking water while they do it. Now is that in harmony with the scriptures?"

The idea seems to be to let the Japs wreak their vengeance on this country and take all they want and it will increase their chances for heaven! This idiotic drivel and unpatriotic rot with a lot more like it may be ordered from the "A.C.C. Bookstore, Abilene, Texas." The Abilene Christian College Press prints a lot of stuff like that, written by long-faced crackpots.

Of course, it is embarrassing to the school. The president, a swell fellow and personal friend of mine, does not believe what is dripping from the dwarfed minds of these youths of military age, who enjoy exemption as "ministers of the gospel," and take advantage of it to attack the war effort. The Board of Trustees, I understand, are on record in full support of the government. It doesn't do a school any good to be so compromised by the attitude of extremists and their unreasonable and unscriptural antics, that its patriotism becomes a question for debate or investigation by anybody. It is generally known that militant youngsters who carry on a war of words, both shrieked and written against buying war bonds and putting on a uniform are either in or came from "our" schools. One of them is to "strengthen" the faculty of Harding College next year. With the great President Benson crusading for "bed-rock Americanism" and Jim Bales coaching the students in "good citizenship," Harding College ought to be a big college one of these days. Maybe they will make a big contribution toward ushering in the "millennium" which Brother Armstrong thinks may last two thousand years instead of just one.

Large numbers of American boys, Christians too, have gone directly from "our" schools into the armed forces of the country. They are neither hedging nor pussyfooting. They are not getting the "hand" they deserve from administrative forces who admire them too timidly and too secretly, I am inclined to think. They seem to be a little bit afraid of the noisy boys who make use of college presses and book stores to shout their opposition. It is paying to big and too costly a compliment to an undeserving minority.

One college president writes to a local board, which seemed to be more or less "unacquainted with the policy of the Church of Christ" whatever that is.

"This college is not a unit on the matter of objection. Like the church it is an individual affair and some of the faculty would no doubt be objectors, while others of us feel otherwise."

"This college" is not Abilene Christian College. "Others of us feel otherwise" includes the president himself. If our government, generals and soldiers were as timid and careful as some of our college administrations, the swastika would be waving over Washington and the Rising Sun over San Francisco. Then how would "others of us feel" and where would "our colleges" be? These silly boys who write that housewives should not sell grease to the government to make bombs with, nor give a drink of water to a soldier, must be coddled and handled very gingerly! They must be accorded the full monopoly among us on "agitating," except of course what "some of the faculty" feel inclined to do in the class room! Ugh!