Archive for the ‘Gerald Kennedy’ Tag

Feast of G. Bromley Oxnam (August 14)   1 comment

Above:  The Cover of the Dust Jacket to A Testament of Faith (1958)

Image Source =



U.S. Methodist Bishop




Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

–John 14:15, Revised Standard Version (1952)

Bishop Oxnam liked to quote that verse.  For him, Christian faith was not a doctrinal confession one signed at the bottom of the page.  No, Oxnam’s Christian faith was a love-infused lifestyle. This lifestyle entailed obeying Matthew 25:31-46.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

–Matthew 25:40b, Revised Standard Version (1952)

Oxnam was, in many ways, a counterpoint to his fellow bishop and contemporary, Gerald Kennedy (1907-1980).  Yet both men had much in common.  And both of them earned their places here, on my Ecumenical Calendar.  (I admit, though, that I feel more affinity for Bishop Oxnam than with Bishop Kennedy.)

Richard Brookhiser, writing derisively of Oxnam in the February 1992 issue of First Things, commented:

Theologically, Oxnam was a liberal by default, since he barely thought of theology at all.

Yet, as I have written repeatedly in lectionary-based devotions at some of my other weblogs, deeds reveal creeds.  As one thinks, one is.  And as one thinks, one acts.  In Hebrew theology, God is like what God has done and does.  Ergo, we are like what we have done and do.  And, as the Letter of James tells us:

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

–2:26, Revised Standard Version (1952)

Oxnam showed his faith by his works (James 2:26).

I could continue to paraphrase Oxnam, but his words are better than mine in expressing his faith.  So, without further ado:

I find it hard to understand men who “accept Christ” and then become sadistic as they deal with others who try to “love God with heart and mind and soul, and brother as self,” but who cannot in honesty accept the obscurantism that is presented as “the faith,” especially when the presentation is accompanied by the clanking of Inquisition chains and the fires at the stake.  The coercion by the bigoted is in itself a rejection of the spirit of Christ.  He relied on the compulsion of love.  If I were called upon to choose one word to describe Christianity, it would be love.  I believe nothing can separate us from the love of God.  I believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  I believe God sent Jesus because He “loved the world.”

A Testament of Faith (1958), viii-ix




Oxnam, born in Los Angeles, California, on August 14, 1891, moved away from his family theological roots.  They were conservative.  Our saint’s father, a mining engineer and a mine owner, oversaw the construction of chapels for inhabitants of mining camps.  Oxnam’s mother was a charter member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.).  At age 17, at a revival, our saint vowed to become a minister.

Oxnam left the conservative religion of his youth behind and embraced the Social Gospel.  He graduated from the University of Southern California (B.A., 1913) then Boston University (S.T.B., 1915).  Our saint, who married Ruth Fisher on August 19, 1914, had joined the Southern California Conference of the old Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) as a licensed preacher the previous year.  The Conference ordained him a deacon in 1915 then an elder in 1917.

After serving in Poplar, California, Oxnam became the pastor at the Church of All Nations, Los Angeles, California (1917-1926), in the Eastside.  The Church of All Nations was a multi-ethnic, immigrant, and impoverished flock.  Our saint presided over an extensive network of social services, openly identified with labor unions, opposed nativism and xenophobia, suggested that teachers’ informed opinions should influence educational policies, aroused suspicions that he was a communist, and ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the school board.  He also taught social ethics at the University of Southern California.  In fact, Oxnam was neither a communist nor a Marxist; he was a Christian Socialist.

Then Oxnam turned to academia full-time.  He was a Professor of Social Ethics at Boston University (1927-1928).  Next, our saint made his mark as the President of DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana (1928-1936).  Oxnam, a pacifist, first made participation in the R.O.T.C. optional.  (It had been mandatory.)  Then, in 1934, he presided over the end of the R.O.T.C. at DePauw University.  He also helped students to find jobs in New Deal programs, expanded library holdings, and increased attendance at voluntary chapel services.  These were dignified services; Oxnam insisted on that.




Oxnam became the then-youngest Methodist bishop in the United States in 1936; he was 45 years old.  (Gerald Kennedy broke that record, at age 40, in 1948.)  Our saint was based in, in order:

  1. Omaha, Nebraska (1936-1939);
  2. Boston, Massachusetts (1939-1944);
  3. New York, New York (1944-1952); and
  4. Washington, D.C. (1952-1960).

Our saint was active on the denominational level of the old Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) and the merged Methodist Church (1939-1968). 

  1. He chaired the Division of Educational Institutions, the General Board of Education (1939-1944).
  2. He chaired the Division of Foreign Missions, the General Board of Global Ministries (1944-1952).
  3. He led the Methodist Crusade for World Order (1944-1948).  The Methodist Crusade for World Order opposed a return to pre-World War II isolationism, favored an internationalist foreign policy, and supported the United Nations.
  4. He was active in the Methodist Federation for Social Service (later Social Action), which Frank Mason North (1850-1935) had helped to found in 1917.  The Federation, a target of conservative elements within the denomination, suffered a strong rebuke in 1952.  “Methodist” ceased to be in its name, and The Methodist Church established the new Board of Social and Economic Relations.

Oxnam was also an ecumenist.

  1. He served as the President of the old Federal Council of Churches (1946-1948).
  2. He helped to found the National Council of Churches (1950).
  3. He was one of the Presidents of the World Council of Churches (1948-1954).
  4. He sat on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.
  5. Oxnam’s ecumenism had its limits.  It did not extend to fundamentalists and pre-Vatican II Roman Catholics, who thought he was going to Hell anyway.

Despite what Red-baiting conservatives claimed, Oxnam was a patriot. 

  1. He was a staunch man of the Christian Left.
  2. He was a member of the Civil Advisory Committee to the Secretary of the Navy during World War II.
  3. After the war, he chaired the Commission to Study Postwar Relief Conditions in Germany.
  4. He opposed mandatory military training and service in peacetime.
  5. He argued that using atomic weapons was immoral.

In July 1953, Oxnam testified before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee, which was itself un-American.  He rebutted allegations that he was and ever had been a communist or a Marxist.  Our saint produced evidence to document that charges to the contrary from Representative Donald L. Jackson (1910-1981) were objectively false.  Oxnam also condemned McCarthyism and those who practiced it.

A new breed of self-appointed un-American vigilantes threatens our freedom.  Profaning our American traditions and desecrating our flag, masquerading as defenders of our country against the infiltration of communism and the aggression of Russia, they play the red game of setting American against American, of creating distrust and division, and of turning us from the problems that must be solved in order to become impregnable.  These vigilantes produce hysteria, prepare sucker lists, and live upon the generous contributions of the fearful.  They exploit the uninformed patriot.  They profiteer in patriotism.  These vigilantes do not carry the noosed rope, but they lynch by libel.  They prepare their lying spider-web charts.  They threaten educators and ministers, actors and broadcasters.  Unthinking boards and commissions bow to their tyranny, forgetting that to appease these forerunners of Hitler, of Mussolini, and of Stalin is to jeopardize freedom, and to prepare the wrists for the shackles and the mouth for the gag.  In the name of law, vigilantes break the law.

–Quoted in A Year with American Saints (2006), 281-282

Above:  Wesley Theological Seminary, American University, Washington, D.C,

Image Source = Google Earth

Bishop Oxnam, while based in Washington, D.C., helped to build up the denomination-affiliated American University.  In 1958, he supervised the relocation of Westminster Theological Seminary, Westminster, Maryland (founded in 1882) to the campus of American University.  The relocated seminary became Wesley Theological Seminary.  That year, our saint also helped to found the School of International Service at American University.

Above:  The School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C.

Image Source = Google Earth

Oxnam, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, retired in 1960.  He, aged 73 years, died in White Plains, New York, on March 12, 1963.




When evaluating a historical figure, one ought to avoid two opposite errors:  relativizing everything or too much and relativizing nothing or too little.  Timeless standards exist, of course.  Yet context remains crucial.  Also, people change during a lifetime.  To be fair, one must consider that fact.

Oxnam was mostly correct.  He was correct to favor the rights of workers, for example.  He was correct to condemn the greed of those who exploited workers.  He was correct to oppose McCarthyism and to challenge practitioners of McCarthyism to their faces.  Like most Americans, traumatized by World War I, he overreacted in ways that seemed reasonable between the World Wars yet came across as naïve in retrospect after World War II.  

Just as I stand to the left of Bishop Gerald Kennedy, I stand slightly to the right of Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam.  I am a Neo-Orthodox, after all.  I stand with Reinhold, Ursula, and H. Richard Niebuhr in recognizing the limitations of the Social Gospel.  I do so while affirming what was positive about the Social Gospel.

Yet, as I have written in this post, I feel more affinity with Oxnam than with Kennedy.  And I count both of them as members of my family of faith.

I invite you, O reader, if you are so inclined, to read Oxnam’s writings available at

  1. “The Mexican in Los Angeles from the Standpoint of the Religious Forces of the City” (1921),
  2. Contemporary Preaching:  A Study in Trends (1931),
  3. Personalities in Social Reform (1941),
  4. Preaching in a Revolutionary Age (1944), 
  5. I Protest (1954), and
  6. A Testament of Faith (1958).









Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us [like your servant G. Bromley Oxnam] to use our freedom

to bring justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37


Feast of Gerald Kennedy (August 30)   6 comments

Above:  The Logos of The Methodist Church (1939-1968) and The United Methodist Church (1968f), from Copies of The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), Pre-Merger and Post-Merger

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor



U.S. Methodist Bishop and Hymn Writer


Any church that starts out to be a success in the world’s eyes is doomed to failure.

–Bishop Gerald Kennedy, 1960; quoted in TIME magazine, April 11, 1960


Most of the so-called devotional material is shallow and meaningless tripe that makes me sick to my stomach.

–Bishop Gerald Kennedy, on religious publications




Bishop Gerald Hamilton Kennedy comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via The Methodist Hymnal (1966).

As I looked for an image to place at the top of this post, I found pictures of Bishop Kennedy here and here. Given questions of copyright, I have chosen to provide links instead of risking invoking the wrath of the copyright enforcers. I have also trusted that using the camera on my smartphone to take a photograph of book spines from my library, transferring that image my computer, cropping that image, flipping it in my computer, and inserting that photograph at the top of this post has not angered the high gods and enforcers of copyright laws.

Kennedy was one of the most prominent preachers in the United States of America and one of the greatest bishops in The Methodist Church (1939-1968) and The United Methodist Church (1968f).  He, like anyone who has lived a long time, changed his mind as he aged.  Kennedy, for example, moved from the theological left to Neo-orthodoxy then out of it.  By 1961, our saint was also openly dismissive of Norman Vincent Peale‘s “Power of Positive Thinking.”  Kennedy called that message,

a spiritual aspirin tablet, a spiritual glass of Ovaltine.

Yet Kennedy was, according to Presbyterian arch-fundamentalist Carl McIntire (1906-2002), in 1963,

a liberal, leftist apostate

–redundant, given McIntire’s narrow, combative theology.

In other words, Kennedy was by the standards of his time, somewhere in the middle.

  1. He opposed communism vigorously.
  2. He opposed the “Death of God” movement.
  3. In 1963, he invited ostracized, pro-civil rights ministers in Mississippi into the California-Pacific Conference.
  4. He ridiculed supporters of the proposed Methodist-Episcopal-United Church of Christ-United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. merger (1960; the beginning of the Consultation on Church Union) as “ecumaniacs” in 1961.
  5. He endorsed the Anti-Defamation League’s protest against Soviet repression of Jewry, in 1964.
  6. He supported Billy Graham’s crusade in Los Angeles in 1963.
  7. He favored ecumenical cooperation yet opposed the creation of an allegedly unwieldy Protestant super-church.  As Kennedy said in 1967, he liked having guests yet did not want to have them move in.
  8. His critics came from both his right and his left.




Gerald Hamilton Kennedy knew when he was a very young child that he had a vocation to ordained ministry.  He, born in Benzonia, Michigan, on August 30, 1907, was a son of Herbert Grant Kennedy and Marian Phelps Kennedy.  Our saint studied at the College of the Pacific (B.A., 1929).  Upon graduation, he had already married Mary Grace Leeper, on June 2, 1928.  The M.A. (1931) and the Ph.D. (1932) from the Pacific School of Religion followed.  Then Kennedy studied at Hartford Theological Seminary (S.T.M., 1933; Ph.D., 1934).

Kennedy, as an ordained minister, served in congregations in four denominations, three of them Methodist.  His first parish was the First Congregational Church (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States), Collinsville, Connecticut (1932-1936).  (This congregation has become the Christ Community Church of Collinsville, an affiliate of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.)  Kennedy, ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939), had graduated from a Congregationalist theological seminary.  Starting in 1936, he ministered within the bounds of his tradition–in the Methodist Episcopal Church, The Methodist Church (1939-1968), and The United Methodist Church (1968f).  He served at Calvary Methodist Episcopal (Methodist, 1939-1940) Church, San Jose, California (1936-1940), now Calvary United Methodist Church.  Then he served at the First Methodist (now United Methodist) Church of Palo Alto, California (1940-1942).  Kennedy was also the Acting Professor of Homiletics at the Pacific School of Religion (1938-1942) and the Director of the Wesley Foundation at Stanford University (1940-1942).   Then Kennedy relocated to Nebraska.  He served at Saint Paul Methodist (now United Methodist) Church, Lincoln (1942-1948).  He was also Lecturer in Religion at Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1942.  While in Lincoln, furthermore, Kennedy preached on the radio (1945-1948) and sat on the Executive Committee of the Community Chest (1945-1948).




In 1948, at the age of forty years, Kennedy became the youngest Methodist bishop in the United States.  Portland, Oregon, was his base of operations for four years.  Then, in 1952, our saint, reassigned to the California-Pacific Conference (Hawaii, Arizona, and Southern California), moved to Los Angeles.  He served as the bishop there for two decades.

Kennedy remained busy building up church and society.  He was a preacher, not an administrator.  He sat on various denominational boards and committees.  He served on the state Board of Education.  Our saint spent a year (1960-1961) as the President of the Council of Bishops.  He wrote most of his twenty-one books.  Kennedy served on the texts subcommittee for The Methodist Hymnal (1966).  And he lectured at universities and theological seminaries, as he had done since 1946.  Meanwhile, Kennedy tended conscientiously to to his flock and maintained a rigorous travel schedule.

By 1968, however, Kennedy needed to travel less frequently; his health had begun to fail.  Denominational law permitted early retirement at the age of 65 years–in August 1972, in our saint’s case.  In this context, Kennedy appointed himself the Senior Minister of the First United Methodist Church, Pasadena, California, effective December 8, 1968.  In laymen’s terms, the organic fertilizer hit the ecclesiastical fan.

An active bishop doubling as a parish minister was without precedent in the Methodist tradition, but not in other denominations.  In my adopted denomination, The Episcopal Church, for example, William White (1747-1836) served as the Rector of Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1779-1836); the Bishop of Pennsylvania (1787-1836); and the Presiding Bishop of the denomination (1789, 1795-1836).  In my home state, Stephen Elliott (1806-1866), the first Bishop of Georgia (1841-1866), served also as the Rector of Christ Church, Savannah (1852-1859, 1861-1866); as well as the Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America (1862-1866).

I also note that Mark A. Cowell, the Episcopal Bishop of Western Kansas (2018f), doubles as the Vicar of Holy Nativity, Kinsley; the Vicar of Saints Mary and Martha, Larned; the Municipal Prosecutor in Dodge; and the County Attorney in Hodgerman County.  In other words, an active bishop doubling as a parish minister can be a workable situation.

Kennedy’s self-appointment triggered a denominational bureaucratic-judicial series of events that resulted in a settlement.  He got to serve as the Senior Minister of the First United Methodist Church, Pasadena, without administrative responsibilities and a second salary, so long as he was an active bishop.  Kennedy also preached three Sundays a month.  This arrangement was mutually agreeable, and consistent with Kennedy’s intentions anyway.  

Kennedy retired twice.  He retired as an active bishop in August 1972, after his sixty-fifth birthday.  He had already suffered a mild stroke at the 1972 General Conference, in Atlanta, earlier in the year.  Then our saint retired from parish ministry in 1973.

Gerald and Mary Kennedy moved into an apartment in Laguna Hills, California, in September 1973.  The bishop’s health continued to deteriorate.  A series of strokes robbed the great orator of his voice.  Kennedy, aged 72 years, died at the hospital in Laguna Hills on February 17, 1980.




Kennedy wrote a hymn, “God of Love and God of Power,” while at Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church, San Jose, California, in the late 1930s.  That hymn debuted in a hymnal when The Methodist Hymnal (1966) included it.  The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) has retained the hymn.

We are not the first to be

banished by our fears from thee;

give us courage, let us hear

heaven’s trumpets ringing clear.

God of love and God of power,

thou hast called us to this hour.

That stanza from Kennedy’s hymn speaks to the mission of the Church.  The bishop’s example, bound by time and other circumstances, contains a timeless principle–the need to have courage and to banish fears that separate us from God.

Kennedy certainly behaved courageously, according to the demands of the Gospel, as he understood it, upon his life.  He lived and worked in a different political climate and a different societal milieu.  The Cold War defined Kennedy’s time.  In the early 1960s, when our saint derided attempts to merge denominations from different Christian traditions, membership was increasing in the United States.

(Aside:  Frankly, I do not know how merging The Methodist Church, The Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. would have been feasible or desirable.  Ecumenism works better via cooperation than organic union sometimes.  Reformed denominations merging can make sense.  So can uniting Wesleyan denominations.  Likewise, merging Lutheran denominations can be feasible and desirable.  Baptist denominations divide more often than they merge, but Baptist mergers can be workable, too.  This is not to say that breaking down lines separating traditions is never a good idea.  The Church of South India, formed in 1947, seems to work well, for example. And my denomination, The Episcopal Church, has joint congregations with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  I do not know how well a merger of the denominations would work, though.  I am open to the idea, however.)

God of love and God of power,

thou hast called us for this hour.

The hour of 2021, when I write and publish this blog post, is unlike any of Bishop Kennedy’s hours.  Nevertheless, the refrain from his hymn joins his example in challenging us to ask ourselves what his hour requires of us in the Church.  We may disagree with Kennedy of certain points.  I do.  Yet we can still recognize the greatness of the faith that animated him and defined his life.









Heavenly Father, shepherd of your people,

we thank you for your servant Gerald Hamilton Kennedy,

who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock;

and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life,

we may by your grace grow into the full stature of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3:14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47

–Adapted from Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 38