I’m surrounded by Elizabethtown College campus records checked out from High Library. Why? I’m writing a paper for a Brethren in Christ Core Class on The Theology of the Church (taught by Terry Brensinger) which will explore how well a college founded to keep youth within the Church of the Brethren fared in teaching denominational doctrine and way of life. In some ways I’m inspired by George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief, but Anabaptist traditions have a different relationship to the “establishment.” In addition, I’ve chosen to focus upon Elizabethtown College‘s current peace position and its relationship to the Church of the Brethren‘s tradition of peace-making based upon “Jesus’ teachings on loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27) and Paul’s admonition that Christians seek to live peaceably with all and that they strive to ‘overcome evil with good’ (Rom. 12:21).” The research has reminded me how important it is to know your campus context (which includes campus history, stated purpose/mission, incarnated values). Let me share some of my findings with you. I will start by exploring why the College lacks a football team. Feel free share your comments regarding the campus’ approach toward football and competitive sports over it’s 110 years.
As with many Christian colleges, Elizabethtown College was founded with a desire to pass along the ideals of a given denomination to its children. In this case, AT THE END of the nineteenth century, some men of courage and vision in the Church of the Brethren in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania were convinced of the need for a school of higher education, beyond that of the public schools, in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania. These pioneers in this field were led to this conviction because an increasing number of children in Brethren homes were attending various schools preparing young people for the teaching profession but not under the influence of the ideals of the Church of the Brethren. Hence there was a growing concern that a school should be organized in which these children from Brethren homes, as well as others desiring training under the influence of a conservative school, could receive an education preparing them especially for teaching in the schools of our Commonwealth. It was also felt that the youth of the Church of the Brethren, by attending existing schools, drifted away from the ideals of the Church — Ralph W. Schlosser. History of Elizabethtown College: 1899-1970. Lebanon, PA: Sowers Printing Company, 1971, 1).
Over the course of several years, the possibilities for such an institution were researched, debated, and finalized. Despite some strong opposition to higher education in the Church of the Brethren Eastern District of PA, Elizabethtown College began in 1899 with the object of “a harmonious development of the physical, mental and moral powers of both sexes as will best fit them for the duties of life and promote the spiritual interests of its patrons” (1971, 18). Although “under the control and management of the German Baptist Brethren Church [named Church of the Brethren in 1908] and primarily intended for the education of our own children, the School shall be open to all such as desire to avail themselves of its privileges” (1971, 18, italics added for emphasis. More on this in a future post).
With regard to the peacemaking as an ideal to pass along to Church of the Brethren youth, it receives no attention in George N. Falkenstein’s The Organization and the Early History of Elizabethtown College and little attention in Schlosser’s work or the college bulletins/catalogs which I’ve read (at present I’m in the 1970’s). Does this indicate the absence of or the assumption of the ideal of peacemaking by a college founded by members of the Church of Brethren who passed along the work to the supervision of the denomination two decades after its establishment?
The Peace Position and Athletics
I think that Elizabethtown College’s position against “intercollegiate athletics, hazing, student fraternities and class rushes” (1971, 58) demonstrates an early weaving of the peace position into the daily life of the campus. With regard to athletics, President Beahm reported to the Board on June 15, 1904, “modern match games of baseball and football are not in accord with Christian virtue and true education” (1971, 59). In 1927, the Board of Trustees created a policy against football for the protection of bodies, in opposition to the “brutal” nature of the game, and how it tends “to divert the interest of the entire student body from the main purpose of the school” (1971, 146). Truly a counter-cultural stand, with on campus advocates for playing football in “a clean manner” and others claiming the importance of learning the game in order to qualify for high school teacher positions.
The college held firm, pointing out the low numbers of educators hired for athletics and stating “a game that is fundamentally wrong because it is brutal [and unchristian], to say the least, can not be cleaned up” (1971, 146). Although in 1928 some students played a year of clandestine intercollegiate games, football never become a sport at Elizabethtown College. During the same year, a two year old student organization accomplished its purpose of having intercollegiate sports became part of the campus culture. This began with the hiring of Ira R. Herr as the first coach and athletic director. Basketball team (both men’s and women’s) formed first, followed by men’s baseball and soccer. In A Short History of Elizabethtown College Athletics: 75 Years of Blue Jay we read the perspective of the present day Athletics Department:
“It is one of the great ironies in the history of Elizabethtown College that the inception of a program which has brought such recognition and respect to the institution was resisted so successfully for so long. Although Elizabethtown College was founded in 1899, it was not until December 8, 1928 that the first officially sanctioned intercollegiate athletic contest was held. At Elizabethtown, unlike many other institutions, intercollegiate athletics was not simply assumed to
be an essential part of the life of the college.
Although the value of physical education alongside academic endeavors was emphasized early in the history of the College and participation in it was a requirement for students, actual competition was frowned upon by the College’s
Church of the Brethren-run administration, which viewed highly competitive, forceful contests as being out of tune with its peace-oriented values.
Attitudes at Elizabethtown gradually changed, and much of the impetus for this change came from the students themselves. By the 1920s, a thriving culture of highly competitive intramural competition had developed on campus, much to the chagrin of some and much to the delight of others. In 1923, the College purchased land upon which to create what is now Lake Placida as well as several athletic fields and facilities. In 1926, a student organization called the Athletic Association was formed for the express purpose of promoting the acceptance of sports at Elizabethtown. — Elizabethtown College. Department of Athletics. A Short History of Elizabethtown College Athletics: 75 Years of Blue Jay Athletics. Elizabethtown, PA: Elizabethtown College Press, 2004, p.3.
History, Faith, and Practice do matter. …
Elizabethtown College’s lack of a football team stems from different roots than other campuses such as U. of Chicago or or Drexel U.* Furthermore, we find a very practical outworking of a Biblically based peace-making perspective leading to a counter-cultural understanding of athletics, not just in the treatment of bodies but potentially with regard to cross-campus rivalry, e.g., Messiah vs. Elizabethtown College football (I mean soccer) games. Anyone with more developed reflections on this topic? Note: Even after the adoption of the intercollegiate athletics the college worked hard to emphasize its opposition to football and appreciation for proper care for the body through physical education.
The Tension Between War & Peace Rises: Internally & Externally
When I began reading, Chet Williamson’s Uniting Work and Spirit: A Centennial History of Elizabethtown College (Elizabethtown, PA: Elizabethtown College Press, 2001) and Elizabethtown College: The First Hundred Years (David C. Downing, Managing Editor. Manheim, PA: Stiegel Printing Inc., 1999) I found the stories rich and the plot thickening. Wish I could go back and sit in some of the classrooms, board meetings, campus discussions, and college newspaper layout conversations. In particular, I’m interested not just in how Church of the Brethren ideals were lived out and “felt” in community, but how they were taught/articulated on campus in the classroom and the chapel. To quote 1971 Elizabethtown College alumnus Dennis Hollinger
… head, heart & hands all play a significant role in our Christian faith. Moreover, each dimension plays a crucial role in the expression of the others. Our minds, passions & actions interact in such a way that unless all 3 are present & nurturing each other, we are less than the people God created us to be. To be whole Christians, head, heart & hands must join together as joyous consorts. The problem is that most believers & Christian organizations or movements have accentuated 1 dimension to the neglect of the others. – Dennis Hollinger. Head, Heart & Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion, & Action. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005, 9.
When Dennis Hollinger, now President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, presents for the Central PA branch of the Emerging Scholars Network on Sunday, September 26, I’m going to find some time between sessions to ask him for his reminiscences as a Vietnam War era student at Elizabethtown College. I wonder what he and some of the retired faculty have to share regarding chapel cards being burned and a faculty with a peacemaker position being hung in effigy at a small Christian liberal arts college with Church of the Brethren roots. But that might be getting ahead of myself as Downing and Williamson have brought my attention to some material from the two World Wars. To be continued …
*Note: In 1929 President Robert Maynard Hutchins scratched the 24 year old University of Chicago tradition in order to rally the college around academics instead of athletics. In 1973 Drexel cut the program due to low attendance in comparison to the costs incurred. What other campuses come to mind which lack a football program and do you know why?