How the critic came by the May 1947 issue of The Vindicator is anyone’s guess. It seems obvious to me he is a combat veteran (of the European theater?) freshly back from overseas. Whether the critic is a regular reader especially incensed by the May issue, or a happenstance reader, appears to be an open question. Maybe his family or spouse attended one of the several Churches of Christ in the city or its environs. Who knows. We do not even know if he has a spouse. It seems the critic can recognize a “Church of Christ ballyhooing tabloid” when he sees it. I think may safely assume he read something, heard something, been somewhere, or talked to someone about something to be able to recognize such; how he comes to declare it “ballyhooing” is beyond our knowledge. Further, of all those possibilities, one wonders what else he has read that Fuqua’s May issue “takes the prize.”
We might infer he is interested in religious matters; he is certainly willing to engage those who edit religious papers. To what end? His own spiritual formation? To win an argument? To blow off some steam? Again, who knows? He is willing to play the Nazi card but he is unwilling to sign his name, that much we know. He might not be a regular reader of Vindicator. I think if he was he would have known that Fuqua would not relinquish his seat at the linotype so easily. I think he is blowing off steam, but beyond that, mysteries, hypotheses, and inferences.
One wonders how much mail comes across Fuqua’s editorial desk. Is this letter an anomaly? Is it one of a few, or several, or many? Just as we do not know quite what it was that set off the critic, we do not know quite why Fuqua publishes this letter. He seems certain the critic is a ‘Sectarian,’ at least that is where he camps out in reply. Fuqua is willing to stand behind what he writes even, or perhaps especially, when challenged.
I also presume the critic is neither member nor friend of the Churches of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee. But it looks like he observes them and could regularly read Vindicator. I have not mined the paper for other instances of anonymous criticism so I cannot say how Fuqua responds to other such criticisms, signed or anonymous. I have tried to notice Nashville references when they appear. That is why I picked up on this exchange.
So what? So we have a reader on the ground somewhere in Nashville who observes Churches of Christ and their literature, and critiques them, anonymously. Fuqua responds: flatfooted and in clear, sometimes bold-faced, type. Fuqua is a true believer. He does not mince words, he does not pull punches, he does not hold back.
I wish I could hear him read this letter. We could learn from the tone of his voice. As it is, though, we create a voice for him in our heads, then read his words back to ourselves in the voice we created. We do the same for the critic’s letter.
The critic does not do much more than critique the manner of Fuqua’s delivery, so we really do not know for him what doctrine is at stake in this discussion. Fuqua presumes it has something to do with baptism. I think that is a fair inference, but we do not know, at least it is not totally clear to me. It would be helpful if the critic would come out and say as much. For all I know the spring of ’47 was a tough one for him and he is in the earliest stages of PTSD and E. C. Fuqua just happens to be the one straw that broke the camel’s back. Or he might be a solidly even-keeled man who has carefully read ECF for long enough and decided to speak plainly, albeit anonymously. Or he might be a jerk. Or he might a regular guy blowing off steam. We do not know and Fuqua does not mind. He speaks plainly, too, but at least he signs his name.
Lest I ramble, I close here. As I said, I do not have much of a point to make. My main task in this short series is to drag up something from the past and think some out loud about it. If we wish to understand the past we should set events in context. Maybe the first thing to do is get facts straight, such as we know them, and so much as we can know them. And then we can chew on the meaning of the past events. I think we ought to see what it might have meant to those who participated in the event: critic, Fuqua, and their readers. It is fine then to think about what, if anything, it means for those of who are late readers of this exchange. I’m not going down that road, though, at least not much.
That ‘chewing-on-the-meaning-of-it’ is what I mean when I use the term ‘history.’ ‘History’ is not the past event, the past is the past. ‘History’ is the reconstructed interpretation, rooted in recoverable facts about past events, about the meaning of those events. The past is something that happened; history is an explanation of it. So ‘history’ is not the past, it is a narrative explanation about the past. In this sense history is not something we ‘save’ or ‘preserve.’ Neither is the past. In a sense we cannot ‘save’ it…it is already past. We can investigate it, research it, learn about it. If by preserving and passing on knowledge about past events you mean ‘saving history’ then I’m with you. We can enlarge our understanding and sharpen our perception. We can seek new data, or revisit what we think we know, or rediscover what others have forgotten, buried, neglected, or somehow not chosen to remember. But our enlarged understanding does not change the past. An enlarged disciplined understanding can change our perceptions, but what happened cannot be changed (aside from a time machine). In this sense we cannot rewrite history, if by that we mean change past events. But our understanding is always subject to new information, better information, and subject to new methods of analysis. So in this way history is never really finished, and in fact we should expect understanding to be revised. We should want accuracy. New inaccuracy is no better than old inaccuracy. In this way we are always revising our understanding even if we are not committing that understanding to writing. Even if our ‘history’ is unwritten we are rewriting it. We might do so by choosing what to remember from or about the past, or how to frame and perpetuate our memory of it, but so long as we carry some memory forward we do so subject to limitations, frailties, and a mix of motives. But I digress, some.
This exchange in Vindicator illustrates that much of what we know is very close to what we don’t know. For every plausible answer, there are more questions. We could look further and perhaps that investigation will bring additional insight. But at some point we have to stop looking. Either we abandon it or write up what we think we know (or orally tell the story as best we can) and what we think it means. But even then I think is prudent to be honest about the limitations we face.
Further, but lastly and briefly, I think it is appropriate to speak plainly about what we think it meant and means. The more plain the speech the more imperative it is to be equally honest about our frailty and document our sources. Again, we should remain open to new information, but if we make claims and we desire to be honest and credible then we must cite sources and provide evidence for our claims. When I read strong claims I expect strong evidence.
This third installment is a little experiment in this kind of inquiry. Here I can ask questions out loud albeit with a pretty simple, limited example. And I did not really probe the doctrinal side of this question at all. Nor did I probe very far into the journalistic context. For example, there were others in Churches of Christ who in the very years prior to May 1947 advocated for a different kind of journalism than Fuqua’s. They advocated for just the sort of thing that Fuqua’s critic requested. But I did not set Fuqua deeply in any context. I just stayed with the exchange at hand and asked questions.
I hope to do this again when something else catches my eye.