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The New Evangelists

As a Yale Divinity School grad and member of the United Church of Christ during the turbulent late 1960s and early '70s, I found the November/December cover story, “The New Evangelists,” by Warren Goldstein, to be quite interesting. What Goldstein fails to mention, however, is the fact that there have almost invariably been evangelicals at YDS.

Yes, Brevard Childs opened his lectures with prayer, but it was evangelical students who petitioned the faculty to teach a course on the works of C. S. Lewis. I have often reflected that that student-led course affected my theology and ministry more than any other. When I had the experience of being born again and filled with the Holy Spirit a year after leaving YDS, I finally realized the full truth of what my fellow students had been trying to accomplish. Interestingly, there is now a group known as Christian Union that seeks to bring the Gospel to all eight Ivy League colleges, including Yale.

Although mainline Protestant denominations have lost members to churches with more expressive and emotional forms of worship, they also have lost believers to agnosticism and secular activism. It should come as no surprise that many ministers who were fortunate enough to receive rigorous theological education at Yale Divinity School have in turn spent their ministries at the intellectual end of the spectrum of loss. Often these ministers did not build and serve large churches, but they had their small success while witnessing their Christian faith to “the cultured ”

Your article is disturbing. The Palestinian carpenter some called “rabbi” would find talk about “three of the top ten mainline Protestant denominations [being] headed by YDS graduates" indicative of an idolatry perpetuated by Mercantilia’s worship of data, statistics, and numbers. Pay no heed to the new moneychangers operating out of

God works in mysterious ways, or so the saying goes. In 1986, I was figuratively washed up on the shores of Yale Divinity School after leaving a destructive fundamentalist cult. According to your compelling article, during the late 1980s and early '90s, “the university administrators thought the school was adrift.”

Lucky for me, because so was I. The divinity school offered me a safe harbor in which to regroup and learn to think critically about theological and philosophical questions. In spite of, or perhaps because of, “plummeting selectivity,” I was able to benefit from the school’s lack of direction. They accepted me, and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that they saved my skin. I imagine that today I might not measure up to the stringent admission standards of the school, but I recall our Lord welcoming publicans and sinners to his table. I’m glad Yale welcomed me to theirs.

The most enduring impact of my years at YDS—and indeed that for which I am most grateful—was my firsthand experience of what Diana Eck of Harvard calls a “real encounter” with pluralism. In her words, such pluralism aims to “find ways to be distinctively ourselves and yet be in relation to one another.” It is built upon encountering “the other” and entering into authentic interreligious dialogue “to produce real relationship, even friendship, which is premised upon mutual ”

At YDS, we were privileged to witness many passionate debates among a galaxy of scholars—including such notables as George Lindbeck, James Gustafson, Paul Minear, William Sloane Coffin Jr., David Kelsey, Sibley Towner, and William Muehl—who provided apt models of intellectual rigor yet civil discourse: indeed, Eck’s “encounter.”

Having spent my career in an independent boarding school working as a teacher of religious studies (and for a dozen years as chaplain) and, with a diverse population of adolescents, addressing issues of religious identity and seeking to foster positive and productive encounter among them, I agree that YDS provided “many of the tools needed for [such] engagement.” Now retired, my husband and I continue our efforts to pass along the skills honed at YDS to a new generation whose members must also risk openness, encounter, and dialogue with “the other” if we are to get beyond both the malaise of mainline inertia and the current cultural and religious conflicts which now beset our world.

What struck me about your story was the fact that the author, and most of those interviewed for it, took it for liberalreligion.

As I’ve written on my blog (The Gruntled Center: Faith and Family for Centrists), Goldstein’s framework was that the decline of mainline Protestantism and the decline of Yale Divinity School went hand in hand. The Protestant “establishment” of old no longer rules, and its leading seminaries have taken a long time to adjust to that fact. Goldstein reads the decline of the establishment as the decline of liberalism. 

This is a familiar argument, and yet on second thought it seems peculiar. In what other context would we take it for granted that the Establishment was liberal, much less “progressive"?

The Protestant Establishment, at its height, was not defined by its liberal religion. It was defined by its traditional religion, applied to guiding, if not running, a modern society. As I see it, the mainline lost its way and began its decline when it lost confidence that that traditional faith could guide a modern society, and cast about instead for a modern faith.

Yale Divinity School was not created to serve liberal religion. It was created to train ministers of God in a learned faith—a learned, old-fashioned, biblical faith. When I was a student there, I thought that was the strongest part of the school, learned from teachers such as Margaret Farley, Paul Holmer, and Brevard Childs. The revival of YDS does not depend on a revival of liberalism, but on a revival of religion.

Your welcome article on the resurgence of the Yale Divinity School brand of Christianity misses the larger horizons of ecclesiastical sea change and climatic shift. What is over is not the mainline church, as the article correctly notes. What is over is measuring the North American church in its oscillations between liberalism and

Fifty years ago, through the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Reinhold Niebuhr, the liberal church became ascendant and imagined we were running the American empire. That illusion ended as we realized that the empire was not so much taking on the soul of the church as we were taking on the soul of the empire. Since then religious conservatives left the sawdust trail of revivalism and went mainstream through parachurch groups (Moral Majority and Focus on the Family). Their illusory grip on running the American empire perhaps ended on election day, just some weeks ago. Why? For the same reason. More than making America a “Christian nation,” they took on a secular soul and became an imperial and militaristic church.

The point is, if all the church can do is warm over the left side of this versus the right side of that, if our theological imaginations have grown so impoverished and our vision is so bankrupt, we will go the way of the church in Europe—fading museum pieces amid the bored affluence of a self-absorbed consumer society.

God has not ordained the church for this. Might we instead discuss deeper measures of the church’s faithfulness than such ideological convulsions inimical to the church’s transcendent witness, please?


That word

While I appreciate the interesting article about the Divinity School (“The New Evangelists,” November/December), I question the value of quoting Phil Donahue, set in italics yet: “What the f … would it take?” I always take the Yale Alumni Magazine seriously and enjoy its informative articles. But why on earth should I have to read this word in my alumni magazine? What purpose did it serve other than to shock, and particularly in a story about the Divinity School? You could have used the same literary device I have used, avoided printing the word, and obtained the same effect.


Beirut, 1967

I commend Yale for its foresight in planning for the emergency evacuation of Yale students from danger zones, foresight that paid off last July (“How to Get Out of Beirut in a Hurry," November/December).

During the June 1967 Six-Day War, I was one of several members of the Yale class of 1966 who likewise evacuated Beirut. At that time, the U.S. embassy was in Ras Beirut, on the Corniche, adjacent to the campus of American University. When war broke out, the embassy opened a reception point on the AUB lower campus to welcome U.S. citizens and dependents who drove from as far as Amman and Damascus to join the evacuation.

Some of us volunteered for several sleepless days and nights to assist at the evacuation center. Although Beirut was not bombed in 1967, angry demonstrators hurled rocks and ink at the embassy and nearby American and British properties, and shots were heard—whether fired by demonstrators or Lebanese police dispersing them, I never knew. Beirut International Airport was closed to commercial traffic when the war started, but embassy staff escorted evacuees by bus from AUB to the airport where chartered aircraft flew them to various destinations.

Any evacuation involves improvisation and a great deal of uncertainty. Rumors abound. One of the greatest challenges for organizers is to convey reliable and timely information to evacuees, who otherwise live from moment to moment not knowing what will happen next. Your article correctly reflects these circumstances.

For me, the greatest shock back then was not finding myself in the middle of a war, but finding myself, one week later, in the midst of uninterested Americans. My year in Beirut and the region, which culminated in the evacuation, convinced me that the United States was on a dangerously misguided course in the Middle East. I returned to an America that was not at all interested in reflecting on these dangers.

I hope the magazine will consider publishing a sequel: accounts by last July’s evacuees of how they discussed their Beirut experience with friends, classmates, and others following their evacuation.


Thanks for the music

I’ve taken to reading your magazine more carefully, and this issue, I was glad I did. In the School Notes section (November/December) was an item indicating that my old teacher and friend, Willie Ruff, had been honored by having a professorship in jazz studies named after him.

When I was an undergraduate in 1971, I took Professor Ruff’s course on African American music. It was one of the most memorable experiences of a quite memorable college career. Willie's enthusiasm, dedication to the music, and encyclopedic knowledge of both jazz and jazz players made this course a total delight.

Not content to use books, recordings, and films in his teachings, Willie brought the music to us! One of the features of this course was a series of concerts with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Eubie Blake, and Quincy Jones. At the end of the term, I had the privilege of accompanying him to area grade schools in black neighborhoods, and “paying forward” by sharing what I had learned with these young students.

My first reaction to the article was great pleasure in learning that Willie was still alive and kickin' and teaching the next generation about the rich heritage of American jazz. I want to let him and your readers know what a lasting influence his spirit and his course have had on my life. I still play music (sorry, Willie, it isn’t jazz!) and am very active in the lively music scene on the West Coast. Keep it up, Professor, and thanks for nurturing my love of music.


Diversity statistics

I was most interested in “First Days at Yale” (November/December), particularly the sidebar facts that detailed the numbers of women, men, students of color, and international students for the first-year class in each school at Yale. One thing that would be helpful to know: what is the definition of “students of color"? That is, are Asian students and Indian students included in this definition? And, if Asians are included, does this mean that the student would be Asian American rather than Asian from overseas? Or would the latter be included in the “international" category?

I’m impressed with Yale’s diversity, but some clarification would be useful to fully understand the figures.

The number of students of color listed for each school was the total number who reported themselves to be black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or “other.” Because many students did not report their race, we asked the schools for the number of those who specifically chose one of these five categories (rather than for the total number of all students minus the number who reported themselves to be white). International students of color were included in both the “international” and “of color” categories.—Eds.


From the horse’s mouth

Regarding the “long cheer” discussed in Letters (November/ December): the cheerleaders in those days were selected by the varsity manager of football. I can recall being summoned to the office of Secretary of the University Carl “Caesar” Lohman. He was unhappy with how they led this cheer and had complained to Bob Kiphuth, the legendary swimming coach and director of athletics.

“Caesar” gave me a forceful presentation in his rich baritone voice—he was one of the 1910 Whiffs and a former cheerleader. He came out from behind his desk to show me how the “long cheer” should be performed:

Brek-ek-ek-ex—Co-ax Co-ax
Brek-ek-ek-ex—Co-ax Co-ax
O op O op, parabaloo
Yale! Yale! Yale!
Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah
Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah
Yale! Yale! Yale!

I thanked him for his instruction, then found as many cheerleaders as I could on short notice and returned to Woodbridge Hall. We did not need an appointment.


James Fenimore, BA?

Concerning Judith Schiff’s splendid article about James Fenimore Cooper’s expulsion from Yale (Old Yale, November/December), isn’t it time that Yale let bygones be bygones and awarded the fellow a posthumous honorary degree? Though I shouldn’t be the one to say it, as I am a descendant of his, Cooper has done Yale proud and arguably has had as great an impact on American literature and culture as anyone who ever attended the college. He was our first blockbuster novelist. He put American literature on the map in Europe, he lyrically defined the image of the American wilderness here and abroad, and he was a major source of American ideas of nature, conservation, and the environment. He was far ahead of his time. His vision of what civilization can do to a landscape in The Prairie is as devastating as any image conjured by global warming. And the bond between the Leatherstocking and his Indian mentor Chingachgook, the last of the Mohicans, is the first example in literature of an interracial friendship based on total equality.

According to Ms. Schiff, despite getting bounced by Yale when he was 15, Cooper was devoted to the college. He begat a Yale family. Not only did his four great-grandsons attend Yale, but so also did his two great-great-grandsons, and five of his great-great-great-granddaughters. One of his great-great-great-great-granddaughters is currently a sophomore. Time marches on.

The degree needn’t be anything elevated—an honorary BA would do just fine. As far as I know, Yale has never given anyone an honorary BA; now is its chance!


Glenn Miller at the Bowl

Nostalgia hit twice in your November/December issue, where I was struck by the Yale Bowl’s impact on generations of people. “Hot Tickets,” the Last Look article photographed by Mark Morosse, reminded me of the time when I set my sister up on a blind date baited with “100th Game” seats, thus relieving me of the obligatory visiting-sibling-entertainment requirement. But the real irony was that it freed me to visit my fiancée, whose father, 2nd Lt. J. Walter Estabrook, reminisced that very weekend about the Army Air Corps Officer Training School at Yale during the war. Watching Major Glenn Miller march his band from the Yale Bowl down to the New Haven Green was a weekly routine not to be missed. Thousands of airmen trained or were stationed at Yale during World War II and fondly remember the Bowl as a place for football and Glenn Miller concerts.

The Sporting Life article, “The Bowl Makes a Comeback,” was more than a tribute to a stadium “modeled on an amphitheater in ancient Pompeii.” It was a testament to all whom Yale has touched, even peripherally, on and off the field.


Frost’s Hanukkah sermon

When the Touro Synagogue, the oldest North American Jewish house of worship, was rededicated in the postwar period, Robert Frost paid a visit and probably sat on the bench where George Washington had himself sat to pledge freedom of religion in the new nation.

Frost compared the American relationship to the soil—“the land was ours before we were the land's”—to the Israeli paradox—“they were the land’s before the land was theirs." And the poet gave a Hanukkah sermon on the Rhode Island virtue of tolerance, a legacy from Roger Williams.

You don’t have to like or love your neighbors, said Frost. Just put up with them. And let them go their own way.

During my Yale years, I learned to admire the irony, complexity, and very dry, unsentimental humor of our greatest poet. I was happy to learn in the November/December Arts & Culture that Frost’s words have come back like the shoots of bulbs left through the winter under the snows of yesteryear.


A May Day class act

Not everyone at Yale on May Day 1970 was caught up in a whirlwind of anti-war, pro-Black Panther activity (“The Panther and the Bulldog,” July/August). A small group of aspiring high school teachers was intent upon finishing its course work so that we could get on with doing our bit to save the world. We Master of Arts in Teaching candidates were a serious lot. Shortly before May 1, one of our Yale instructors had given us a severe scolding for attending his weekly seminar rather than being “out in the streets demonstrating.” As I recall, we missed entirely the irony of the situation and went doggedly on.

On the fateful day itself those of us who had not yet passed the required foreign language reading test pondered the arcane matters of German grammar, not revolutionary rhetoric, as we hurried past the happenings on the Green to the language test site.

Now, more than three decades later, I wonder which group deserves more to be remembered: those who brought downtown New Haven to a halt on a fine spring morning, or those of my former colleagues who went on to staff America’s classrooms?


Katyal vs. Rumsfeld

The responses of Professor Neal Katyal to the interview questions (Where They Are Now, September/October) invite rejoinder. While it is true, as presented in his cogent brief in the matter of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that courts-martial as prescribed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a much more open and internationally approved venue for the administration of justice than the format chosen by the Bush administratioxn of trial by military commission or tribunal, there are significant issues of national interest and security in favor of the latter as well as the matter of expediency in dealing with such a large volume of cases. Professor Katyal is well aware of these issues and the arguments in their favor as set forth in the 184 pages of judicial opinion in this matter. Three of the justices, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia, found sufficient grounds to write dissenting opinions based on enacted legislation as well as the authority in military affairs granted by the Constitution to the chief executive. Chief Justice Roberts might have made a fourth but was unable to participate, being at the time a member of a three-judge appeals court panel whose ruling upholding the tribunals was under review. To no one’s surprise, the court split pretty much along liberal/conservative lines.

Given all the evidence for the arguability of the issue(s), Katyal’s responses—“I think they thought they could get away with it, and they wanted to do whatever they could get away with. This was an outrageous, reckless legal gamble that put a lot of American credibility on the line … ”—constitute totally unsupportable ad libitum charges, which disserve the ethical standards of his profession and his academic status.

It is a chilling thought that were the professor to find himself a captive of Hamdan or one of the latter’s Guantánamo colleagues on their turf, the world might well be treated to the spectacle of yet another beheading on international television.


The Taliban and the sunbathers

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Yale founded by uptight, reactionary, sexist, moralizing religious zealots who rejected Harvard as too lenient and dissolute? And now our alma mater is turning its back on one Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, an ex-Taliban spokesman, whose former mentors reject the West for the same reasons (Light & Verity, September/October).

This is a missed opportunity. What surprises me about my frightened fellow Bulldogs isn’t their abhorrence of Taliban propaganda, pressure tactics, or values, but the basis of their specific concerns about his potential presence on campus.

What do they fear? Do they regard classmates of Hashemi as so morally lax that they’ll helplessly succumb to the Taliban’s enticements: giving up booze, covering up women, and waking up before dawn? Or do they worry that the ideas of Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein can’t compete with dogma composed by the Taliban’s intellectual heavyweights?

My guess is that the temptations of oversexed, half-clothed sunbathers discussing Burke and Beckett and beer on Cross Campus would disturb any upright Taliban striding amidst their laughter and decadence far more than any threat he could ever pose to them.



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