Saints I Have Known: Tilford DudleyPosted: July 12, 2015
Saints I Have Known: Tilford Dudley
SLIDE 3: STORIES SHARED SO AS NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN
After forty years in the ministry I have begun to appreciate that there are some stories I have to tell, that if I do not share them, they will become lost – forgotten. So this morning I would like to share with you the story of a Saint of the church I had the privilege to know when I was a very young man – Tilford E. Dudley.
I first met Tilford in 1969, when I was elected as a member of the Council for Christian Social Action of the United Church of Christ. He was at that point the Director of the Washington Office of the Council, and I worked for him as an intern for a semester in the spring of 1970.
SLIDE 4: FRANKFURTER’S HAPPY HOT DOGS
Tilford was born in 1907 in Charleston, Illinois. He grew up first as a Methodist and attended Weslyan University, and then attended Harvard Law School, where he graduated cum laude in 1931. He returned to Charleston to pursue a General Law Practice, until he was contacted by one of his former law professors Felix Frankfurter in 1934. Professor Frankfurter was an advisor to the newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Roosevelt was frustrated with the lawyers in the Justice Department, so he asked his friend Felix Frankfurter to assemble a team of young legal minds in the Agriculture Department. This legal brain trust became known as “Felix’s Happy Hot Dogs.”
SLIDE 5: THE MESSIAH SORTS OUT THE NATIONS
During this initial period in Washington Tilford found himself attracted to the Congregational Church because of their outstanding advocacy for social justice. The guiding scripture for Tilford’s career was Matthew 25:31-46. What Tilford saw in this passage that so many people miss is that when the Messiah sorts out the sheep from the goats, he is not sorting out individuals. The Messiah is not saying, “Hey you Mary Allen, and you Bill Green, and you Judy Cameron, come on over to my right hand side.” Nor is the Messiah saying, “And you Bob Hurst, and you Bill Tucker and you Fred Phillips, you go over to the left.” No the Messiah is not sorting out individuals. Rather the when the Messiah comes for judgment, he will sort out the “nations.”
SLIDE 6: PUBLIC POLICY FOR THOSE WHO FOLLOW JESUS
And what Tilford understood in that passage about the sorting out of the nations was that public policy is an important area of concern for those who would follow Jesus. Public policies that leave people hungry, homeless, without clean water or medical care are appropriate concerns for people of faith to address.
SLIDE 7: ADVOCATE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
When Tilford left government service in 1944, he went to work in the labor movement to try to address the political inequality between labor and management. During this period of his career in 1954 he joined with the great United Church of Christ theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in opposing the Communist witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy. He became Director of the Speaker’s Bureau of the AFL-CIO and from that position became a tireless advocate for Civil Rights. He was very important in bringing organized labor into the fight for the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
SLIDE 8: HAD TO OPPOSE LYNDON JOHNSON
As a follower of Jesus and a person of conscience Tilford was deeply, deeply troubled by the Vietnam War. And in 1968 he was placed in an impossible bind. He had become the chairman of the Democratic Party for the District of Columbia, and for reasons of conscience he could not support Lyndon Johnson’s bid for re-election. And anyone who stood up to Lyndon Johnson was going to pay a price. George Meany the legendary President of the AFL-CIO fired Tilford.
SLIDE 9: A VOICE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
Happily for the Council for Christian Social Action of the United Church of Christ right then we needed a Director for our Washington Office. So Tilford became the voice of social justice in Washington for our United Church of Christ. About a month ago I reported that the United Church of Christ had helped to save the phone bank for the New Mobilization to End the War Committee a week before their half a million person March on November 15th of 1969, well Tilford helped to make that happen.
Now the memory about Tilford I want to share that might become lost dates from the winter of 1969 and the spring of 1970. As a lame duck President, Lyndon Johnson had tried to nominate his friend Abe Fortas for the job of Supreme Court Justice. Conservative Senators held up that nomination and finally brought about Fortas’s resignation from the court over ethics issues. So as Johnson was leaving office in January of 1969 there were only eight justices on the Supreme Court.
SLIDE 10: NIXON SOUTHERN STRATEGY
With the election of Richard Nixon the new President wanted to strengthen his “Southern Strategy” by nominating a conservative segregationist to the Supreme Court – Clement Haynsworth, a Federal Judge from South Carolina. A coalition of civil rights groups opposed Haynsworth’s nomination, because of his segregationist views. In the process of hearings there were also some judicial ethics irregularities that were uncovered, and the Haynsworth nomination was defeated 55 to 45 in the Senate.
SLIDE 11: JUDGE G. HARROLD CARSWELL
So President Nixon sought out an even more conservative segregationist, G. Harrold Carswell, a Federal judge from Florida. Because he was such an outspoken segregationist decisions of Judge Carswell had been overturned 58% of the time by higher courts. There were also troubling stories of his court room behavior, forcing a young African American civil rights attorney to argue his case to the back of the judge’s chair. But in the spring of 1970 Judge Carswell appeared to be headed to confirmation. Liberal Republicans in the Senate who had voted against Haynsworth were claiming they could not vote against the President twice.
SLIDE 12: MARGARET CHASE SMITH & RICHARD SCHWEIKER
At that point Tilford was asked by the NAACP and the civil rights coalition to work on Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Republican from Maine, and Senator Richard Schweiker, Republican from Pennsylvania, because the United Church of Christ has some strength in those states. In fact Richard Schweiker grew up in a Schwenkfelder congregation, a very small German reformed sect, who have since fully affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
SLIDE 13: WE ARE IN YOUR HANDS SIR!
I especially remember a delegation of church people Tilford helped to bring down from Pennsylvania to meet with Senator Schweiker about the nomination of Judge Carswell. The Senator explained he was being pressured by the White House, and it would be hard to vote against the President twice. And then I remember an elderly African American Pastor got up and addressed the Senator.
He said, “Senator I know you know what is right. I knew your Father. You know this Judge Carswell will rule against our people, and he will try to take away the civil rights we have worked so hard to gain. We are in your hands sir, and we are depending upon you to do what is right!”
As that African American Pastor looked the Senator in the eye, I saw Schweiker wince. Those words hurt. And I turned to Tilford and said, “I think Schweiker will vote against Carswell.” Of course Tilford wasn’t so easily convinced. He knew there would be much more pressure brought to bear on the Senator before the day of the vote, and the White House has immense power.
SLIDE 14: JUDGE HARRY BLACKMUN
But in the end the Carswell nomination was narrowly defeated. And the NAACP credited the work of Tilford Dudley in that effort by giving Tilford its highest award. President Nixon was so embarrassed by the defeat of his second nomination that he told his aids to find someone, anyone, who could get confirmed.
Now this story may seem trivial. But in the postscript we discover that the third nominee to the court, who was confirmed by the Senate on a unanimous vote, was Judge Harry Blackmun, a life-long Republican who on the Supreme Court became one of the leading voices for civil rights, and the rights of women. He wrote the majority opinion in the epic case Roe verses Wade.
SLIDE 15: SCHWEIKER, REAGAN, TIP O’NEIL
In a further postscript Senator Richard Schweiker who voted against the Carswell nomination went on to become the Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Ronald Regan. In that position he worked with House Speaker Tip O’Neil to reform Social Security and Medicare to insure their solvency. It turns out that Tilford E Dudley, following in the way of Jesus as God had given him to understand that way, helped to change American history.
SLIDE 16: IT IS ALWAYS DANGEROUS TO CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR GOD
Now allow me to note that whenever the church becomes involved in politics and public policy there are dangers. Ministers and theologians in particular have in the past made lousy governors and magistrates. A little bit of power corrupts, a lot of power can corrupt absolutely. And in the public arena it is always dangerous to claim to speak for God. God doesn’t take sides in politics any more than God takes sides in wars.
SLIDE 17: PUBLIC POLICY AND THE WAY OF JESUS
But I think Tilford had it right. Those of us who want to follow the way of Jesus, when we live in a democratic society, we have an obligation to consider how public policy can appropriately be addressed by the teaching of Jesus. Loving my neighbor is not simply a matter of taking care of the person living next door to me. Loving my neighbor involves how public policy impacts the treatment of the poor, and whether or not the hungry have enough to eat, and how we take care of our mentally ill and homeless people. Loving my neighbor doesn’t just visit people in prison, it questions whether or not prisons should be run as for profit enterprises. Loving my neighbor includes a livable minimum wage.
SLIDE 18: YOU DID IT TO ME
And then the blessed will protest, “But Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?”
Then the Messiah will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”