The Bootleg Preacher

          I met a real prophet of God once. I do not believe he thought of himself as a prophet. He just sought to live what Jesus taught. In doing so he influenced the course of America’s history. His name was Will D. Campbell. You ought to look him up and read some of the stories about him following his recent death at age 88. Born to cotton farmers in rural Mississippi, he was ordained a Southern Baptist minister at 17, served in the medical corps in World War II, graduated from Yale Divinity School, drank moonshine with friends from the KKK and was the only white minister invited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. A few months later he helped escort nine black students through angry crowds to school in Little Rock. He was in Birmingham in 1963 when the hoses were turned on the people. I met him in the summer of 1999.

            Calling himself a “bootleg Preacher,” Will Campbell abandoned the politics of organized religion, yet he had a profound insight into the ways of ethical Christian living. True prophets of God cannot pastor local churches, theirs is a wider calling. He lived in rural Tennessee where he wrote his stories, believed that Christ died for the bigot and the devoted alike, and sought to bring “reconciliation” to all people. The New York Times reported, “(He was) a preacher without a church who presided at weddings, baptisms and funerals in homes, hospitals and graveyards for a flock of like-minded rebels that included Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dick Gregory, Jules Feiffer and Studs Terkel. Most of his scattered “congregation,” however, were poor whites and blacks, plain people alienated from mainstream Christianity and wary of institutions, churches and governments that stood for progress but that in their view achieved little.”

2013-06-12 17.16.59We met at a Baptist gathering where he had set up a couple of leather chairs, two small tables and some of his books. He invited me to sit with him and he asked a lot of questions about ministry in Oklahoma. He autographed a book giving me the challenge to “Fight ‘em off!”  I took that as an encouragement to stand for the right, no matter what the cost.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Stand strong. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Filed under Christian Life, Darryl DeBorde

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