In reading Earl West’s article, “James A. Harding and Christian Education,” I became increasingly bemused by the fact that there is a university (and not merely a university, but the largest Church of Christ university) that takes Harding as a namesake. Given what I have just learned about James A. Harding’s beliefs about the way schools should be run – not merely as a matter of preference but as a matter of right and wrong, good and evil – I am quite certain that he would be disgusted to find his name attached to Harding University. Some quotes from Harding and from the Article should suffice to illustrate what I mean.
With reference to Lipscomb University, which Harding helped to found, West writes:
So, in the fall of 1899, tuition began to be charged in all courses except the Bible and all Bible teachers did their work without pay. Harding explained, “It seems to me that a teacher of the Bible should never charge anything for his services whether he teaches with pen or tongue. We ought not to put a price on the gospel. . . .”” Teachers, then, “will depend upon voluntary, unsolicited contributions, as they do in their work as preachers, to supply whatever they need.”
Again of Lipscomb University, Harding says:
It is not an incorporated or chartered institution under the control of a Board of Trustees. I could not work as a teacher of the doctrine of Christ under such control. To my mind, such an institution is wrong to the same extent and in the same way that a missionary society is. In doing the work of Christ, a Christian should not submit himself to be directed and controlled by any other authority than that of Christ, nor should he belong to any other institution for the advance of the Lord’s cause than the Church of God.
He makes the same point of a different school after he left Lipscomb University (coincidentally right after they formed a board of trustees and gained a charter):
No if our school had a Board of Trustees empowered to select and discharge teachers at their will, to direct the teachers as to what and how and when they should teach, and, in general, to control the school, with a set of by-laws of their own making for the regulation of themselves and of us, I could not continue in it.
Not only did Harding object to a Board of Trustees to administer a Christian school, he was equally negative on an endowment. When the Christian Courier, a Texas Christian Church periodical, advocated an endowment as a means of financially supporting a faculty so they could “maintain that serenity of mind necessary to keep up their studies,” Harding took exception.
So Harding – who opposed boards, charters, endowments, and salaried Bible faculty – lends his name (quite unwillingly, I imagine, if he were given the choice) to Harding University – which has a charter, a board, a large salaried Bible faculty, and an almost eighty-one million dollar endowment.
The best part for me, however, was the irony of the fact that the Harding University Graduate School of Religion will next year become the Harding University School of Theology in view of these words of Harding’s: “Theological schools are wrong.”