Calvary Troublemakers: Brooks Hays

by Paul Rosstead

This morning we continue our Calvary Holy Trouble Makers series, remembering Brooks Hays. Lawrence Brooks Hays was born August 9, 1898 – just 8 days short of 112 years ago – in London Arkansas. He served in the Army during World War I, graduated from the University of Arkansas, earned his law degree from George Washington University, and returned to Arkansas to practice law. In 1943 he was elected to the US House of Representatives.

With his arrival in Washington, Brooks Hays and his wife, Marion came to Calvary, first listed as members of the congregation in July 1957, they were active well before then, Marion teaching the Burrall Class from 1944-1958, and Brooks often taking turns teaching the Vaughn Class.

In 1957 Brooks Hays and Clarence Cranford created a unique place for Calvary in Baptist history, Hays being president of the Southern Baptist Convention and Cranford being president of the American Baptist Convention, the only time that presidents of the two bodies came from the same church – and unlikely to be repeated.

During this time both traveled to Russia working to create a peace fellowship among Baptists – realizing that to prevent war peace must be built. Hays, while certainly not a pacifist, was an active supporter of peace efforts, in both the secular and religious worlds.

In 1957 he arranged a meeting between President Eisenhower and the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus to try and resolve the conflict between federal and state forces over the integration of schools in Little Rock. The attempt was unsuccessful and the following year he lost his seat in the House of Representative to a segregationist write in campaign. An editorial in the Washington Post following the election said “The defeat of Rep. Brooks Hays is by all odds the sorriest incident in this week’s voting. He was an able and genial legislator with a keen understanding of the public interest.” Then Vice-President Richard Nixon called it the most tragic of election results that year.

Despite his defeat he continued his public service, serving in various positions with the Tennessee Valley Authority, assistant secretary of state for congressional relations for President Kennedy, and as adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Brooks Hays lived his faith, he was a politician, a leader a teacher, he never compromised on the principals and values that he learned as a child attending church and his study of the Bible. He did not wear his faith as a badge, he lived his faith.

Hays once wrote “The Bible, with its wonderful “good news,” is something that overleaps the barriers of ocean, nationality and language, It belongs to all men and must be proclaimed to all.” Hays strove to live out that “good news.”

In the tradition of the prophets, Hays once writing about his views on the Bible predicted that “this controversy over the verbal inerrancy of the Bible will be forgotten, and that in a broader perspective in the future we will recognize that there was great wisdom in the injunction given by St. Paul to his young friend, Timothy: ‘Charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words…’ also that we will heed the advice of the beloved Dr. Truett, ‘Don’t argue about the Bible—proclaim it!” And proclaim the Bible he did.

In all that I have read about Hays, I think that an article in the July 1984 Baptist Peacemaker best summarizes Hays’ life, “Whether the cause was intolerance, racial inequality, injustice, or international conflict, Hays yearned to remove the dividing walls and to bring hostile parties to the pew of tolerance, equality, justice, and reconciliation.”

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