Tributes to the Peacemakers of Seattle First Baptist Church
Seattle First Baptist Church is an historic Peace congregation. Throughout much of the 20th Century, the church was home to heroic pastors and lay leaders with notable accomplishments as peacemakers in our world. The five identified below are representative of our most notable peacemakers.
Advocacy for peace and nonviolence in our world has been a tradition carried from generation to generation. The church was the site of one of the largest anti-war rallies at the first year anniversary of the start of the U.S. war with Iraq. The sanctuary and building were jammed with demonstrators who, after an interfaith prayer service in our sanctuary, began a march to Elliott Bay filling the streets for blocks on end with thousands of demonstrators.
A room has been named the Peacemakers Room in the church that displays the stories and pictures you read below. Many groups meet in our Peacemakers Room and are reminded of this core value of this congregation.
Alice Franklin Bryant, 1899-1977
Alice Franklin Bryant grew up in Seattle First Baptist Church and went to China to teach in a Christian school for girls. She traveled to the Philippines and was there during the Japanese invasion. She and her husband hid in a tropical jungle for six months until the Japanese captured them. The couple was imprisoned for two and a half years in the Santo Tomas concentration camp, where living was primitive and starvation never far away. Japanese shelling killed more than 200 fellow prisoners and the Bryants barely survived their prison experience.
Upon her return to Seattle, Alice Bryant wrote a book, "The Sun Was Darkened," which described their wartime experiences. "I had pitied both the Japanese soldiers and our own," she said. Whether, they liked it or not, they had to fight. I did not have to fight; I did not have to hate."
When she received a check as compensation for her imprisonment, she traveled to Hiroshima--taking with her a petition signed by many Seattle First Baptist Church members and other Seattle residents apologizing for the use of an atomic bomb. She used the compensation to found a community center in Hiroshima. Bryant was among the first Americans to travel to Hiroshima and express remorse for the devastation caused by the atomic bomb.
She became a constant peacemaking force, saying once: "Wild horses couldn't stop me working for peace."
She was also a critic of those who stood in the way of peace. Bryant once described Sen. Jackson--who was twice her political opponent--as "a constant menace to this country because he is willing to go over the brink into war." Bryant tried twice to defeat him for the Democratic nomination, giving him what the Seattle Times reported as "the roughest time he has experienced in more than two decades of political life." She lived frugally and spent virtually her entire income on her political campaigns.
In demonstrations against the Vietnam War, Bryant was always there, wearing a black mourning band on her coat in sorrow for lives lost. Impressed by her efforts, several Bellevue Community College students and faculty awarded her a master's degree in the Art of Peace. Bryant was also a tireless letter writer to editors all over the world. Emmett Watson of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said, "There is something rather wonderful about Alice Franklin Bryant, that vigilant and perennial peace-lover."
Richard Larsen, associate editor of the Seattle Times, eulogized her as a "liberal legend," and the headline of her obituary declared her a "Soldier of Peace."
The City of Seattle declared Bryant the "First Citizen of Seattle" November 20, 1976.
Dr. Harold Jensen, 1901-1968
Even before the end of his first year at Seattle First Baptist Church, Dr. Harold Jensen voiced his concerns about the Japanese invasion of China. "The terrible things the Japanese are doing under the pressure of war," he wrote, "are the terrible things which war, under the same circumstances, would cause any other people to do. Do not hate the Japanese. Hate war, which is degrading them."
Jensen identified as a pacifist during World War II. But he did not recommend pacifism to others because he said it was "too uncomfortable these days." Few parishioners followed his lead in accepting pacifism. But fewer still denied his right to preach his convictions to "renounce war, seek to remove its consequences and provide an alternative method to settle disputes."
During his tenure, which was from 1938-1954, the church--aware of rising anger against Seattle's resident Japanese community--voted to send a "letter of brotherly concern to Japanese Baptist Church of Seattle." This letter was sent one month before the attack on U.S. forces in Pearl Harbor.
After Pearl Harbor, Jensen said the church's relationship with Japanese Americans offered "great opportunity" and encouraged friendliness as an antidote to the "inevitable rebuffs they will receive." SFBC families responded. Many bought from Japanese-American merchants who were being boycotted, several donated blood to a Japanese-American hospital patient, and some secretly stored household goods for Japanese families when they were forced to move from their Seattle homes to internment camps. As President of the Seattle Council of Churches, Jensen led the protest against the internments. He often went to court, seeking to aid Japanese-American neighbors who were being dispossessed of their property by court order. He accompanied a young Japanese-American who sought exemption from military service as a conscientious objector. During a time when 97 percent of Americans approved of the internment camps, Jensen frequently received life-threatening phone calls and letters.
"His association with the Japanese-American community was so profound that he was among the first they called at 4:00 in the morning when the Army moved in to their neighborhoods to displace them," John Jensen recalled of his father. "He raised the banner of the Prince of Peace in those terrible and dark years..."
Even after the war when others--including the Seattle Star editor--advocated against the Japanese returning to Seattle, Jensen offered a voice of contrast: "There probably is no group of whose loyalty to the United States we can be so sure. They've been examined by the FBI, by Army Intelligence, and by Navy Intelligence. Many of their sons have given their lives in combat. Welcome home!"
A Peace Action Fellowship met informally during the Jensen years and was later recognized as an official church committee.
Dr. Elmer Fridell, 1893-1978
What Dr. Elmer Fridell saw in World War I left him bitterly disillusioned with military might. Upon his return, he became a convinced pacifist and was determined to use his influence to prevent a repetition of armed conflict. During his efforts, Fridell faced false rumors of being a communist.
Fridell was a peacemaker and defender of others. Once when the deacons were ready to expel a new member they discovered had a criminal record, Fridell rose to his feet, grasped a seated deacon by the back of his collar as if to lift him from his chair. "How would you like someone to treat you like this?" he asked. The deacons dropped the subject.
Fridell served as Seattle First Baptist Church's pastor from 1929-1937. He preached such sermons as, "Do you Consider Pacifists a Menace?" and "What would Happen if the U.S. Disarmed?" In 1934, his Christmas sermon was on "Merchants of Death and Peace on Earth."
Receiving a list of "subversive organizations" which included the PTA and YMCA and Society of Friends, Dr. Fridell expressed disappointment in not finding any Baptist names. "I fear we are failing to follow Christ as we should if we are not being persecuted in the cause of social justice and world peace," he declared.
When the youth of the Washington State Baptist Convention were meeting in Mount Vernon, a member of the host church threatened to expel the group if Dr. Fridell were allowed as the speaker, calling Fridell a communist. The youth cabinet moved the convention overnight to Bellingham with Fridell continuing as their speaker.
Fridell believed that even communists were entitled to freedom of expression. One time a member of this congregation stood and called Fridell a Baptist communist. Later, at a political meeting, the member was so out of control that he landed in jail. Dr. Fridell went to the jail and won the man's release. He had amazing poise in a tight situation, a mark of a true peacemaker.
His sermons stirred his congregation, but they also caught the attention of those whose influence he challenged. One member recalled, "We were startled one Sunday with Fridell's revelation that 'We have in our congregation today, as we have had in Sunday's past, officers of the Army in plain clothes to observe and listen, for they do not like that I preach peace.'"
Justice Charles Z. Smith, 1922-
The Honorable Charles Z. Smith, retired justice of the Washington State Supreme Court and former associate dean of the University of Washington Law School, received the 2005 Dahlberg Peace Award--an award given to an outstanding American Baptist who has shown a deep commitment to peace and justice.
Smith's story of his journey from soldier to peacemaker moved the crowd to tears when he received the award in Denver. He told of the profound influence that Alice Franklin Bryant and the peacemaking tradition of Seattle First Baptist Church had on him, including the transforming experience of taking his grandchild to Hiroshima to see the memorials to the atomic bomb's destruction and the memorials to peace.
In 1975, Smith began assisting Vietnamese lawyers who fled to the United States. "We had nothing to start a new life in this country, "said Minh Chanh Huynh, one of the lawyers Smith helped by urging her to go to the University of Washington's Law School and sponsoring her enrollment. "We were in a very depressed situation and his encouragement was really what we needed," she said. "Charles is a role model for everyone in my family."
Between 1975-1977, Smith served as president of the American Baptist Churches USA.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton appointed Smith to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Before the appointment, Smith worked with the Stockholm Accords on Ethnic Cleansing, served as moderator of the National Consortium of Task Forces and Commissions on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts, and chaired the American Bar Association Task Force on Minorities in the Judiciary.
More recently, he has served as a member of the Criminal Justice Standards Committee and the Juvenile Justice Standards Committee of the American Bar Association. He has also served as a co-chairperson of the Washington Supreme Court Minority and Justice Commission.
Smith is widely respected for his efforts to provide fair and equal access to justice. He won the Top Contributor of the Year 2002 by the Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post. He also won the Asian Bar Association's Judge of the Year Award and the Washington State Bar Association's Lifetime Service Award.
Charles Z. Smith is a living witness to the truth that you cannot have peace without justice.
Rev. Robert Walker, 1922-2008
By the time Rev. Bob Walker graduated from high school, he had already requested and been classified as a conscientious objector. His active association with Seattle First Baptist Church began early. Pastor Elmer Fridell baptized him and Harold Jensen was his pastor during World War II. Walker was active in Baptist Young Peoples Union. He helped organize a citywide Baptist Youth Fellowship that brought together Chinese-American, Japanese-American, African-American and Euro-American youth. Walker was active in the University of Washington's Roger Williams Fellowship during his freshman year, where he studied biblical texts on war and peace.
When he was offered an opportunity to talk about his position on war and peace to the church, Walker insisted that a young person in the military share the platform. The service was attended by more than 250 people and elicited a frank exchange of opinions with very little acrimony.
Walker was drafted during his sophomore year, while attending Linfield College. He was ordered on March 1, 1943, to report to the Civilian Public Service Camp 56 in Waldport, Oregon. Draftees were being secretly trained there to put out U.S. forest fires set from Japanese fire balloons. Walker reported for service, but later decided that the work implied cooperation with the military, which was contrary to his beliefs, and he returned to Seattle. Walker turned himself in to authorities in Portland, plead guilty in Federal District Court, was sentenced to the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary, and served almost two years from 1944-1946. When his pastor, Dr. Harold Jensen, visited Walker, he found the young man working on the island farm during the day and studying for the ministry at night. While he was still behind bars, SFBC licensed Walker to preach.
In 1947, Walker left for Andover Newton Theological Seminary, where his grandfather and former SFBC pastor, Benaiah Whitman, had attended. During his pastoral years, Walker ran the tour program for the New Hampshire Council on World Affairs and in 1956 went to Europe and the Soviet Union with the Baptist Peace Fellowship to meet with peace leaders. He served as pastor of American Baptist churches in New Hampshire and Washington, retiring in 1986 as pastor from the Fremont Baptist Church of Seattle.
Walker cited two important decisions of his early years: entering seminary and pursuing pastoral ministry, and being sentenced for his beliefs against military service and war. "I didn't have to do either," he later said of what he described as personal revelations, "but I knew I'd lose something very precious if I didn't."
Today's Partners in Peacemaking
Throughout its history, Seattle First Baptist has championed the cause of peace and social justice, from its early friendship with the indigenous inhabitants to its denunciation of the Japanese internment during World War II, questioning of our military involvement in Vietnam and Iraq, and current advocacy for equal rights of the homeless, the mentally ill, the GLBT population and the Duwamish tribe.
Partners in Peacemaking is a committed group of volunteers, including both congregational and interested community members, dedicated to promote these historic ideals, both at home and abroad, through the dual avenues of education and public action.