Remembering Dale Brown, professor emeritus at Bethany Seminary and a leading theologian in the Church of the Brethren

Dale Weaver Brown, 95, professor emeritus at Bethany Theological Seminary and a leading theologian in the Church of the Brethren as well as a former moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, passed away peacefully on Aug. 30, in the presence of family.

Brown was born to Harlow and Cora (Weaver) Brown in Wichita, Kansas, as the fourth of five boys, all preceding him in death. His father was called a “progressive food grocer” by the local paper, as associated with extra services such as taking in trades of garden vegetables in lieu of cash. His parents were known for integrity, generosity, and attention to quality in both professional and personal life.

His grandfathers were both farmer Dunker preachers–farming during the week and preaching on Sundays. All greatly influenced him in life and faith, as did Sunday school teachers discussing racial injustice in the early 1940s. Wrote his daughter, Deanna Brown, “From an early age, Dale was shaped by those who had the moral strength and character to stand against violence of any kind and to open their hearts and homes to those who needed love.”

After a double promotion in elementary school, he completed his A.B. in 1946 at McPherson (Kan.) College in three intensive years, a year later marrying classmate Lois (Kauffman). They were a part of an international work camp in Italy in the summer of 1948, as part of a Brethren Service Unit–an experience that propelled their convictions and future work to alleviate poverty and wars. During 68 years of marriage, their home welcomed people from around the world, for long and short stays alike, including being a host family for post-World War II German high school exchange program.

Brown earned a degree from Bethany Seminary in Chicago in 1949, and a doctorate from Northwestern University in 1962. His education included study at Drake University and Garrett Theological Seminary.

Dale Brown (at right) in conversation with a Young Republican during Ollie North demonstrations in Orlando, Fla., during the 1989 Annual Conference. In his Messenger article about the event, he wrote that during the Conference, “an intrusion from the outside was placed under our windshield wipers, an invitation to have our pictures taken with Oliver North for $150. He was appearing at a meeting of Young Republicans in a hotel across the boulevard from the Conference center, at the same time Yvonne Dilling was to speak at the Friday evening worship service. Yvonne once had directed Witness for Peace, one of the most effective programs against the activity North so fervently supported [the Contra War]. What might be the best response?” He and other Brethren peace leaders planned a vigil of prayer, singing, and testimonies that was attended by about 150 Brethren. They were met by “a group of flag-waving, zealous North supporters,” Brown wrote. “Kneeling for prayer took on new meanings in this setting.” Photo by Paul Grout

He was ordained in 1946. He pastored Stover Memorial Church of the Brethren in Des Moines, Iowa, from 1949-1956. From 1958-1962 he worked at McPherson College as director of religious life and assistant professor of philosophy and religion. His teaching at Bethany Seminary started in 1956-1958, while he was pursuing a doctoral program at Northwestern. He returned to Bethany as a professor of history and theology for more than 30 years, 1962-1994. He taught courses on Bonhoeffer, Brethren in Historical and Theological Perspectives, and Peacemaking, among other topics. He was president of the American Theological Society (Midwest Section) in 1985-1986. Later, he was a fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, where an annual award is named in his honor.

He authored six books and wrote numerous articles for the Church of the Brethren’s Messenger magazine as well as Sojourners, The Christian Century, The Other Side, newspaper editorials, and more. His first book, Understanding Pietism, was published from his doctoral dissertation in 1978, and in 1996 was republished in an updated edition. Most recently, his book Biblical Pacifism was republished in a second edition by Brethren Press. Another Way of Believing, also published by Brethren Press, is available in both English and Spanish (go to

He was moderator of Annual Conference in 1972. He served on the former General Board of the denomination in 1960-1962, chaired the board of On Earth Peace 1997-2000, was twice on the Standing Committee of Annual Conference, served on the denomination’s Interchurch Relations Committee, and early in his career was moderator of the former Middle Iowa District. In just a couple of examples of his wide-ranging church interests, he also helped mentor the first fledgling Church of the Brethren in Brazil, and for some years helped maintain contact between the Church of the Brethren and sister churches in the wider Brethren movement.

His ecumenical activity included representing the church at the National Council of Churches, chairing the Fraternal Relations Committee, and being an observer to the Consultation on Church Union.

Brown was identified as “an important national figure in opposition to the Vietnam War” when a collection of his papers was dedicated at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. Said the program for that event: “Dale’s 1970 book, The Christian Revolutionary, anticipates many of the themes later made famous by John Howard Yoder and the Sojourners community.”

His involvements as a peace activist were many and varied over decades. As Annual Conference moderator, he presented a statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee opposing the draft and Selective Service. He participated in the first Brethren-Russian Orthodox exchange in 1963 and in 1969 was named dean of the first summer peace seminar between the Church of the Brethren and the Russian Orthodox Church, held in Geneva, Switzerland. His entry in the Brethren Encyclopedia notes that he “counseled many conscientious objectors, participated in various peace demonstrations, and actively participated in several peace organizations (such as the Brethren Action Movement, which he helped to found, as well as New Call to Peacemaking)…. He also played an important role in the so called new Evangelicalism of the early 1970s and was a signer of the Chicago Declaration of Social Concern.”

Notes for a Messenger interview made after his retirement said, “He still likes to take part in peace demonstrations. He has been in a couple in Washington fairly recently, including one at the Pentagon…. He is active with Christian Peacemaker Teams and with On Earth Peace Assembly training of young people for Peace Travel Teams. These are just a sampling of the many activities Dale is still involved in.”

Longterm attendees at Annual Conference may remember his speeches at the microphone, advocating for peace and calling for reconciliation between differing parties in the church, and his eagerness to engage in one-on-one conversation with those who disagreed with him. Former neighbors in Oak Brook, Ill., may remember his participation in open housing marches in 1966, and how he and students at Bethany created a bail fund group in DuPage County. Ecumenical colleagues may remember his participation in demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee.

A profile of Brown as moderator appeared in Messenger in 1972, identifying paradoxes of his life and witness: “Dale Brown, as others see him, is a man whose strict interpretation of the Bible bring him into sympathy with conservatives and into action with radicals. Starting from a strict biblical base, and trying to be true to it, he often discovers both his support and opposition in strange quarters.”

The magazine told a story from a recent conference: “He found himself in a vigorous, emotional debate with some conservatives following a committee meeting they had attended together. The argument, on resistance, continued an hour and a half. At the end Dale told them, ‘You know I wouldn’t be spending this long if I didn’t like you and take you seriously–I wouldn’t be caring this much.’ His adversaries answered, ‘We like you, because you don’t just treat us nice. You take us seriously enough to argue with us.’”

Brown is survived by his daughter Deanna (Brian Harley), son Dennis (Dorothy Brown), son Kevin (Kim Pece), granddaughters, and many others he claimed as beloved children and fictive kin.

Plans for a memorial service will be announced. Memorial gifts are received to On Earth Peace and Bethany Seminary.


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