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Duke McCall was influential Baptist leader

Last updated June 3, 2013

By Furman News

Duke Kimbrough McCall, a 1935 Furman graduate who became one of the most influential leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), died April 2 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 98.

From 1951-82, McCall was president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His career also included service as chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and president of the Baptist World Alliance. He held honorary degrees from five institutions, including Furman.

McCall was known for encouraging tolerance and cooperation among all denominations. Chris Caldwell, who served Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville after McCall, told the Louisville Courier-Journal, “He had a broader view of the church. He was a larger than life figure, a charming gentleman.”

While McCall dealt with occasional controversies both from within and outside Southern Seminary during his tenure as president, the Courier-Journal described his years at the school as a time of “unprecedented growth” in terms of endowment, enrollment and academic expansion. He was an advocate for African Americans, and in the early 1960s he invited Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak on campus, despite the segregationist views of many Southern Baptists.

Writing for the Associated Baptist Press, Bill Leonard of the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University said that McCall “bridged multiple generations of Baptist life nationally and globally. In some ways he was the personification of the amazing organizational success and regional strength of Southern Baptists in much of the 20th century.

“In other ways he represented the last of the Baptist denominationalists, a leader who both shaped and was shaped by the cultural and spiritual solidarity of America’s largest denomination . . . he contributed to a denominational breadth inside the SBC. He lived long enough to see that breadth diminish, but died hoping, if not believing, that it would someday return.”

McCall sided with the moderates during the battle with conservatives for control of the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and narrowly lost a bid for the SBC presidency in 1982. He was later influential in the formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate alternative to the SBC, but maintained cordial relations with the national convention. A lecture series, academic chair and pavilion at Southern Seminary are named in his honor.

He is survived by his wife, Winona; four sons and 10 grandchildren, several of whom attended Furman; and 14 great-grandchildren.


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