Protestant social ethicist John Coleman Bennett) was a leading Christian
thinker of the century who applied ethical principles to urgent
issues of modern society.
Coleman Bennett was born on July 22, 1902, in Kingston, Ontario,
to American parents. He was educated at Williams College, Massachusetts,
Oxford University, and Union Theological Seminary in New York
Bennett spent his entire career as a seminary teacher, beginning
at Union Seminary in 1927. From 1930 to 1938 he taught at Auburn
Theological Seminary in New York. In 1931 he married Anna Louesa
McGrew; they had two sons and a daughter. Bennett's first book,
Social Salvation (1935), was followed by Christianity--And Our
former set forth his lifelong conviction that the problems of
society must be an integral part of Christian thinking; the latter
championed the existence of a universal or "common"
morality upon which specifically Christian ethics builds and to
which it can appeal.
1938 and 1943 Bennett taught at the Pacific School of Religion,
Berkeley, California. In 1939 he was ordained a Congregational
minister. He published Christian Realism in 1941. Its title epitomizes
Bennett's approach to social ethics: his conviction that the biblical-Christian
perspective on the role of the individual in society is profoundly
realistic, avoiding utopian optimism by its grasp of human sinfulness
and avoiding fatalistic pessimism by its confidence in human dignity
and possibilities under God.
1943 Bennett returned to teach at Union Theological Seminary.
The first holder of the Reinhold Niebuhr professorship of social
ethics (1960-1970), he became dean of the faculty in 1955 and
was president of the seminary from 1964 until his retirement in
1970. He received several honorary doctorates from colleges and
seminaries. Bennett wrote most of his books during this long tenure.
them are Christian Ethics and Social Policy (1946), Christianity
and Communism Today (1948; rev. 1960), The Christian as Citizen
(1955), Christians and the State (1958), Nuclear Weapons and the
Conflict of Conscience (editor; 1962), When Christians Make Political
Decisions (1964), Christian Social Ethics in a Changing World
(editor; 1966), and Foreign Policy in Christian Perspective (1966).
in Ecumenical Movement
Bennett was prominent in the ecumenical movement. He was an official
leader in deliberations on the church and the social order at
the Amsterdam (1948), Evanston (1954), and New Delhi (1961) assemblies
of the World Council of Churches, and he served the National Council
of Churches of Christ in the Unites States in various positions.
While at Union, Bennett fostered alliances with theological seminaries
of various faiths, including the Jewish Theological Seminary and
the Woodstock Theological Seminary, a Roman Catholic institution.
With his distinguished friend and colleague Reinhold Niebuhr,
Bennett founded the influential journal Christianity and Crisis
in 1941 and continued as its editor for many years. He became
politically engaged as vice- chairman of the Liberal party in
New York State (1955-1965) and, in 1960, as a leading Protestant
defender of John F. Kennedy's candidacy against those who feared
a Roman Catholic president.
involvement in political and social issues extended to participation
in the civil rights movement, protests against the war in Vietnam,
opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, and, late in his life,
advocacy of gay and lesbian rights within the church. Bennett's
final book The Radical Imperative was published in 1975, although
he continued to contribute articles to Christianity and Crisis
until 1993. Bennett died April 27, 1995.