Title: Oral History Interview with J. Randolph Taylor, May 23, 1985. Interview C-0021.
Interviewer: Kalk, Bruce
Interviewee: Taylor, J. Randolph
Subjects: King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968 Southern States--Race relations Presbyterian Church--Clergy--North Carolina Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Abstract: At the time of this 1985 interview, J. Randolph Taylor was just leaving his Charlotte pastorate to assume the presidency of San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS). Taylor begins by explaining the influence his parents, particularly his father, had on him. Until his mother died when he was three, his family lived in China's Kiangsu province. At that point, his father moved the family back to the United States, but Taylor values his early exposure to the non-Western church. After college, Taylor and his wife Arline went to Scotland so he could study the works of James Denney under New Testament theologian Archibald M. Hunter. After he earned his degree, the Taylors returned to America, where he took a pulpit at the Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C. During that time, Taylor became aware of his own racism and decided that "guilt is not an adequate response." With the Reverend Jefferson Rogers, he helped launch the Washington Branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and through that organization, he met Martin Luther King Jr. Shortly before King's death, Arline and Randolph moved to Atlanta to lead Central Presbyterian Church, and he formed a partnership between his congregation and King's church. These experiences convinced him only interracial cooperation would solve America's racial problems, but he was one of the only whites involved in the SCLC. He helped found A Fellowship of Concern—a Presbyterian anti-racism organization—as a way to increase the participation of white churchgoers in these efforts. At this point in the interview, Taylor examines how various church organizations, especially seminaries, congregations, and Presbyterian denominations handled desegregation. Taylor believes that his immersion in southern life was an advantage because he not only attacked injustice, but also helped heal the wounds that the civil rights movement left. By 1985, Taylor believed the American church needed to address more than racial inequality, and he explains which areas remain and the theological reasons for choosing those areas. Moving from that topic, he expounds upon his foundational beliefs. One of Taylor's most important denominational roles was when he co-chaired the Joint Committee on Presbyterian Union, and he clarifies how the committee reconciled the doctrinal, structural, philosophical, and racial differences between the church's northern and southern branches. He offers his perspective on the ecumenical movement and its benefits. Over the last half of the twentieth century, conservative evangelicalism grew in influence among the mainline churches, and Taylor considers why it spread, what its benefits are, and what pitfalls denominations must avoid. He ends the interview by looking forward to his new post at SFTS, explaining what he hopes to accomplish there.