Dr. Monroe Parker – Gentleman & Scholar
As a senior in high school my pastor, Bryce Augsburger, took me to the college days retreat at Pillsbury College. It was at that time I first met the new president of Pillsbury, Dr. Monroe Parker. He visited our home later that spring for a meal while preaching at Marquette Manor Baptist in Chicago, where my father had been pastor until he was taken to heaven about 18 months previously. I remember telling Dr. Parker that I was going to Pillsbury and would form a quartet to travel in ministry. I remember that he wisely cautioned me to focus on my studies and allow the ministry opportunities to develop as I matured in college. Well, maybe he was even a little more forceful than that. He put me in my place, and I deserved it.
But I did form the quartet within the early weeks at Pillsbury, and it included friend Hugh Rodman from my high school quartet, and Roger Creamer, another acquaintance from the Chicago area. We traveled all over Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin during our freshmen year. One of our great privileges was accompanying Dr. Parker to meetings in South Dakota. I will never forget him stuffing peanuts in Coke and teaching us that southern delicacy. We had a ball with him!
Dr. Parker was not a big man, but he was muscular; compact and powerful in body, spirit, and spiritual dynamism. Once at a student activity event he performed a tumbler’s handstand and popped back up to the amazement of the students, and probably to the consternation of his wife and the faculty. It was through his athletic prowess that he acquired his nickname “Monk” when he was a football player in college before transferring to Bob Jones. In his autobiography, Through Sunshine & Shadows, he tells the story how his nickname was changed from “Mon” to “Monk” after he was kidnapped by a rival team that shaved his head as a prank. He said the name stuck, and I always heard him called Monk by his close friends and peers, like Evangelists Fred Brown, Jim Mercer, and others.
Dr. Parker was primarily a preacher, but he was an accomplished scholar too, holding a Ph.D. in Old Testament. He was the student of Dr. Charles Brokenshire, an outstanding linguist with an education featuring Princeton and the U. of Chicago. I once had a class with Dr. Parker that was called Lives of Great Preachers. We read some books, but the course mainly focused on Dr. Parker’s recollection of personal interaction with people like Billy Sunday, Homer Rodeheaver, and scholars like Brokenshire and some notable liberals who he knew from graduate study at several institutions of higher learning.
Monroe Parker was definitely a preacher, but he was also a leader, excellent administrator, and engaging personality. He was fascinating because he incorporated a slight lisp into his blend of cultured rhetoric and fervent evangelistic preaching. He could teach the Bible with theological clarity and expositional depth. Over many months he preached in college chapel a series on the book of Genesis. He dealt knowledgably with all the grammatical and historical issues in the text, and yet found evangelistic fire in every passage that he expounded. As students we respected his fervency and passion. No one went to Pillsbury during that era that was not impacted by Dr. Parker.
Years later I heard a Baptist World Mission missionary tell how Dr. Parker accompanied him to speak with bureaucratic officials about an issue they were encountering in country. The missionary said that even though he had to translate all of the good doctor’s communications, the national officials realized and recognized Dr. Parker’s statesman capabilities. Resolution was achieved because of Dr. Parker’s gifts of leadership and communication. He was a formidable person, but also very interested in students and common people everywhere.
I had several occasions to learn of his directness as an administrator, but also witnessed his personal involvement in rescuing students from their immaturity. As a sophomore I became drawn into an incident where I was nearly shipped. I was on the basketball team, but was injured and went to the Twin Cities on a Friday night when our team was playing. Dr. Parker noticed I was not there and wanted to know why? I went to participate in a ministry activity in Minneapolis, but became an unknowing participant in breaking the rules by being in a vehicle without meeting proper chaperone requirements. In that car was the daughter of the chairman of the board – which complicated the matter.
Dr. Parker was not happy with me, but he made sure that I got enough demerits to bring me very close to expulsion, but able to keep my nose clean for the remaining few weeks of the semester. In a later year he believed that I was the source of campus discontent that reached a pastor who was being critical of him. On that occasion he called me into his office and confronted me in a stern manner. I assured him that I was not the source of the criticism, and he took my word for it. I gained more respect for him because he came to me personally and directly. That was Dr. Parker – he was straight up with conflict and problems. I benefited much by learning how to handle conflict from that experience.
About three years after graduating I confessed to him that after leaving the college I heard and listened to criticism of him based on information I came to realize was untrue and not possible. He was very gracious, and let me know that was the kind of misinformation we had to deal with in ministry. Once again, he taught me a valuable lesson in grace and restraint. He was a man of principal and character.
I cherish this note he inscribed when he autographed my copy of his autobiography Through Sunshine & Shadows.
And he was his own man. In 1975 I hosted the 55th annual meeting of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship at Faith Baptist, in St. Paul, just after joining the FBF board. Our people did a magnificent job providing for all the guests in our newly expanded church building. One of the men furnished a lounge where the speakers could relax and fellowship together.
During that time I was in a group of board members and Myron Cedarholm got talking about pulling out of speaking at the Tennessee Temple commencement. He was telling this small group that he told Dr. Roberson that he felt he would need to warn the graduates in that ceremony about certain current issues. Dr. Roberson told Cedar that they didn’t do that kind of thing at Temple. He just didn’t like to criticize. So, Dr. Cedarholm graciously backed out of the speaking engagement. Dr. Parker was sitting there, and said, “Well, I wondered why Lee called me so late to speak at their commencement.” And Dr. Parker went and preached.
Monroe Parker was his own man. He was respected by leaders and people in many different camps. He was a man who ministered in and among varied groups that made up fundamentalism in his era. He triumphed through the trial of losing his first wife in an auto accident, and losing his second wife Marjorie in 1981. God then brought Ruby into his life in 1983. We became closer friends with Ruby after Dr. Parker went to heaven, because she was from Wilson, NC, about 20 miles from where we lived in Rocky Mount, NC. I preached a number of the times in the church where she and her first husband worshiped and served faithfully. All of these connections and memories are blessed.