Thursday, September 24, 2009

When Taking a Stand Takes Courage

Tribute to Rev. Warren Hamby

This is my LifePoints Column which appeared in the "Faith and Values" section of the Huntsville Times on Friday, September 25, 2009 - Steve West

Sometimes death can put life in perspective. Losing a local leader can portray the passing of an era and help us remember where we’ve been.

Rev. Warren Hamby was my uncle. We lost him this summer, but his image, with pipe in hand and a twinkle in his eye, will always be etched in my memory. The brother of my mother and a towering family figure, he was no stranger to Huntsville. He soared above our city as pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church during the 1960’s, the fastest growing time of their history. Huntsville was changing, and our nation was changing more.

I wonder what it would have been like to stand in the pulpit during such a pivotal age, when pastors were under scrutiny and civil rights issues were rampant. Uncle Warren was a great orator, striking the balance between the prophetic and the pastoral.

After Trinity, he went to Galloway Memorial UMC in Jackson, Mississippi, in hopes of bringing integration to the church. He followed the legendary Rev. Bill Selah in that pulpit. Selah had resigned in protest over the church members’ refusal to allow black people to worship with them.

At the funeral in June, my cousin Ren (Warren, Jr.) shared a memory of his father’s formidable character. The home of a family in the church had been bombed, though thankfully no one had been hurt. The following Sunday, Uncle Warren read a statement from the pulpit, denouncing violence and proclaiming that those who remain silent in the face of brutality share some of the blame. It ran in the Jackson newspapers for all to see.

Soon after that, Ren found his father crouched in the carport after dark, his shotgun in his lap. He hastily told his son to go inside. He had been watching cars driving slowly past the house with their lights off. Someone in the cars was shining flashlights into the bushes. Were they to be the next victims of the Ku Klux Klan?

Ren remembered it wasn't long before Uncle Warren came inside, relaxed, and laid the gun in the corner. It turned out the cars belonged to police keeping watch over the house.

For years, Ren remembered this as a heroic example of how his dad was willing to lay his life on the line for his family. But as he grew older, he began to see it differently. Uncle Warren had actually put not only himself but also his family in danger. It would have been safer if he had simply preached about something nice and palatable.

"He didn't have to read the statement," Ren said. "But then, I might have never learned that there are principles that are more valuable than life itself.”

Some things are worth risking your life for. Some may even be worth risking the lives of those you love. They are eternal values that great women and men stand on, even if they seem to stand alone.

It is said that “good guys finish last.” As I remember Uncle Warren, I am more prone to say that good guys last, long after life is finished. They are beacons of light that pierce the storms of history.