Baptist Historian Robert Handy Dies
Robert T. Handy (1918-2009) has died in his NJ retirement community at age 90. An American Baptist historian, Handy taught at Union Theological Seminary in NY (an ecumenical seminary) from 1950 until retirement in 1986. A prolific author, Handy was known for his writings on Baptist history and the history of Christianity in North America, as well defending church-state separation and debunking popular myths of a bygone era of “Christian America.”
Handy was a graduate of Brown University (B.A.), still a Baptist-related institution at the time, with a degree in European history. He earned his Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) degree from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, was ordained and served Baptist churches in Illinois. After a stint as a chaplain in the U.S. army, he earned a Ph.D. in Church History at the University of Chicago (also then still related to American Baptists, though already an ecumenical institution).
Handy was a primary example for how to be true to one’s own tradition while also being very ecumenical. He was a firm champion of religious liberty, church-state separation, and liberty of conscience. For these reasons, although his personal theology was fairly traditional, he was often a target of the theocrats and Christian nationalists. (Sometimes the best compliment is to have the right enemies.)
Rest in peace, servant of a Servant Lord.
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