LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Duke McCall, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s president for three decades who earlier led the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee, died April 2. He was 98.
McCall was president of Southern Seminary from 1951-82, a period that stretched from the civil rights movement to the beginning of the conservative resurgence in the SBC.
McCall stood firm for the civil rights of African Americans, and it was during his tenure at the seminary that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in chapel and in class in 1961.
He also led the seminary in growth, both in enrollment and in its endowment. In 2011, the Duke K. McCall Chair of Christian Leadership and the McCall Leadership Lectures were created with funding by McCall and the McCall Family Foundation. In 2009, the seminary’s welcome center, the Duke K. McCall Sesquicentennial Pavilion, was named in his honor on the Louisville, Ky., campus.
During the SBC conservative resurgence, McCall sided with the moderates, and at the SBC annual meeting in 1982 he lost to Jimmy Draper in a runoff for president. Draper’s election was the fourth in the line of conservative presidents.
Despite his theological differences with conservatives, McCall continued to state his love for Southern Seminary, even in his final years.
“We do not always agree with each other on everything,” he said in 2009 at the seminary’s 150th celebration service, “but what I call upon us to recognize is that the hand of God is upon this institution and those with responsibility for her and that we acknowledge that and say, ‘We will continue our own convictions as they diverge from one another. But we will stand together in one common commitment in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.’”
Prior to his service at Southern Seminary, McCall served as president of the Executive Committee from 1946-51 and president of the Baptist Bible Institute in New Orleans – now New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary – from 1943-46.
SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr., in a 2011 campus event attended by McCall at age 97 marking the 60th anniversary of his election as the seminary’s seventh president, said, “Dr. Duke McCall is representative of a generation of Southern Baptists who served and built this denomination, its churches and institutions,” Mohler said. “We need to remember that we are living in houses we did not build and we are drinking from wells we did not dig. And, as God’s people are warned not to take these things for granted, we must live in constant appreciation to those who helped to build all that we build upon.”
“Southern Baptists are indebted to this man,” said Frank S. Page, current president of the Executive Committee. “I know that I follow some great men and Dr. McCall is one of them. He now moves to his ultimate reward and stands before our Lord. Southern Baptists have lost a great leader today. He leaves a powerful legacy.”
Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources and former dean of Southern Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, said, “Dr. McCall’s impact on and love for Southern Baptists and Baptists around the world is unmistakable. He gave the most productive years of his life and ministry to this denomination, and in his later years provided a historical perspective to the present generation and assisted in healing denominational wounds.”
McCall was a native of Meridian, Miss., who grew up in Memphis, Tenn., the son of a judge. He graduated from Furman University in South Carolina in 1935 and earned two degrees from Southern Seminary, a Th.M. in 1938 and doctor of theology in 1941.
He and his late wife Marguerite had four sons. Following her death in 1980, McCall married Winona McCandless.