Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Cordell Christian College

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Although many people may not be familiar with the history of Cordell Christian College it has an interesting one. It was founded in 1907 by three businessmen, J. C. Harrel, G. A. W. Fleming, and W. D. Hockaday. The school went through several name changes. It began as Cordell Christian College, but was renamed Western Oklahoma Christian College in 1921 and Oklahoma Christian College in 1925. The school shut its doors in 1918, but reopened in 1921 until finally closing again in 1931 because of the Great Depression.

Between 1907 and 1918 the college became the largest college among Churches of Christ. The president of Cordell Christian College at this time was J.N. Armstrong. Armstrong was the son-in-law of James A. Harding and he would later go on to found Harding College in Searcy, AR. Armstrong had been a student of James A. Harding and David Lipscomb and held to many of their shared beliefs, including the belief that Christians should not involve themselves in worldly governments but should devote themselves fully to the kingdom of God. For many years this was not an issue in Cordell, OK but as soon as the United States entered into WWI it quickly became one.

On May 18, 1917 the United States passed a Selective Service Act that authorized the federal government to raise an army. President Woodrow Wilson who tried to keep the United States out of war was aware of conscientious objectors and made provisions for them, but these were not always recognized by local boards like the one in Cordell, OK. The local board pushed for all men to join the service, even some who were physically unable to serve.

Even though Armstrong and many of the teachers held pacifist beliefs not everyone at the college did. Some students voluntarily joined the armed services, while others who conscientiously objected to taking human life joined the medical corps. This was a particularly dangerous job during WWI since German snipers specifically targeted medics. The U.S. army made the decision during the war to remove the red arm bands from the medics so they would not be easily identified. People at the college also helped by purchasing Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps.

Still a few of the locals were not satisfied and they sought to have Armstrong along with all teachers and board members who agreed that a Christian should not participate in the war removed. It just so happened that all teachers and all but one board member held this belief. A local judge was brought into investigate, but after those who opposed Armstrong and the school failed to bring forth any witnesses it was determined that the school had done nothing wrong. Even though the judge sided with Armstrong and the school the damage had already been done. The school was forced to shut its doors in 1918. Armstrong went on to become the president of Harper College in 1919, but before leaving he made the following remarks, “This college did not die, rather it was a martyr for the convictions of the faculty and of its board.”

During this controversy S.A. Bell, a faculty member, had written an article edited by Armstrong which argued that Christians should not participate in the war nor accept a noncombatant status. Two young men took these teachings to heart. They refused to enlist in any way and were sent to Leavenworth Penitentiary. L.C. Sears tells their story in For Freedom: The Biography of John Nelson Armstrong.

Ben Randolph from the college and [W.D.] Hockaday’s nephew from Granite were sent to Leavenworth Penitentiary, along with others of like conviction. Armstrong visited them there and gave them what encouragement he could. But their sincerity was severely tested. A special representative, they understood from Washington, pleaded with them, and tears ran down his cheeks as he told them they would be shot at daybreak unless they accepted some kind of service. But all replied they could accept none. Next morning they faced a firing squad, blindfolded. They heard the commands, “Present arms, aim!” But the word “fire” was never given.

To learn more about Cordell Christian College and J.N. Armstrong you can visit the following websites:

The Decline of Pacifism in Churches of Christ: Cordell Christian College

The Greatest Work of Earth: Education as a Mission of Early 20th Century Churches of Christ

Oklahoms Christian University of Science and Arts

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2 Responses to “Cordell Christian College”

  1. I have a banner from 1916 when my mother and dad were there. Also a Washita EAC 1916 banner. Is there any kind of memorabilia library who would like these.


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