The JFK Assassination

November 26, 1963

Southern Methodist University, like all mankind, has been grieved and shocked over the assassination of our young president.  As a corporate citizen of the Dallas community, the University has shared the shame and guilt that has been focused on the heart of Dallas, intensifying our contrite sadness. Out of our mourning have come new insights and new motivations.  We see more clearly the things we have known, but until this shocking experience, have not known well enough.

All great social philosophy is born in crisis.  As we rise from our knees to join all Dallas citizens, both individual and corporate, in our task ahead, what do we say?  What do we do?  How do we pray?  Although mindful of our mistakes, shortcomings, inadequacies, this, now, is no time for continued vindictiveness . It is no time for scapegoating.  It is no time for self-abasement and breast beating.  It is a time for re-evaluation, for moral and spiritual vitality, and for the rational wisdom that tells us of those things that are valid , true, eternal, vital, important, and beautiful .

In this spirit, Southern Methodist University, playing its full role as a part of the Dallas community, does now call on the rich intellectual and moral resources of our larger University family, to seek and articulate a statement of first principles for this University and for Dallas of which we are a part .  We call our students and our faculty to a fuller commitment to learning in order to better serve their generation in time and space.  We are confident that all of the agencies of government, the institutions, and the organized groups of Dallas will join in facing their responsibilities with a sense of unity .

Knowing we must re-examine our pre-suppositions and face not only our past inadequacies but also our potential, this University will call together a series of University commissions to formulate and articulate our first principles in several fields. These working groups of scholars and other members of our University family will define our opportunities and give us all a sense of positive direction to our action -- the action that is required of all patriotic Americans as we hallow the name of our martyred President and pledge our allegiance to the new president during these trying days .

These first principles commission will be called:


There can be no civilized society without law, and no law unless the members of society cherish and uphold it.  If we disregard law's proper processes, regardless of the provocation, we undermine civilized society itself.  If we dishonor the judges and magistrates who interpret and enforce it, we undermine the foundations of our society .  The law that binds us is not merely the law of Dallas, but also the law of Texas, the law of the United States: we are even bound by those humane considerations that bind all nations . We in Dallas are part of a larger community of law, and it is a matter of considerable importance to us and to all that we cherish and uphold our legal obligations in this larger community.  If we are to bring integrity to our obligations as citizens -- first to this University community, and then to our larger community -- we must carefully examine all of the evidences of disrespect for the established law of the land.

But our legal obligations cannot be fulfilled by adhering to the mere letter of the law.  Dedication is also required to the spirit of the law, to those moral foundations of fair and considerate treatment of others - even of those with whom we disagree or whose actions we abhor -- upon which all valid law ultimately rests.


Our community lives and grows as it assumes full responsibility for all of the component parts of its life.  Every part of our community should be precious to all of us .

This University -- and the City of Dallas -- has many component parts . Some parts are pre-dominently racial, some are of national origin .  Others are just the normal stratification of any campus or city.  Some people are born and raised in one stratum of life and never see another stratum.

Other parts of a community are formed around political philosophies. It is a sign of great political maturity when any political group seeks to mirror the wholeness of a community by not turning its back on any segment.  It is basic to our political life that we differ and that we disagree. It is basic to our community life that we so raise the level of our political discourse.

All groupings in our city are important to our life together . But various groupings will believe they are an important part of our total life only if they participate in its life fully, as citizens, as workers, as students, as office holders, as church members.


I speak as the president of a university with a relationship to a major church body.         We have a very close relationship to our sponsoring body . We support and encourage without apology the strong voice of the church, among other voices, on this campus.  We honor our role as a university with a theological seminary which trains ministers for the church.  We speak, therefore, as a part of the church.

If the life of our University community and the community beyond our campus is to reflect the great humane values of our Judea-Christian tradition, the voice of the church must be heard.  It must be heard as an independent, fundamentally free force in the community; it must not merely reflect the values already accepted by the community.

Wherever there is a sin and injustice, the church must call us to repentance.

Wherever there is hatred , fear and suspicion, the church must call us to repentance and reconciliation .

Wherever there is lethargy and disloyalty through inaction to our noble faith, the church must call us to repentance and action.

I honor the voice of the church on this campus and expect that voice to be faithful to the Word that has been entrusted to it.  I expect the church on this campus to be faithful to its corporate disciplines and above all to be -- more than it has ever been before -- a fundamentally free, independent force in the life of this University community.       If we have anything to say to the church at large, let it be said.

Both the church and the University are social institutions -- one the family of God in a special way, the other secular.  But both are ultimately, fundamentally and intimately concerned with the welfare of the individual man, with human dignity and with human fulfillment.  Both of these institutions are basic to our society; both are commissioned to prepare man to live with himself and with his fellow man in peace, security and fulfillment.

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These three areas of commitment are not to be thought of as the limit of our concerns.  After further deliberations, as we appoint the commissions, we may well add additional areas of commitment.

These commitments require careful examination.  They cannot lie on the table or be placed in a file.  They must be examined by this University community of scholars and students both as to their basic philosophy and as to what specifically they can mean in the day-to-day life of this University and hopefully in the larger community beyond our campus.

We have a long-range challenge ahead of us.  But it is important to remember that our community needs more than just the negative lament; our community needs more than just the absence of hate groups.  Our community needs the presence of both positive compassion and concern, and an enlarging circle of responsible, sensitive intellects .  Together, the mind and the compassionate heart represent the basic stature of true humanity.  This union, under God, is our greatest source of strength and our most cherished contribution to our civilization.  This union of mind and heart, long a major purpose of this University, must find expression in every segment of our society . Each of these segments of society is represented in this University -- in law, in teaching, in journalism , in the church, in business, in technology.

God bless you, our students, and our hope for the future.        We are especially privileged to have you in our family at this moment in history.

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