Goshen, AMBS professor inspired many for peace

Jan 6, 2020 by

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GOSHEN, Ind. — John Richard (J.R.) Burkholder, 91, a college and seminary professor whose work spanned and influenced dramatic changes in 20th-century Mennonite peace theology and ecumenical engagements, died Dec. 20.

J.R. Burkholder signs a copy of Prophetic Peacemaking, which contains many of his writings. — Goshen College

J.R. Burkholder signs a copy of Prophetic Peacemaking, which contains many of his writings. — Goshen College

An ethicist, church leader and agent of social change, Burkholder taught for 22 years at Goshen College and 12 years at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart.

He was professor emeritus of religion at Goshen.

“In his modeling and teaching, J.R. inspired scores of students and colleagues toward peacemaking vocations, and I believe his voice still resonates for 21st-century Jesus-inspired makers of peace,” said Keith Graber Miller, Goshen professor of Bible, religion and philosophy.

Graber Miller edited Prophetic Peacemaking: Selected Writings of J.R. Burkholder (Herald Press), a collection of essays on pacifism, patriotism, public witness, Mennonite ethics, health care, stewardship, vocation, service and other issues of discipleship.

Burkholder was born Dec. 19, 1928, in Lancaster, Pa., to Clar­ence and Blanch Burkholder. In 1952 he married Susan Elizabeth Herr, who survives him.

He attended Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., and graduated from Goshen with a degree in English in 1952, earned a bachelor of divinity degree from Goshen Biblical Seminary (now AMBS) in 1955 and a doctorate from Harvard University in 1969.

After brief terms of mission work in Brazil and pastoral ministry in Pennsylvania, Burkholder taught at Goshen from 1963 to 1985 and then at AMBS.

He was co-founder of what is now the Goshen College Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies Department; founding director of the Dallas Peace Center; program administrator for Mennonite Central Committee and the Fellowship of Reconciliation; coordinator of peace and social concerns for Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries; and a visiting professor at a Costa Rican seminary and a South African university.

An interest in aviation and early ambitions to become a pilot spurred him to take flying lessons and culminated in his own solo flight.

Running became his passion during the 1970s and ’80s, and he enjoyed running with his Goshen community friends. In recent years he picked up his teenage love of science fiction and mystery novels, and he continued to be a faithful fan of the Goshen College basketball team into his 90s.

He is survived by five children, Kelli (John) King, Lissa (Alex Baró), Samuel (Christine Wirk­kala), Rebecca (Blaine Derstine) and Peter (Shannen Hill); eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was eldest brother to Harold, who died in 2009, and Charles, surviving.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 25 at Assembly Mennonite Church. Memorial contributions may be made to the Clarence and Blanche Burkholder Scholarship Fund at Goshen or Mennonite Central Committee.


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