Wineskins Archive

February 11, 2014

Book Review: “Making History: Ray Muncie in His Time (Jul-Aug 2002)

Filed under: — @ 5:23 pm and

Published by New Leaf Books, Orange, California, 2002 by Eloise Muncy with John Williams.

Making History: Ray Muncy in His Time is a compelling memoir of one man’s struggles and triumphs as he endeavored to make and write the history of his time. The New Leaf Books biography reads like a novel and is not mere hagiography, even though written by Muncy’s widow, Eloise. Dr. John Williams, associate professor of English at Harding University, is the co-author.

“Anybody can make history,” Oscar Wilde once said. “Only a great man can write it.” Dr. Raymond Muncy, history professor at Harding University for three decades, did both. During his career at Harding, Muncy served as chairman of the history department and won the Distinguished Teacher Award three times. He wrote two major books and had dozens of scholarly and religious articles published, and his godly example helped mold lives at the university, within his community, and among Christians throughout the world.

Ray Muncy was born near Charleston, West Virginia, in 1928. His mother died when Ray was a boy, and he was raised by his great-aunt and great-uncle. From an early age Ray attended the local church of Christ, where he was baptized in 1939. His role models were the church’s preacher and one of the elders. The preacher pointed Ray toward Freed-Hardeman College in Henderson, Tennessee. It was there that Ray continued his schooling after graduating from high school in 1946.

At Freed-Hardeman Ray decided to train to become a preacher. In his sophomore year, Ray met and fell in love with Eloise Griffin, a freshman from Alabama. After several months of courtship, the couple married in the summer of 1948. Ray began his first preaching job with the Belle Church of Christ, his childhood congregation, in 1949.

The book outlines both the joys and frustrations of Ray’s years of preaching in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana. A meticulous planner, Ray worked hard on his sermon preparation each week. In addition, he had to learn to work with the eldership at each congregation, and he became adept at handling conflict as he faced issues such as racial tension and staunch fundamentalism at various congregations. Despite the occasional difficulty with church members, Ray enjoyed preaching and especially liked to work with young people. While preaching in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana, Ray decided to again become a student himself. He enrolled at Indiana University to pursue his degree in history. By 1963, Ray had earned both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree. While in graduate school, Ray had the opportunity to attend the lectureships at Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, and he decided that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his career as a full-time preacher. Ray dreamed of teaching history at the college level and was rewarded with an offer from Harding in 1964.

Ray quickly immersed himself in academia, teaching five classes in his first semester. In addition, he preached each Sunday for a small congregation about an hour north of Searcy. When Dr. Clifton Ganus, Jr., became the president of Harding in 1965, the position of history department chairman was offered to Ray. He eagerly accepted the nomination; he would be department chair for the remaining twenty-nine years of his career.

With the added responsibility of department chair, Ray knew he would have to pursue a doctor’s degree, a process he began in 1966. He took a leave of absence that school year to pursue his studies at the University of Mississippi. In 1971, a milestone year for Ray, he became an elder at the College Church of Christ in Searcy, successfully defended his dissertation, and earned his first Distinguished Teacher Award at Harding.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Ray continued to be an avid reader, not only for his classes but also for personal enjoyment. He also added writing to his repertoire with the publication of two books, several entries in encyclopedias and scholarly publications, and many historical and religious articles. Ray’s most successful book, Sex and Marriage in Utopian Communities: 19th Century America, was based on his dissertation. The book examined family life in utopian communities and argued against the view that marriage should be a changing social institution to reflect the times. Ray’s book was a subtle reminder that God’s plan for marriage is far superior to any man-made ideas about this sacred covenant. As a result of his achievement with the book, Ray was asked to participate in an international conference on the topic in Tel Aviv and there presented a workshop on the importance of the family.

As the book describes Ray’s prosperous career at Harding, especially throughout the 1980s, it also makes no secret of the fact that that same decade was a tumultuous one for the Muncy family. The Muncy’s only daughter, Kandy, who had struggled with identity issues all her life, committed suicide in 1983. The chapter on Kandy’s death gives the reader a glimpse into the anguish Ray must have felt as a dedicated Christian father whose daughter saw suicide as the only solution to her problems. Yet despite his agony and inner turmoil, Ray remained the spiritual leader of his family, encouraging them not to blame others or themselves for the tragedy. Within a year Ray would again face a family crisis as his oldest son, David, struggled through a painful divorce. During his son’s divorce, Ray considered stepping down from his position as an elder but was surrounded with support from his fellow elders at the College Church and decided to retain his leadership position. Although Kandy’s death and David’s divorce were devastating to Ray, he showed the depth of his character as he entrusted both situations to God and grew even stronger in his faith.

In his later years, Ray’s family experiences brightened as he was able to spend more time with his wife, three sons, and five grandchildren. He also continued to relish his teaching and was instrumental in implementing Harding’s honor’s program. Unfortunately, Ray’s health gradually began to decline, and in the spring of 1993 he retired as history department chair. A few bouts with heart trouble followed in the fall of 1993, but Ray continued to teach through the fall semester. He had several heart surgeries during the Christmas holidays, but to no avail. Ray died in early January 1994.

Making History, much more than just a biography of Ray Muncy’s life, shows that even men of great faith can and will endure many hardships in life. The book gives hope to those who struggle to balance their personal and professional lives as it shows how one man learned to triumph in both areas by seeking God’s kingdom above all else. As Ray Muncy’s life showed, that is the secret to making and writing a lasting history.

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