Dr. Edwin Luther Copeland


Dr. Edwin Luther Copeland, missionary, educator, scholar, beloved husband and father, died on November 19, 2011, in Raleigh. Born on January 24, 1916 in Drennan, West Virginia, he was the eighth of nine children born to Luther Lowell Copeland and Nannie Hurt Copeland. He learned to read at age three, made a profession of faith at age five, and was baptized at age eleven. After high school, he worked for seven years with his father and older brother in the logging industry.

In 1940, Dr. Copeland entered Mars Hill College to prepare for the Christian ministry. He followed his AA degree in 1942 with a B.A. from Furman University in 1944, a Th.M. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1946, and a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1949. He married Louise Tadlock in 1946.

He served as a Southern Baptist missionary to Japan from 1949 to 1956, holding the positions of Chancellor of Seinan Gakuin University, Professor of History of Christianity, and Associate Pastor of Seinan Gakuin Baptist Church. Returning to the United States in 1956, Dr. Copeland took a position as Professor of Christian Missions and World Religions at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. A strong advocate of ecumenism, he participated in the efforts of the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States from 1965 to 1975.

In 1975, Dr. Copeland was re-appointed as a missionary to Japan, where he resumed his positions at Seinan Gakuin as pastor, professor, and chancellor, from 1976 to 1980. At the end of his term, he returned to the United States and served as a Visiting Professor of Missions at numerous Baptist seminaries and universities.

A prolific writer, Dr. Copeland published widely on world religions and world missions, the importance of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, the history of the Baptist denomination, the ethical crises facing Christianity and missions, and the importance of social justice. Among his publications are The Southern Baptist Convention and the Judgment of History, The New Meeting of the Religions and Theological Questioning, and his autobiography, Memoirs of a Geezer: From the Timberwoods and Back.

Deeply involved in the Civil Rights movements, Dr. Copeland also advocated for women in the Baptist ministry. He was proud to have participated in the ordination of Addie Davis, the first woman ordained as a Southern Baptist pastor. At the time of his death he was a member of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, NC.

Dr. Copeland is survived by his beloved wife, Louise, and five children: Judy Copeland, Joy Lineback and husband, Larry, Beth Copeland and husband, Phil Rech, Rebecca Copeland, and Luke Copeland; six grandchildren: Sarah Vargo, Michael Lineback and wife, Sumi, Joseph Vargo, David Lineback, Hannah Copeland, and Ella Copeland; and cherished nephews, nieces, and cousins.

Memorial service will be held on Saturday, December 3, 2011, at 2 pm, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, NC. The family will receive friends immediately following the service in Finlator Hall at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church. The family expresses deepest appreciation to the members of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Raleigh, and the staff at Hospice of Wake County and at Litchford Falls Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center for the care and attention they provided Dr. Copeland. Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice of Wake County, Inc, or to Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

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