Cover photo for Dr. Jack Upchurch Harwell's Obituary
Dr. Jack Upchurch Harwell Profile Photo

Dr. Jack Upchurch Harwell

October 18, 1932 — January 18, 2019

Dr. Jack Upchurch Harwell, prominent Baptist journalist in Georgia, passed away January 18, 2019 at Emory Hospital in Atlanta. He was 86. A native of Mobile, Alabama, he had lived in the metro Atlanta area for most of his adult life.

Harwell was born October 18, 1932, the son of the late Horace and Eleanor Harwell of Mobile. Jack was the second of seven children. 

He was preceded in death by his son Don, and sisters, Eleanor Ann and Marilyn Ruth.

Harwell is survived by his wife, Teliea; son, Ron; four brothers: Hoyt, Mercer, Frank, and Harold; three grandchildren: Kelly, Andrew and Terri, and three great grandchildren.

Harwell was a 1953 graduate of Samford University, where he was Student Government president, lettered in basketball and was a member of Omicron Delta Kappa leadership society.

Jack had completed his stint in the Army and was serving as a public relations specialist at Fort McPherson when he was recruited in 1957 by his mentor, John J. Hurt, to become his associate editor at The Christian Index. Harwell was only 24. He would remain at The Index for the next 30 years, later serving as editor for more than 21 years, the longest tenure of any editor. At that time, The Christian Index, founded in 1822, was the oldest religious newspaper in the United States and enjoyed its largest circulation. Harwell wrote a history of the newspaper which was published in 1972 on its 175th anniversary. 

Harwell was a respected editor, but a controversial one, serving during a time of division in Baptist life over both theological and social issues. Harwell was part of the moderate branch of Southern Baptists that would later break away and form the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. 

Perhaps his greatest editorial was written after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Harwell called him “a noble Baptist leader” who “did more to help his race, and to combat the evil oppression of racism and inequality than any other person in modern times.” He called on Georgia Baptists to be in the forefront in seeking “human equality for all our citizens.” That editorial was re-printed on the front page of The Atlanta Constitution, and while it seems rather mild in the light of today’s attitudes about racism, it was seen by some as rather controversial at the time, and Harwell received obscene phone calls and death threats as a result. 

In 1987 Harwell offered to resign and take early retirement because of the deep division within the Georgia Baptist Convention. The Georgia Baptist Convention meeting in November that year voted overwhelmingly to ask him to reconsider and stay. However, the convention’s Executive Committee, in a close and secret vote, decided not to reconsider his resignation and he was forced into retirement at the end of 1987. 

In 1988, Harwell was elected editor of Baptists Today, a national publication for moderate Baptists. He served in that capacity until his retirement in December, 1997. 

In his later years, Harwell, who always prided himself on being a Baptist layman, gave in to requests that he be ordained by Morrow (GA) First Baptist Church to serve as minister of pastoral care. His wife, Teliea, is the minister of senior Adults and the children’s ministry consultant at the church as well. At the time of his death, he was editor emeritus of Nurturing Faith magazine (formerly Baptists Today) and continued to be an active leader in the Morrow church. 

Many friends and family are mourning the passing of this giant among Georgia Baptists. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 1:00 p.m. at Morrow First Baptist Church with Rev. Dr. William T. Neal officiating. The family will receive visitors at the church at noon prior to the service. In lieu of flowers, family request donations be made to First Baptist Church of Morrow or Nurturing Faith.



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Service Schedule

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Memorial Service

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Starts at 1:00 pm (Eastern time)

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First Baptist Church of Morrow

Lake Harbin Road
Morrow, GA

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