whatever happened to C. Sumner Wemp?
Sumner Wemp was Vice President for Spiritual Development at Liberty in the late Eighties; I didn’t realize this at the time, but he had not only been involved in the ministry since almost the beginning, but he left in the late Eighties, about the time I left.
Here’s Wemp’s own timeline; he doesn’t break down his history neatly, but he was at Southeastern Bible College for just a couple of years (1969-1971) and he was at Liberty for 17 years, so he must have left Liberty in 1988 or 1989. Not only does he have a website with sermons available for download, there’s also a blog, which appears to be a fan site, since the authorial voice refers to Wemp in the third person.
We’re sorry to hear that his wife of sixty-plus years, Celeste, died earlier this month.
Wemp was something of a puzzle for me during my days at Liberty. He was clearly very important to the ministry, having been there since Liberty started, and he was the walking example of the preferred way for Liberty students and graduates to do evangelism. He was also full of war stories of how he met a stranger on a plane and before they landed in Charlotte or wherever the person was praying the Sinner’s Prayer. Unfortunately during my time there I heard several stories about him having run-ins with students, in which he came across as brittle, angry, authoritarian, and generally unpleasant. He didn’t appreciate students asking questions in his class; he had a reputation for dressing people down in public for relatively minor infractions.
I never encountered his wrath personally; I once made the mistake of bumping a loose railing during a chapel service where Wemp was speaking, causing the railing support to fall into its socket and make a loud noise; Wemp gave a look in my general direction that suggested that whoever the culprit was he’d interrupted God himself. To be fair it was a loud noise, and I may have caught him on a bad day. Regardless, it left me with the impression that at least at that moment his sunny persona was a patina of joy over some sort of deep smoldering anger. I don’t know what he was going through at the time, and he was in the waning days of his time at Liberty by then.
Most everyone at Liberty of a certain vintage had nothing but good things to say about Sumner Wemp; I have a hard time squaring what I heard second-hand with what I saw first-hand.