A Tribute To Fanning Yater Tant
Only this month, March 1997, I received word that Yater Tant had passed away after a painful convalescence resulting from a bad fall. Yater was, in my opinion, one of the most capable writers among brethren in the 20th Century. He had been the editor of The Gospel Guardian for many years and then served in the same capacity for another journal called Vanguard. Like his famous father, J. D. Tant, Yater was blunt, independent, unique in his approach to things (almost to the point of eccentricity) and always controversial. He took the unpopular side of the Institutional/Cooperation issues that brethren began to debate in the late 50's on into the 60's. He frequently echoed his father's warning: "Brethren, we are drifting." Brethren held his name in either respect or derision - seldom anything in between. Yater had a profound influence on me as a young preacher. It took me a lot of years to fully appreciate the extent of that influence and the quality of the lessons that I learned from him. And I am not speaking primarily about the influence of his written and spoken words. Please allow me to tell you, briefly, of two important lessons I learned from Yater Tant.
- I learned from Yater not to take myself so seriously and to try to accept criticism with humor and not anger. Being the editor of a controversial paper, he was often the butt of some pretty sharp and even insulting criticism. But I never once witnessed or even heard of him reacting to such with anger or bitterness. Another friend was present at a college lectureship, sitting with Yater in the audience. The speaker, perhaps unaware that Yater was in the audience, was lambasting "The Guardian Boys", in general, and Yater Tant, in particular. The gifted speaker's insulting rhetoric was put in humorous terms to the point that the whole audience was roaring in laughter with each successive point. The brother who related this to me said that he was furious at the conduct of the speaker. But, he looked over at Yater and, to his surprise, Yater was slapping his knee and laughing along with everyone else! He even went up afterwards and told the speaker how much he had enjoyed the speech!
- I learned from Yater the true meaning of loyalty to friends. I did not always agree with Yater. But that disagreement never seemed to have the least bearing on his friendship for me. He would have been the first to admit that he had flaws in his life. One of those flaws, in my opinion, was that he seemed to be blind to the failings of his friends, even when they were obvious to everyone else. But he held on to that friendship like a bulldog, even, sometimes, at great personal and financial expense. I know of one instance in which he endured public vilification from a friend who, because he did not have all the facts, misunderstood Yater's actions. Rather than revealing confidential information that would have been detrimental to his friend's welfare, Yater "ate" the insults and endured this person's scorn for several years before the truth came out and his actions were vindicated. During the intervening years, he continued to speak well of his friend. If a person is going to have flaws, being "too loyal" to friends would be a good one to choose!