The Politics of Evangelical Magazines

The kerfuffle over Christianity Today got us thinking: How often have evangelical magazines gone out on a political limb? And what happened when they did?

First, the basics: Outgoing editor Mark Galli got people’s attention yesterday when he called for the impeachment and removal of Trump. As Galli wrote,

the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

Some observers wondered if this statement by a leading evangelical publication signaled a “crack in the wall of Trump evangelical support.”

Trump’s evangelical supporters didn’t seem to think so. Conservative stalwarts such as Franklin Graham blasted CT‘s statement, saying his father, CT-founder Billy Graham, “would be embarrassed.”

trump et

Taking a bold stand against aliens…or Entertainment Tonight.

True to form, Trump himself blasted the decision in confusing and seemingly uninformed ways. He called CT a “far left magazine” and concluded that he “won’t be reading ET [sic] again.”

SAGLRROILYBYGTH already know all that. What they might not know is the history of political statements by leading evangelical magazines. From my Fundamentalist U research, I pulled up an example from the twentieth century.

Back in 1957, Billy Graham started a similar political firestorm among the white evangelical community by integrating his revival meetings. Based at Biola University in Los Angeles, the popular evangelical magazine King’s Business came out in favor of integration.

Editor Lloyd Hamill made clear in a scathing editorial in November, 1957, that King’s Business supported racial integration. As Hamill put it,

Graham was only proclaiming what the Bible plainly teaches. . . . No Spirit-controlled Christian can escape the solid fact that all men are equal in God’s sight.  Integration is not only the law of our nation, it is also the plain teaching of the Bible.

Another writer wrote in the same issue,

Now and then you hear some Christian say, ‘I don’t want any Negroes or Mexicans in my church.’  In whose church?  Christ paid for the Church with His precious blood and some saints seem to think because they put an offering in the plate on Sunday they have bought the Church back.

Bold words for the world of white evangelicalism in 1957. And predictably, the president’s office of Biola University was immediately flooded with mail. A few white evangelicals agreed with Hamill. But by a factor of about ten to one, the readers expressed their outrage.

earnestine ritterHamill did not back down. He pointed out that the offices of King’s Business did not only advocate racial integration, they practiced it. As Hamill noted in the following issue,

As a matter of record The King’s Business has had a Negro on the editorial staff for nearly a year.  She is Earnestine Ritter who has studied journalism at New York University and Los Angeles State College.

What happened? Hamill was fired. Biola President Samuel Sutherland apologized to Billy Graham for the “very foolish letters [Hamill] wrote and statements which he made.”

Mark Galli won’t be intimidated. He already planned to retire soon. But the controversy unleashed by his anti-Trump editorial is far from the first time an evangelical editor has tried to push the needle among evangelical Americans.


The Year in ILYBYGTH

I wasn’t going to do it. I was going to try awkwardly to maintain my dignity and refrain from any sort of year-end top-ten list. But then a couple of enforcers from the WordPress goon squad showed up and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

So here it is: The eleven most popular posts of 2018:

  1. What is Life Like at Evangelical Colleges? Reflections from alumni of “Fundamentalist U.” What was it like to attend different schools in different decades? How did evangelical higher ed shape these students’ lives?
  2. Billy Graham and Bob Jones From the archives, a look at the tempestuous and angry relationship between teacher and former student.

    Billy Graham

    RIP Billy Graham, here preaching to the multitudes in London, 1954.

  3. Crisis at Moody Bible Institute From way back in January 2018, a look at the ways the history of fundamentalist higher ed in the early 1900s set the pattern for the recent leadership shake-up at Chicago’s storied Bible school.
  4. The Dilemma of the Fundamentalist Intellectual An ugly story of resume inflation is par for the course in the world of fundamentalist academic life. Why?
  5. The Myth of Evangelical Political History Just Won’t Die: It doesn’t seem to matter that historians have punctured this story completely. Journalists still love it, probably because a lot of evangelicals love it.
  6. Christians Don’t Know Christianity: Are Christians supposed to actually believe Christian doctrine? Or only hold it as a personal preference? religion as personal belief
  7. Where Were You Radicalized? A simple question on Tweeter gets people thinking, but there’s one place no one seemed to be talking about.
  8. Evangelical Colleges Aren’t Teaching Christianity A professor complains that her students don’t know Christian orthodoxy. I lay out the historical case that this is nothing new in evangelical higher education.
  9. Bad News for Creationists Science just makes young-earth creationism harder and harder to believe. What will YECs do? I have a guess…



  10. How Did Christian Colleges Become Racist? I made the case for an under-suspected culprit behind the racism of white evangelicals: mainstream higher education.
  11. Is Creationism Hate Speech? Can–SHOULD–mainstream universities ban radical young-earth creationism because it is hateful to non-heterosexuals?

History by Design

No more Helen Keller! Out goes Hillary Clinton! The Texas state school board conducted another purge of its history curriculum recently. It’s tempting to see this as another right-wing curricular coup, but the winners and losers are a little more complicated. I gotta ask: Is this really the way we want to choose our history lessons?

Here’s what we know: The Dallas Morning News reported on the recent conclusions of the Texas state board of education. SAGLRROILYBYGTH may remember other famous flaps on the board as captured by the fascinating documentary The Revisionaries. Back in 2012, conservatives on the board cut out “hip-hop” and inserted “country music” on the list of essential school knowledge. They wanted more Reagan, more NRA, and more conservatism in general.

These battles aren’t limited to Texas. Back in the 1990s, when Gary Nash and his colleagues tried to introduce new national history standards, they were accused of left-wing indoctrination. As one US senator complained, their suggested standards had more Bart Simpson than George Washington.

Today’s board has cut the requirement that schools teach about Helen Keller and Hillary Clinton. But they have also cut conservative icon Barry Goldwater. Plus, they have inserted stronger language that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War.

How did these decisions get made? A work group was tasked with evaluating historical persons and terms according to a list of questions. As the Dallas Morning News reported,

The 15-member work group came up with a rubric for grading every historical figure to rank who is “essential” to learn and who isn’t. The formula asked questions like, “Did the person trigger a watershed change”; “Was the person from an underrepresented group”; and “Will their impact stand the test of time?”

Out of 20 points, Keller scored a 7 and Clinton scored a 5.

By way of comparison, “Texas Rangers” got 16 points and “local members of the Texas Legislature” got 20. The state board didn’t have to honor these recommendations. For example, the work group recommended the removal of Billy Graham (4 points) but the state board decided to keep him.

So here’s the real question: Why are history lists composed this way? Why do political boards compile list of essential terms and facts that teachers must teach, even if no student really learns them?

Penn Puzzles: Why No BGU?

I’m back in Philadelphia to get back into the archives for my new book. And the trip has reminded me of a great question that never got an answer: Why isn’t there a Billy Graham University?Billy graham university meme

Last time I was down here, I got to sit in on Jon Zimmerman’s history of higher-ed seminar. They had read Fundamentalist U and I was happy to talk with the students about it. One of the students raised the question and it has bothered me ever since.

After all, it did seem to be a pretty standard part of the revivalists’ resume. Moody had Moody Bible Institute. Billy Sunday had Winona Lake. William Bell Riley started Northwestern. Bob Jones had, well, Bob Jones. The list goes on and on. Falwell-Liberty; Oral Roberts-Oral Roberts; Robertson-Regent.

So why is there no Billy Graham University?

Billy Graham Center 1

Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center

One possibility is that Wheaton has functioned as the de facto BGU. The Billy Graham Center is there, and the connection is pretty tight.

Maybe we’ll see a repeat of the Bryan University story. Back in 1925, after the sudden death of William Jennings Bryan in the immediate aftermath of the Scopes trial, fundamentalists rallied to open a college in Bryan’s memory. Some wanted it in Chicago; some wanted it to be a junior college. In the end, Bryan’s widow won the day with her plea to open the new school in Dayton, Tennessee. The junior-college idea was rejected in favor of a traditional liberal-arts university.

Is it possible that we’ll see a similar push for a memorial BGU?

Fundamentalists Forget their Furious Family Feud

Maybe there’s hope for every family feud. The death of Billy Graham last week inspired an outpouring of love and respect from people whose fundamentalist forefathers loathed Graham’s revivals. Creationist impresario Ken Ham, for example, never one to water down his fundamentalist faith, had nothing but praise for Graham’s ministry. The archives tell a much different story.

Some of today’s no-compromise conservatives seem to have forgotten the legacy of their fundamentalist forefathers. Ken Ham, for example, praised Graham’s evangelistic outreach. As a child he listened to a Graham rally in Australia. As Ham recalled,

I remember people going forward in this church after listening to him and committing their lives to Christ.

Of course, it’s never kosher to speak evil of the dead. Ken Ham, however, lauded the whole body of Graham’s evangelistic outreach, from the 1950s through today. Ham included no whisper of accusation about Graham’s work.

Does he not know the backstory? Or have fundamentalists given up their ferocious feelings about Graham’s revivals in the 1950s?

Cover art final

Yes, there is a place to read the full story…

To be sure, Graham’s passing has attracted some criticism from intellectuals. Historian Matthew Avery Sutton blasted Graham’s reactionary politics. D.G. Hart recalls the fact that many conservative Protestants were “not exactly wild about Graham’s ministry.”

The epochal anger and denunciations sparked by Graham’s outreach, however, seem to have been forgotten by some latter-day fundamentalists themselves.

I look into this history in my new book about evangelical higher education. In a nutshell, Graham’s revivals split the conservative evangelical community. The sticking point was follow-up. At Graham’s hugely popular services, audience members who felt Jesus’s call were put in touch with a sponsoring church. Those churches included more liberal Protestant churches as well as more conservative ones.

Fundamentalists worried that Graham’s preaching was leading souls directly into the pit of hell, by sending them to false churches to learn poisoned theology. These fears weren’t limited to a few right-wing wackos; they were a prominent part of conservative evangelical thinking in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

In 1963, for example, Samuel Sutherland of Biola University denounced Billy Graham. To a correspondent who accused Sutherland of cooperating with Billy Graham, Sutherland wrote,

I do appreciate the truth found in the Word of God which Billy Graham proclaims.  We appreciate also the souls that are saved and who find their way to Bible-believing churches and thus are nurtured in our most holy faith.  We deplore quite definitely, and have said so publicly, that there are so many doctrinally questionable individuals who are identified in prominent ways with the campaign and we are disappointed beyond words in the knowledge that so many of those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ at the crusades will doubtless find their way into churches where the Word of God is not proclaimed and where they will not have a chance to know what the Gospel is all about or what it means, actually, to be born-again.  I am with you.

In 1971, one outraged fundamentalist wrote to Moody Bible Institute President William Culbertson to express his disgust at the Graham crusades. As he put it, the Graham crusades only sent people into false churches, such as “Luthern” [sic], “Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, etc.”

anti culbertson anti graham letter 1

Fundamentalists didn’t like Billy Graham…

For a fundamentalist, that was a serious accusation.

Such accusations flew fast and furious around the world of fundamentalist higher education. The magazine of Biola University ran one typical reader letter in 1958. Reader Dorothy Rose condemned Graham as a false Christian and a servant of world communism. Rose warned (falsely) that Graham had been expelled from two “outstanding, sound Bible colleges.” As Rose wrote direly,

It is easy to be popular with the high-ups and with the press if we are willing to compromise.  But what is the cost spiritually?

No one denounced Graham more fiercely than Graham’s former mentor Bob Jones Sr. In 1958, for example, Jones wrote to a fundamentalist ally,

No real, true, loyal, Bible friend of Bob Jones University can be for the Billy Graham sponsorship . . . . [Billy Graham is] doing more spiritual harm than any living man.

Fundamentalists have come a long way. When it comes to the legacy of Billy Graham at least, no-compromise conservatives seem to have forgiven, or more likely, forgotten the divisive nature of Graham’s ministry.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another busy week: Here are some ILYBYGTH-themed stories that came across our desk recently:

Can a creationist parent successfully sue a school district for teaching evolution? Not in PA, at NCSE.


Words, words, words…

Are international students a higher-ed security threat? FBI director says yes, at IHE.

Conservative college professor to conservative UCLA students: Don’t invite Milo, at WS.

“Any reasonable person will agree…” At HXA, Musa Al-Gharbi points out that reasonable people are actually better at disagreeing, with three suggestions for better cross-culture-war communication.

How Protestantism shaped the modern world: An interview with Alec Ryrie at R&P.

Was this the most gruesome battle in human history?

RIP Billy Graham, at CNN.

What’s wrong with Black History Month? At The Progressive.

School shootings:

Ted Cruz: The Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson. GOP is for Homer, Marge, Bart, and Maggie. At USA Today, HT: BM.

What’s wrong with standardizing student assessment at colleges? Molly Worthen tees off at NYT.Bart reading bible

West Virginia teachers go on strike, at CNN.

How Liberalism Failed: Albert Mohler interviews Patrick Deneen.

Conservatives need to confront campus radicalism, by Noah Rothman at Commentary.

Billy Graham and Bob Jones

The news is in: Billy Graham has passed away at age 99. I’m not among his evangelical followers, but over the past several years I’ve gotten to know Billy Graham as I’ve worked on my new book about evangelical higher education.

Billy Graham

Graham preaching to the multitudes, London 1954.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Graham became the embodiment of a new spirit among American fundamentalists. He reached out to other Protestants to help lead big revival services all across the world. Some fundamentalists thought he went too far. (For details, check out my archival survey of fundamentalist fury about Graham’s revival successes.) As I note in my book, Bob Jones Sr. in particular had a long and tempestuous relationship with Graham.

Graham had started his college career at Bob Jones College. After a year, though, Graham left, ending up with an anthropology major from Wheaton. Jones and Graham kept in close contact and their correspondence is the best single source I’ve found to understand the rift between fundamentalists and new-evangelicals.

By the 1950s, Jones actively warned fundamentalists not to trust Graham or any institution that welcomed Graham. Jones’s letters show both the reasons and the personal anguish involved. Below I’ll quote from a five-page single-spaced letter Jones wrote to Graham in 1951.

                Here is the difference between your mistakes and mine: My mistakes grew out of the way I did things because I did not know how to do them.  After I got the right kind of advice, I quit making them.  Your mistakes have not grown out of your lack of information or your inability to get information.  Your mistakes have grown out of the fact that you are not building your evangelistic campaigns on the right foundation and the right principles.  Billy, if you build a house on the right foundation, the storms and wind may blow that house down, but you do not have to ever rebuild the foundation. . . .

In your heart, you love Jesus, and you are happy to see people saved; but your love for glamour and your ambition (which is the strongest ambition I have ever known any man in evangelistic work to have) and your desire to please everybody are so dominant in your life that you are staggering from one side of the road to the other. . . . You, in your effort to please, are putting yourself on the spot. . . .

Most of the material that goes out about you, you put out. . . .

I could tell you much more, Billy; but it does not do any good to talk to you.  You will agree with a fellow, but you go on just as you are, and that is the discouraging thing about it. . . .

You are popular like any showman is popular, but you have no real grasp upon the hearts of the people like Billy Sunday and other men had. . . .

[When you were young, you begged me] to call you one of my boys and told me that you got your slant on evangelism at Bob Jones  University.  My evangelistic heart was touched, and I put about you the arms of evangelistic affection.  I came back here to the school and told everybody that you were one of our boys.  I did not tell them what kind of a record you made here.  I took at face value what you said about going to Florida because of your health.  I asked all of our boys to pray for you.  I asked my friends to pray for you.  Remember, Billy, that was before you made the headlines. . . .

you began to think that probably the best thing for you was at least on certain occasions and in certain places not to let people know that you were here [as a student at Bob Jones College] and that, as you had said, you got your slant on evangelism here.  So you began to sort of soft pedal. . . .

Now that you are in the headlines, the fact that I ever said that you were one of our boys because you told me to, and people know about that, and you cover it up gives the idea that we are trying to hang on to your coat tail because you are in the headlines; but we are not, Billy. . . .

I still love you…

What Unbroken Leaves Out

**SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet read Unbroken or seen the recent movie, you might want to skip this. But it’s so interesting, you’ll be sorry.**

Unbroken?...or Un-Finished?

Unbroken?…or Un-Finished?

What is the takeaway message from the life of Louis Zamperini, subject of the new film Unbroken? The power of resilience? The unplumbed depths of human courage?

…or is it the healing power of Protestant fundamentalism?

In the pages of World Magazine, Cal Thomas asks an intriguing question: Why did the recent film leave out the central role played in Zamperini’s life by the fundamentalist revival of Billy Graham?

When protagonist Louis Zamperini returned home from his hellish ordeals at sea and in Japanese prison camps, he struggled with alcoholism and depression. As the original book by Laura Hillenbrand makes very clear, Zamperini overcame these demons through fundamentalist faith. After attending a 1949 revival by fundamentalist preacher Billy Graham, Zamperini turned his life around.

This conversion was not an incidental part of Zamperini’s story. Zamperini, we could say, gave America a powerful demonstration of the healing power of a particular brand of fundamentalist Protestantism. But that is not the way celebrity director Angelina Jolie saw it. Thomas wants to know why Jolie left that part out. As Thomas puts it,

it is puzzling why Jolie, who directed the film, and the Coen brothers, who wrote it, left out the most important part of Zamperini’s story.

Not only is Zamperini’s conversion a central part of his life story, it reflects the power of a specifically fundamentalist religion. Some readers may be more familiar with Billy Graham’s later work, when Graham had begun to articulate a kinder, gentler evangelical faith. In the 1940s, however, at the time of Zamperini’s conversion, Graham’s crusades packed a firmly fundamentalist punch. Not just theologically, either, but politically.

In his 1940s campaigns, for instance, the message of conversion was wrapped in a conservative anti-communist package. At the blockbuster Rose Bowl campaign of 1950, for example, theologian Harold Ockenga introduced Graham’s sermon as “The Answer to Communist Aggression.”

And just as Billy Graham was helping Zamperini defeat his demons, Graham insisted on his loyalty to the fundamentalist message. Though later a split developed between the most conservative fundamentalists and Graham’s famous crusades, that split had not yet developed by 1949. At that time, Graham loudly proclaimed his loyalty to the fundamentalist message. In a 1949 letter to staunch fundamentalist leader Bob Jones Sr., for example, Graham called Jones the

model toward which we are patterning our lives. Your counsel means more to me than that of any individual in the nation.

During the late 1940s, Billy Graham remained a staunch fundamentalist partisan. The message that saved Zamperini was not just one of generic Christian healing, but one of specifically fundamentalist rigor. In this one famous case, at least, we can see the ways fundamentalism’s unyielding moral stance pulled a suffering soul out of a personal hell.

We can’t help but echo Cal Thomas’s question: Why didn’t Angelina Jolie include this part? Jolie no longer returns my calls, but I can’t help but think that she might have some aversion toward fundamentalism.

I’m no fundamentalist myself. American fundamentalism has its share of skeletons in its closets, as we’ve explored here at ILYBYGTH. It may be fair to accuse the latter-day followers of Bob Jones Sr., for example, of terrible misconduct. But if we really want to be fair, shouldn’t we also acknowledge the ways that fundamentalism has saved lives?

Jesus in Uniform

Can US military officers be required to sign a conservative evangelical statement of faith? That’s the question posed by the Wheaton College Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. And it unearths broader questions about the proper relationship between the military and fundamentalist religion. Can fundamentalists serve as military chaplains?

Christianity Today reports on the investigation into Wheaton’s ROTC program. At Wheaton, faculty members above the rank of assistant professor are required to sign on to Wheaton’s conservative statement of faith. Recently, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained that ROTC officers at Wheaton, who are paid and appointed by the US government, are required to be “of Christian faith.”

According to the CT article, legal experts had differing opinions. One thought that the Wheaton rule passed constitutional muster, since the ROTC program required all professors at all schools to meet their schools’ policies. Another argued, in contrast, that the current situation represented an unconstitutional attempt to “Christianize” the ROTC program.

For Christ, Kingdom...and the Rolling Thunder Battalion?

For Christ, Kingdom…and the Rolling Thunder Battalion?

This report made me wonder about other military questions. In my recent trip to the archives of Bob Jones University, I discovered to my surprise that BJU had pursued an aggressive policy of finding spots for its seminary graduates in military chaplaincies. The fundamentalist school had used its considerable influence in the US government to grease the pipeline from the BJU seminary into military positions.

Now, I admit my vast ignorance about the role of chaplains in the US military. Most of what I know about a chaplain’s job comes from watching MASH. I earnestly invite those who know more to weigh in here. But the notion that BJU was sending its graduates into chaplain positions made me wonder.

As I understand it—and once again I freely admit that I don’t know much about it—the role of a military chaplain in the US armed services is to provide two things: religious services for those who desire them, and religious counseling for all.

Throughout the 1960s, at least, when significant numbers of BJU-trained ministers entered the chaplaincy, the school taught a rigid separatism. That is, a key religious tenet of BJU’s fundamentalist faith was that believers must not support the work of heretics. In the world of American fundamentalism, those “heretics” represented not only Jews, Muslims, and Catholics, but even liberal Protestants.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this doctrine of separatism came with when the Bob Joneses denounced the headline-grabbing crusades of Billy Graham in the 1950s and 1960s. Graham agreed to co-sponsor those mass meetings with liberal Protestant groups. When enthusiastic attendees saw the light, they were sent to various churches to learn more about their new or renewed faith. And that was the problem for the leaders of Bob Jones University.

As they made clear time and time again, Bob Jones Sr. and Jr. never had a personal problem with Billy Graham. But in their opinion, sending new Christians to liberal Protestant churches meant sending them to hell. Real Christians, the Bob Joneses argued, could and should work with non-real Christians and other heretics on political issues. But they must not work together on religious issues, since endorsing heretics meant endorsing heresy.

With separatism such a guiding element of BJU theology, it seems to me that BJU-trained chaplains would be putting themselves in a very difficult position. If their jobs require that they respect the faiths of their military “flocks”—even if they don’t agree with those faiths—but their own faith requires that they DON’T respect those heretical faiths, what are chaplains to do?

I could see how some fundamentalist pastors would see their non-fundamentalist troops as a sort of “mission field.” That is, fundamentalist chaplains could see their goal as the ultimate conversion of non-fundamentalist soldiers. But that would put those chaplains at odds with the US military. As a governmental body, the military needs to respect all faiths (or no faith) equally.

On the other hand, I could see how some fundamentalist pastors might agree to respect the home faiths of their troops, whatever those faiths might be. But especially at the ferociously separatist Bob Jones University, that would put those chaplains in an equally untenable situation. They might be implicitly endorsing those faiths by working with non-fundamentalists on an equal basis.

Things are fuzzy enough in the world of religion and public schooling. These military questions raise an entirely new field of fuzz. Perhaps Wheaton College can make a case that its ROTC policy is constitutional. But how can fundamentalist pastors serve as military chaplains?

Required Reading: Growing Up Un-Absurd with The Sword of the Lord

How can we get along with fundamentalists if we don’t embrace fundamentalism?  More specifically, how can we tolerate religious people who will not tolerate others?

Many voluble ex-fundamentalists out there (see a few examples here and here) wrestle with this question.  Some are angry, some bemused, some both.

Andrew Himes’ Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family (Seattle: Chiara Press, 2011),  offers a unique vision into the world of both fundamentalism and ex-fundamentalism.

Himes is the grandson of John R. Rice.  He was born in 1950 into one of the leading families of post-World War II fundamentalism.  The Reverend Rice led the branch of separatist, revival-based conservative Protestant evangelicalism, the branch that clung resolutely to the label ‘fundamentalist.’  In this sense, Himes’ meaning of ‘fundamentalism’ differs from the broader, cultural traditionalist definition we use at ILYBYGTH.

Himes broke bitterly with his family tradition in high school, but over the years, he came to embrace a more complicated relationship with his family’s vision of fundamentalism.  As Himes puts it, his grandfather remained “one of the kindest, funniest, and most honorable people I knew.”  But Rice also embraced “downright silly” notions of cultural separatism—no card playing, no movies, no short hair for women.  Even worse, Himes argues, his grandfather supported racial injustice in America and imperialist injustices in Southeast Asia. (5) The central dilemma for Himes is the same as it is for ILYBYGTH: How can we love someone whose ideas and policies seem so radically different from our own?

In his attempt to understand fundamentalism and his family, Himes tells the long story of evangelicalism in American history.  Indeed, those familiar with American religious history can safely skip the second and third parts of Himes’ tale.  Himes writes with an engaging style, weaving his own experiences into this long history.  However, his reliance on secondary sources leads him to make a few minor errors.  For instance, he repeats the story that John Scopes of the 1925 “monkey” trial had been teaching evolution for years, (179) when in fact Scopes had a very tenuous record of classroom teaching at all.  Also, Himes overstates the novelty of the Scopes trial in 1925. (180)  By that time, the notion of a media-grabbing “Trial of the Century” had been pioneered by the experiences of dramatic stories like Leopold and Loeb.  These are minor missteps in a tale that sweeps centuries of American history.  However, Himes’ book is also marred somewhat by a number of distracting typos and unclear footnotes.

These quibbles aside, Sword of the Lord is a great introduction to the world of separatist “Big-F” fundamentalism in the later twentieth century.  ILYBYGTH readers will likely appreciate several contributions of Himes’ work.

First of all, the intimate world of John R. Rice offers an eye-opening perspective into life in fundamentalist America.  To cite just one example, Himes tells the story of his childhood spent with colorful evangelists such as C.B. “Red” Smith and Apostle the Premillennial Horse.  This passage is so revealing I’ll quote it at length:

The summer after I turned 12 [c. 1962], C. B. “Red” Smith came to the Bill Rice Ranch and brought along Apostle the Premillennialist Horse.  On the first night of the camp meeting in the open-air tabernacle at the Ranch, Brother Smith himself stepped up to the pulpit and led the singing for the first gospel song.  He was a tall man with curly brown hair, a pink, whiskerless face, and laugh wrinkles around his eyes.  He tilted back his head on the high notes and pointed his chin down at the floor on the low notes, and held back nothing.

            “When we ALLLL get to heaven,” sang Brother Smith, “what a DAY of rejoicing that will BE!  When we ALLLLL see Jesus, we’ll SING and SHOUT the victorEEEEE!”. . .

            “We’ve got a guest speaker in the house tonight,” said Brother Smith with a big grin that showed off a gold-capped tooth.  “He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s come all the way from Jonesboro, Arkansas.” . . .

“Please allow me to introduce Apostle the Premillennialist Horse,” said Brother Smith with a twinkle in his eye.  “Apostle, say hello to all the folks out here.” . . .

            “All right now, Apostle,” said Brother Smith, “what’s our chapter and verse for tonight?”

            Apostle tossed his head, then picked up his right forefoot and stomped deliberately, four times in a row. . . . Apostle shook his head, cocked his ears as if considering, then began stomping his foot again, with Brother Smith counting right along with him: “One, two, three . . . fourteen, fifteen sixteen! Amen!  So that’s Thessalonians chapter four, verse sixteen, is it Apostle?” . . .

            My great-uncle Bill Rice stepped up to the pulpit, waved to the woman seated at the piano, and launched into a spirited rendition of an old revival favorite: “Give me that old-time religion, give me that old-time religion, give me that old-time religion, it’s good enough for me!”

In addition to this kind of illuminating vignette of life growing up in a fundamentalist family, Himes also illustrates the difficulties of changing cultural identities.  For Himes, rejecting fundamentalism meant more than an intellectual decision.  It was more than a theological awakening.  He remembers spending teenaged hours “staring at the animals in the Racine [Wisconsin] Zoo behind rusting iron bars in their drab concrete cages.  I woke in the early morning hours crying piteously, half-remembering the fragments of a dream in which lost souls were dying and God was among the missing.”  (141)

In his youth, Himes swung to the opposite cultural pole, embracing Maoism and leftist radicalism.  In the end, he concluded that he had only “traded in one form of fundamentalism for another, equally rigid, dogmatic, and wrongheaded.” (294)  As a teenager, though, Himes’ transformation pushed him into a “deep pit of self-righteousness and suicidal despair.” (266)

Finally, Himes’ book offers a sympathetic yet critical biography of Himes’ grandfather John R. Rice.  Himes implies that Rice’s doctrinal rigidity may have been a result of his hardscrabble origins.  After all, a childhood spent motherless, left alone to tend for stock animals every year at Christmas, might have led to what Himes calls Rice’s childhood “fear of death and hell—an unsaved boy confronting the terrors of solitude and unknown dangers in a little house under the arc of the great Texas skies.” (105)  That kind of analysis may make sense in Rice’s case, but it doesn’t help us understand the strength and durability of separatist fundamentalism in America.  After all, many ardent fundamentalists had no such childhood, yet they embrace a strict doctrinal orthodoxy.

Childhood trauma aside, Himes offers a fascinating glimpse into his grandfather’s intellectual world.  For instance, Rice was a relative moderate on issues such as race.  In Rice’s time and place, that meant an eventual disavowal of the vigilantism of the Ku Klux Klan.  It meant an insistence that God created all people equally.  But it did not include an embrace of social equality or of the Civil Rights Movement.  As Himes describes, Rice condemned the grisly murder of Emmett Till as a result of interfering activist African Americans. (258)

Rice was also a firm cultural traditionalist, insisting consistently on traditional family life, aggressive anti-communist foreign policies, and anti-abortion activism.  Finally, Himes chronicles the many splits and dissensions among conservative evangelical Protestants.  Rice eventually broke with Billy Graham over Graham’s ecumenism.  Later, Bob Jones Jr. broke with Rice for Rice’s willingness to be yoked with non-fundamentalists.

Those hoping to get the flavor of life in this fundamentalist subculture would do well to read Himes’ book.  By the time of his writing, Himes had overcome much of his bitterness against his grandfather’s faith.  Himes succeeds in his effort to paint a loving portrait without endorsing his grandfather’s ideas.