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.

From the Archives: The Creationist Dream

What do creationists want? I know, I know, there are lots of different sorts of creationists out there. As a group, though, I think I found a story that might just articulate some of the fondest hopes and dreams of American creationists. There’s a terrible flaw in the story, and I challenge you to find what it is.

For those of you who are just joining us, I’m working on a history of conservative evangelical and “fundamentalist” colleges and universities. This year, thanks to the munificence of the Spencer Foundation, I’m traveling around to different schools to dig into the history of this network. This week, I’m visiting sunny Biola University in Los Angeles.

Biola University (originally the Bible Institute Of Los Angeles, get it?), in addition to its main job of cranking out missionaries and teachers, also published an influential evangelical magazine, The King’s Business. It was in the November 1967 edition that I found this little gem.

The King's Business, November, 1967

The King’s Business, November, 1967

I’ll give you the gist of the article. Then I challenge readers to pick out where this creationist fantasy veers most sharply from reality.

We read the story of Hope, the daughter of a fundamentalist minister. Gathered around the dinner table one night, Hope collapsed into tears. At (public) school that day, she finally confronted her aggressive evolutionist biology teacher, Miss Landon. Hope told her teacher that she didn’t believe in evolution. As she told her parents, “I felt I couldn’t sit there and take it any longer.”

The teacher ridiculed her. “I didn’t suppose,” Miss Landon said in front of the whole class,

anyone living in our enlightened age had such old-fashioned ideas. It surprises me that a person who has had the advantages of a modern educational system can be so narrow-minded. Surely there are not many who believe as you do.

Hope felt humiliated and ashamed. But she stood her ground. At the dinner table, as she sobbed, her father put his hand on her shoulder and said,

huskily, ‘Daughter, it gives us great joy to hear you tell this. Who would have thought that so soon after being saved [two weeks before] you would have an opportunity to witness so boldly to your teacher and classmates?’

Hope felt revived. She prayed hard before going to bed, and felt her dad was right. As a result,

Hope returned to school the next day with a song on her lips as well as in her heart. The Lord Jesus seemed to be walking at her very side and a great peace filled her soul. She felt no fear now of encountering Miss Landon again, even though she might be asked to give further ‘reason for the hope within her.’

Sure enough, the next day her evolution-loving teacher challenged Hope to prove that other students felt the same way. To Miss Landon’s surprise,

Before she had finished speaking, nearly half of the girls were standing. What followed can best be described as an old-fashioned ‘popcorn meeting.’ It seemed that everyone wanted to talk at once. Some were wet-eyed; others, with their arms around Hope, were asking her forgiveness for letting her stand alone. Miss Landon was at a loss to know how to handle the situation. She couldn’t be expected to know, since she had never attended a revival service or been asked to pray for souls under conviction. So she just stood there, helplessly looking on.

Finally it occurred to her that perhaps Hope could handle the group. Hope caught her distressed, appealing look, and in a calm voice said, ‘Let us all kneel in prayer.’

The praying and confessing continued throughout the 40-minute class period and Miss Landon made no effort to stop it. The girls may not have learned any biology that day, but many of them learned to know God in a new and real way.

That’s the story.

Now here’s the challenge: Where is the biggest, most obvious goof in this tale? Where does this creationist dream depart most obviously from the realities of evolution and creationism in American public schools?

Now, before people complain, let me offer a few caveats. First, we all understand that not every creationist hopes to have public schools turn into a “popcorn meeting,” whatever that is. And we know that the hokey tone of this story is more a result of its age than of its creationism. The aw-shucks brand of parenting displayed here would fit in just as well with Ward and June Cleaver as it would with Charles and Grace Fuller.

Given all that, I still assert that this story fails the sniff test. There is one element here that simply screams out “fantasy.”

Is it:

  1. No teacher really feels that gung-ho about teaching evolution.
  2. No student really cares that much about creationism.
  3. No parents would encourage their kid to publicly preach that way in a public school.
  4. There would never be that sort of religious revival in a public school.
  5. A teacher would not likely be that clueless about the religious beliefs of her students.

I’ve got to get back to work now, but I’ll offer my answer soon.