Topics in the News
The Presbyterians and the Auburn Affirmation
The Conflict between Modernism and Traditionalism.
The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (Northern) was deeply split at the turn of the century between conservative traditionalists and those more responsive to changes in biblical scholarship and the surrounding world. The modernists, as they would soon be called, believed it was time for a reexamination of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), which was still the foundation of Presbyterian doctrines. Conservatives not only opposed such a reexamination but saw no reason for it. In 1910, at the close of the annual General Assembly, the conservatives succeeded in adopting a set of five "essential and necessary" doctrines for its ministers. They quickly became known as the Five Points. The Five Points included a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, his substitutionary atonement, his bodily resurrection, and the authenticity of miracles. These were similar to the Five Points of Fundamentalism, although the Fundamentalists substituted the imminent return of Christ for the belief in miracles. Even though the last points were sharply different, the conservatives and the Fundamentalists worked together effectively against their more liberal common enemies during the 1920s.
The Auburn Affirmation.
As the struggle between Fundamentalists and modernists heated up in the...
(The entire section is 589 words.)
Henry Ford and the Dearborn Independent
Henry Ford, Publisher.
In 1919 Henry Ford, the man who put America on wheels with his Model T, purchased The Dearborn Independent, a weekly publication, to present his views to his many admirers. While Ford himself did not exercise direct editorial control over the publication, it reflected his opinions and beliefs.
Perpetuating Old Lies.
In 1920 The Dearborn Independent began a series of articles attacking the alleged power of Jews in the international banking community and their relation to the recent World War, which Ford had bitterly opposed. The articles, later published as The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem (1922), reflected many of the anti-Semitic assumptions of nineteenth-century American rural culture. The Dearborn Independent charged that Jewish financiers had gained control of the money supply and manipulated it to advance their interests. (Ford himself regretted that he had borrowed from eastern banks to finance the expansion of his automobile company and acted as quickly as possible to regain total control over the Ford Motor Company.) The articles went further, charging that these Jewish bankers had pulled the world into the recent World War. The articles culminated by repeating the old lie that Jews were plotting to overthrow Christian civilization.
(The entire section is 981 words.)
The self-assurance of American Protestants reached a high in 1919 as the various leading denominations agreed to cooperate with each other in evangelizing the world. The euphoric optimism that followed the end of World War I convinced many Protestants leaders that now the world was ready for mass conversion. Under the terms of the Interchurch World Movement, the denominations agreed to coordinate their benevolent activities. Among other things, the world's mission fields would be divided among the various denominations to eliminate competition and improve efficiency. In addition, the Interchurch Movement promised to raise $200 million, as a start to fund this effort. The total budget for the next decade was estimated at $1 billion.
The Interchurch World Movement began its fund-raising drive in 1920 using advertising as a basis:
Christ was big, was He not? None bigger.
Christ was busy, was He not? None busier.
He was always about His Father's business.
Christ needs big men for big business.
However, the campaign was a failure. Some denominations declined to cooperate from the beginning. The Southern Baptist Convention refused to permit any agency to stop its missionaries from preaching to anyone anywhere in the world. When the Interchurch Movement...
(The entire section is 397 words.)
The Rise and Retreat of Fundamentalism
The Fundamentalist Challenge.
In the 1920s, to the surprise of many observers, American Protestants returned to issues that had seemingly been resolved decades earlier, and the nation was presented with a series of spectacular clashes between people calling themselves Fundamentalists and their opponents, whom they called modernists. In the early years of the decade the Fundamentalists seemed to be riding high, challenging their opponents for control of denominational machinery and of American culture itself. But they failed to drive their enemies from their denominations, and the farcical aspects of the so-called Scopes "Monkey" Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, along with the weaknesses of Prohibition, signaled their loss in the conflict. The Fundamentalists were forced to the sidelines and obscurity, into a quiescence in which they licked their wounds and prepared for the renewal of the struggle that would come at the end of the century.
In the last decades of the nineteenth century a series of scholarly breakthroughs led to a revolution in the way many people regarded the earth and humanity and how they looked at the Bible. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution provided a way to explain changes in animals and plants over the millions of years of life on the earth. Although some American scientists, most notably Louis...
(The entire section is 4137 words.)
Religion and Popular Culture
The Place of Religion in American Culture.
When sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd studied the people of
The most troubling issue for many religious leaders and many of their parishioners was Hollywood, as the movie industry was now known. Frequently movies raised questions about relationships between parents and children, with young people's clearly modern, hedonistic values shown as preferable; between husbands...
(The entire section is 2020 words.)
Barton, Bruce 1886-1967
Bruce Barton attempted to apply to the business and political world of twentieth-century America the religious values he had learned from his father, a Congregationalist minister. Instead of following his father's footsteps into the ministry, when Barton finished his bachelor's degree at Amherst College he moved into journalism and from there into the growing advertising industry. He had immediate success, and in 1918 he was one of the founders of the advertising firm Barton, Durstine, and Osborn, later Barton, Batten, Durstine, and Osborn (BBD&O), which became the third-largest advertising firm in the nation. Even though he was in the secular world, he used his talents for his religious responsibilities. For instance, he coined the slogan later used by the Salvation Army, "A man may be down, but he's never out,"
Becoming a Writer.
In 1914 Barton published his first book, A Young Mari's Jesus, which in its efforts to make the historical Jesus accessible to young men like himself anticipated his better-known work in the following decade. In 1925 he published The Man Nobody Knows, which spent two years on the best-seller list. This was followed by The Book Nobody Knows (1926) and What Can a Man Believe? (1927). Barton took from the Gospels the familiar stories...
(The entire section is 807 words.)
Cannon, James, Jr. 1864-1944
After graduating from Randolph-Macon College and the Princeton Theological Seminary, James Cannon Jr. committed himself to advancing the cause of Jesus; the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; and himself. His enemies—and he had many inside and outside his denomination—believed that he actually followed these priorities in reverse order. Shortly after Cannon's ordination he became president of the Blackstone School for Girls, a Methodist school in Virginia, and quickly managed to place it and himself on solid financial footing. The money he saved he invested in the Richmond Virginian, which became a leading weekly Methodist newspaper and his voice to his fellow Methodists. He also served as the head of the Virginia Anti-Saloon League, the most prominent Prohibition organization in the country.
Cannon rose quickly in Southern Methodist ranks, in...
(The entire section is 650 words.)
Conwell, Russell H. 1843-1925
In the year before his death, the Christian Century named Russell H. Conwell one of the twenty-five outstanding preachers in the United States. His death ended a long and colorful life. After serving in the military in the Civil War and a successful career in law and as a public lecturer, Conwell turned to the ministry. In 1882 he became pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia, a floundering congregation with about ninety members. Within a decade the church had more than three thousand members and soon broke ground for a sanctuary with four thousand seats, making it one of the largest churches in America.
The Baptist Temple of Philadelphia not only had an extensive Sunday program, but Conwell expanded its activities to provide for the secular needs of his parishioners and the surrounding community. In 1884 he began an informal "college" for the young men in the area, a night school that quickly grew into Temple College and then Temple University, with a variety of schools and divisions; he served as the first president. (In 1969 the...
(The entire section is 673 words.)
Fosdick, Harry Emerson 1878-1969
Through his collected sermons, his public stands on issues, and his radio services, Harry Emerson Fosdick became not only the best-known preacher of his day but also a representative of the modernist forces that struggled with Fundamentalists during the 1920s.
In 1919 the dwindling congregations of the First Presbyterian Church in New York City, the University Place Presbyterian Church, and the Madison Square Presbyterian Church agreed to merge to concentrate their combined resources and efforts. Fosdick, a graduate of Colgate College and Union Theological Seminary in New York and already widely known for his sermons, was asked to become the congregation's preaching minster. The fact that he was and would remain a Baptist in this Presbyterian church was considered irrelevant.
Success and Publicity.
Fosdick's services attracted large crowds, and the experiment seemed a splendid success. In 1922 Fosdick entered the growing war between the increasingly militant Fundamentalists and the modernists. In his...
(The entire section is 778 words.)
Mcpherson, Aimee Semple 1890-1944
Sister Aimee, as the followers of Aimee Semple McPherson called her, was one of the few women in the United States to form her own denomination—although that was in the process of what she considered her true calling, saving souls. Born Beth Kennedy in Canada into a family dominated by her mother's commitment to the Salvation Army, in 1907 Aimee, as she by then called herself, attended a Pentecostal tent meeting and was converted. She soon married revivalist Robert Semple and went on the revival trail with him. While she was never ordained, she took naturally to preaching, which was sufficient for her and those she brought to the altar. In 1910 the couple went into the missionary field in China, where her daughter was born and her husband died.
Finding a Place.
Distraught, the young widow returned to the United States and two years later married Harold S. McPherson. Family life was not enough to keep Sister Aimee from the revival circuit, and she left her husband to return to saving souls. (He...
(The entire section is 1133 words.)
Norris, J. Frank 1877-1952
Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, J. Frank Norris was one of the most flamboyant figures in the Southern Baptist Convention until he was forced from the denomination. Sensation naturally followed Norris. Once he was charged with burning his own church; on another occasion he was declared not guilty on grounds of self-defense for killing one of the many men he offended. A strident voice in Fundamentalist circles, he was widely loved and admired by those who shared his views and were swayed by his sermons.
Early Life and Career.
Norris was born in rural Alabama and moved with his family to Texas as a child. He experienced an early conversion, and after graduating from Baylor University and the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, he took a church in Dallas, Texas, which he quickly developed into one of the largest congregations in the state. In 1909 he became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, where he spent the rest of his career, although he also assumed the pastorate of Temple Baptist Church in Detroit in the 1930s, somehow managing to run both churches at the same time.
Norris was acknowledged as one of the greatest preachers of his time. He...
(The entire section is 754 words.)
Riley, William Bell 1861-1947
William Bell Riley was educated at Hanover College in Indiana and then studied at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. After serving a series of small churches, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis in 1897, which he quickly developed into one of the largest congregations in the country and a major force in the struggle for Fundamentalism. In 1902 he founded the Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School, which was later expanded with the addition of a seminary and then a college and now is called the Northwestern Schools.
Riley was one of most successful proponents to a general audience of the imminent return of Christ, the premillennialist doctrine that became one of the principles of Fundamentalism in the late nineteenth century. But Riley led the struggle with modernism in his own Northern Baptist Convention and in Protestant circles less over the doctrine of premillennialism than over the inerrancy of the Bible. He was convinced that the perceived drift from the true foundations of Christianity came from the scholarly examination of the Bible in theological schools—examinations that regarded the Bible as a human document that could be studied like any other human document, with a belief that its value lies in its ability...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Ryan, John A. 1865-1945
Father John A. Ryan was America's best-known liberal Catholic cleric in the 1920s. The son of Irish immigrants, he grew up in Minnesota and was deeply affected by the attempts of Archbishop John Ireland of Saint Paul to acculturate the Roman Catholic Church to America without compromising its essential beliefs and structures. Father Ryan was also touched by the message to the laboring classes expressed in Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum 1891; Of New Things, which warned of the dangers of socialism but also condemned the excesses of capitalism.
Ryan earned a Ph.D. at the Catholic University. His dissertation, published in 1906 as The Living Wage, presented his belief that American capitalism could and should be reformed according to Christian principles. Christianity offered more hope to the workingman, he said, than any form of socialism. It also offered a better life for Christian capitalists. In 1915 Father Ryan returned to the Catholic University, where he developed a distinguished teaching career.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Father Ryan worked closely with the National Catholic Warfare Conference, a national agency that coordinated the charitable activities of the...
(The entire section is 643 words.)
Straton, John Roach 1874-1929
John Roach Straton was born into a Baptist preacher's home and early in his life dedicated himself to the ministry. He attended Mercer University and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but did not earn any degrees. After serving a series of churches in the South, in 1918 he was called to Calvary Baptist Church in New York City, where he became a leading public figure in city life and a major force in the Fundamentalist struggles of the 1920s.
Straton quickly became a public figure in New York with his attacks on vice and corruption, which he charged made the city a modern Babylon suitable for God's wrath. In 1920 he singled out the Broadway play Aphrodite as a target, charging that it marked a new low in morality and a "degrading bondage to Mammon." He was disgusted, he said, by this "nightmare of nude men and women slobbering over each other, lolling on couches, and dancing together in feigned drunken revelry."
The Man Who Fought Broadway....
(The entire section is 697 words.)
Sunday, William "Billy" 1862-1935
The Best-Known Evangelist in America.
Billy Sunday entered the 1920s as the best-known revivalist in America. His great campaign in New York City in 1917 coincided with America's entry into the Great War, and in his sermons Sunday managed to fuse Christianity and American patriotism to the delight of millions. His success was even greater when he was able to celebrate the death of his longtime enemy, "John Barleycorn," with the adoption of Prohibition. He even attained some wealth, In 1920 Dun and Bradstreet estimated his worth at $1.4 million.
However, the 1920s were not pleasant for Sunday and his wife. While he continued to attract large audiences and led thousands to hit the "sawdust trail" that led to the altars of the tabernacles he had put up for his revivals, these special buildings no longer went up in the largest cities of the North, and he found himself working medium-sized cities in the South and Midwest.
He also faced a series of scandals that raised questions about his ethics and abilities. He was sued by men who claimed they had ghostwritten some of his books and had not been properly paid. Questions were raised about his ministry's finances, which were skillfully handled by his wife. Sunday's expensive organization...
(The entire section is 645 words.)
People in the News
In November 1920 Secretary of War Newton D. Baker signed prison-release authorizations for thirty-three conscientious objectors who had refused to comply with conscription or to give alternative service during World War I. They based their stand on their Christian conviction that cooperation with any war effort and its destruction of life was wrong. Their release triggered loud protests from the American Legion and other patriotic groups.
In June 1929 Reverend William St. John Blackshear, the Texas-born rector of St. Matthew's Protestant Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, read a statement in which he noted that there were Episcopal churches for African Americans nearby and that therefore he discouraged "members of that race" from attending his church. The five African American members of St. Matthews were deeply upset, and several stopped attending the church. When the incident attracted protests from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Reverend Blackshear said he was surprised at the response.
In June 1921 Charles Carver, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut, played the leading role in nine performances of The Divorce Question at the Hyperion Theater. The former actor said he hoped "to bring to the attention of the people of New Haven the great divorce evil."
(The entire section is 1045 words.)
Lyman Abbott, 87?, former pastor of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn and editor of The Independent 22 October 1922.
Robert Case Beebe, 72, founder and director of a medical mission and hospital in Nanking who later served as executive secretary of the China Medical Missionary Association, 13 March 1928.
Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 96?, suffragette and one of the first women to pastor a church in America, though never ordained, 2 November 1921.
Olympia Brown, 91, the first woman ordained by a major denomination when the Universalist Church gave her a pastorate in 1863, 23 October 1926.
Francis E. Symmes Clark, 75, Congregationalist minister who founded the youth group Christian Endeavor, which became the largest interdenominational youth group in the world and generated a variety of denominational imitations, 26 May 1927.
H. N. Couden, 79, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1895-1921, 22 August 1922.
Frank Crane, 67, Methodist Episcopal clergyman for twenty-five before becoming a journalist who wrote brief essays focusing upon the brighter aspects of life, 6 November 1928.
Churchill Hunter Cutting, 83, president emeritus of the American Bible Society, 23 April 1924.
(The entire section is 581 words.)
Harry E. Banner, Twilight of Christianity (New York: Smith, 1929);
Bruce Barton, The Book Nobody Knows (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1926);
Barton, The Man Nobody Knows (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1925);
Barton, What Can a Man Believe? (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1927);
William Jennings Bryan, The Bible and Its Enemies In His Image (New York: Revell, 1922);
Shirley Jackson Case, Jesus: A New Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1928);
Henry Sloane Coffin, A More Christian Industrial Order (New York: Macmillan, 1920);
Lloyd C. Douglas, The Magnificent Obession (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1929);
Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1926);
Harry Emerson Fosdick, Adventurous Religion and Other Essays (New York: Harper, 1926);
Fosdick, Christianity and Progress (New York: Revell, 1922);
Fosdick, The Modern Use of the Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1924);
Fosdick, Religions Debt to Science (Chicago: American Institute of Sacred Literature, 1928);
James George Frazer, Folk-lore in...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
Important Events in Religion, 1920–1929
• The Hartford Theological Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, announces that it will no longer require female applicants for admission to declare they do not intend to seek ordination.
- The American Association of Women Preachers begins publication of Woman's Pulpit.
- Junior Hadassah is founded as an auxiliary of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America.
- The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America is created by the Ecumenical Patriarch.
- On May 25, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (Northern) urges federal marriage and divorce laws.
- On November 10, Margaret Sanger founds the American Birth Control League in New York City. It is a combination of the Birth Control League, which she founded in 1914, and the Voluntary Parenthood League, founded by Mary Ware Dennett in 1919. The issue of contraception becomes a major topic in religious circles, with liberals such as Harry Emerson Fosdick and the Universalist Church approving and conservatives such as the Protestant Episcopal House of Bishops and the Roman Catholic Church opposing.
- On May 21, Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist but also an associate pastor of First Presbyterian...
(The entire section is 1287 words.)