Topics in the News
American Religious Communities and Nazi Germany
The German Church under Attack.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in January 1933, most Americans were more concerned about the collapsing domestic economy than what he might do with or to the German people because of their ethnic backgrounds or religious views. But the vigorously antireligious Nazi movement made it clear that German religious communities would face challenges to their beliefs and actions. In 1933 Paul Tillich, already recognized as one of the most distinguished German theologians, was dismissed from his position at the University of Frankfurt. He was invited to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York, eventually becoming an American citizen and continuing his contributions to theology. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, another distinguished German theologian, had studied at the Union Theological Seminary in 1930-1931. His friends in the United States also invited him to accept a visiting professorship in 1939, and he traveled to New York intending to remain. But after two weeks he decided to return to Germany to work with and guide his fellow Germans in the anti-Nazi German Confessing Church. He was imprisoned and killed before the war was over. Catholics also found the antireligious actions of the Hitler government offensive but found some comfort in its anticommunism. The Left developed a deep suspicion of the relations between the Vatican and the fascist governments...
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Church Unions and Reunions
A Decade of Mergers.
The 1930s saw a series of unions among Protestant groups, usually bringing together people of different ethnic backgrounds who shared a religious tradition. In 1931 members of the Lutheran Synod of Buffalo joined the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Iowa and the Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Ohio to form the American Lutheran Church; in 1934 two groups from the Calvinist tradition joined to create the Evangelical and Reform Church out of the Reformed Church in the United States and the Evangelical Synod of North America; and in 1931 two theologically liberal and congregationally organized denominations, the National Council of Congregational Churches and the General Convention of Christian Churches, joined to form the General Council of Congregational and Christian Churches.
The Methodists Merge.
The most impressive and important merger of the decade took place in 1939, when three branches of American Methodism finally reunited after more than a century of separation. In 1830 the Methodist Episcopal Church split over questions of organization, and a small splinter group, the Methodist Protestant Church, emerged. In 1844 a more serious split occurred, this time over slavery, which resulted in the creation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The sectional division proved the most bitter and intensified during...
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"The Humanist Manifesto"
The May—June 1934 issue of the New Humanist contained what was called "The Humanist Manifesto," a statement that sought to offer an alternative for people unwilling to rely on religion for an explanation of life and its meanings. The signers of the manifesto included distinguished figures such as Harry Elmer Barnes, Robert Morss Lovett, Charles Francis Potter, Llewellyn Jones, and, most important, philosopher John Dewey.
Science over Supernaturalism."The Humanist Manifesto" sought to focus attention on the evidence science gave about nature and life in order to encourage people to reject supernaturalism. It included such points as the need to recognize that the universe was "self-existing," not created, and that humanity was a part of nature and had evolved as part of a continuing process. The manifesto rejected the old question of the duality of mind (or soul) and body by incorporating the mind and its functions as a part of the body. Religion, it insisted, was a product of human development and changed according to historical changes. In its fifth point the manifesto insisted that "the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values.. , . Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in light of the scientific spirit and method." Having eliminated God...
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The Movies and the Churches
Guardians of Morality.
From the days of the early nickelodeon, conservatives and protectors of morals had been concerned about motion pictures and their impact on their viewers, particularly the young. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Chicago, New York, and later other cities established local censorship boards to review films to ensure that their content did not corrupt the morals of the young. A variety of censoring boards with a variety of views came into being, but none was able to impose a national standard on the movie industry.
The Hays Office.
This situation threatened to change when a series of scandals, including rape, murder, drug use, and general sexual misconduct, swept through Hollywood in the early 1920s. In the face of demands for some sort of government regulation, in 1922 the industry created the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), later the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and hired Postmaster General Will Hays to serve as its head in an effort to block attempts to establish a national censorship agency. It was assumed that this Presbyterian elder and member of the Warren Harding administration was familiar enough with sin to be able to know it when he saw it on the screen. The Hays Office, as it was called, established and published a code for the industry in an...
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In the early years after the Great War of 1914-1918, a sense of revulsion swept over the Western world as the cost of that war in men and money was reckoned. Americans in particular felt they had been pulled into a conflict of little direct importance and of little positive consequence. A strong mood of "never again, never again war" developed. War itself was the enemy, since it resolved little and destroyed much. This antiwar mood intensified in the first half of the decade, when domestic issues dominated the American consciousness and when conflicts raged in Asia, Africa, and Europe in the second. The antiwar mood in the United States was not just an opposition to wars that did not affect American interests but to war itself. Pacifism became a deeply held conviction, particularly in religious circles.
Catholic Attitudes toward War.
The Roman Catholic Church was lightly affected by this...
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Prohibition and the Churches.
Even as the Depression that followed the stock-market crash of 1929 deepened to unprecedented lows, Americans were preoccupied with the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. That amendment, which had been ratified in 1919, was the result of long, dedicated effort by reformers, many of them active in Protestant evangelical groups. The Women's Christian Temperance Union reflected the links between the effort to dry up America and the Protestant churches. The Anti-Saloon League, with strong ties to the Methodist Church, called itself the Protestant church in action.
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Religious Response to the Spanish Civil War
In July 1936 military officers, led by Gen. Francisco Franco, declared war against the government of the Republic of Spain and launched a four-year civil war between his rebels and the loyalists supporting the republic. The Spanish Republic was created in 1931 after King Alphonso XIII left the country and initially had fairly wide support. But monarchists were soon joined by opponents of the republic's policies, which affected large landowners, the wealthy, and the institutions of the Roman Catholic Church. The military also became disaffected, and many troops followed Franco into revolt. The Spanish Civil War, which lasted until Franco's Flangist forces won in 1939, was a foretaste of the approaching world war.
Divided Opinions in the United States.
As the war dragged on, American religious communities were sharply divided in their attitudes toward the competing armies and their actions. The rebels were vigorously supported by most American Catholics and Catholic clerics, who had...
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Buchman, Frank N. D. 1878-1961
Founder of the Oxford Group Movement.
A Pennsylvania-born Lutheran minister, Frank N. D. Buchman founded the Oxford Group Movement in 1921 in an effort to organize a "God-guided campaign to prevent war by moral and spiritual awakenings." In the following two decades he and his followers sought to change people through the use of home meetings where people came together to explore religious issues and make contact with God. The Oxford Group, as it came to be called, believed that those who experienced a conversion, the Change, would surrender their lives to God's control and that gradually the world would come under divine direction.
The Oxford Movement aroused much controversy as it attracted increased public attention in the 1930s. The house parties, the informal format Buchman used to spread his movement, were held in large homes and expensive hotels in the United States and Europe and so gave the appearance that the movement was snobbishly directed toward the upper classes. Buchman, however, justified this target, insisting that if the world's leaders were brought under "God-control" through the Change, their nations would move under God-control, and so political problems, including war, could be resolved. A controversial aspect of his God-control was his insistence that his followers use...
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Cannon, Bishop James, Jr. 1864-1944
RELIGIOUS LEADER AND PROHIBITION SUPPORTER
James Cannon Jr. was elected a bishop of the Methodis t Episcopal Church, South, in 1918. The election reflected an esteem for his work in the denomination as president of Blackstone School, a women's college in Virginia. It also reflected enthusiasm for his efforts as editor of the Richmond Virginian, which served as a voice for the Virginia Anti-Saloon League, an organization he also led, and his work as chair of the Southern Methodist Board of Temperance and Social Service. Cannon served as the major voice of the Prohibition movement in the South. His work culminated with the 1919 ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States.
In the 1920s Cannon became the effective head of the national Anti-Saloon League....
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Coughun, Father Charles E. 1891-1979
PRIEST AND RADIO FIGURE
Father Charles E. Coughlin was born in Hamilton, Ontario, to an American father and Canadian mother, which raised questions about his constitutional eligibility when his more zealous followers urged him to run for president in the 1930s. In 1926 the bishop of Detroit appointed the newly ordained priest to the new parish of the Little Flower, named in honor of the recently consecrated Saint Therese of Lisieux, in suburban Royal Oak, Michigan. In an effort to attract people, Father Coughlin began a series of Sunday-evening broadcasts of his sermons on a Detroit radio station in a program called the Radio League of the Little Flower,
From Religion to Politics.
Father Coughlin's engaging voice, speaking skills, and message attracted a large audience, and his parish grew quickly. In the early days of his radio ministry he focused on...
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Day, Dorothy 1897-1980
CHRISTIAN MAGAZINE PUBLISHER AND SOCIAL WORKER
After spending her young adulthood in nonreligious, left-wing circles in New York City, Dorothy Day was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1927, shortly after the baptism of her illegitimate daughter. Although the American Catholic Church tended to adopt conservative political and religious views in the first half of the twentieth century, Day continued her work for peace and religious meaning while criticizing capitalism. In 1932 she met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant, who introduced her to his ideas about Christians taking personal responsibility for living a Christian life and thus creating a Christian world.
After being persuaded by Maurin's ideas, Day took responsibility for publicizing them and putting them into action. In 1933 she began publishing the Catholic Worker, a name that became associated with the movement she and Maurin started. He presented his thoughts in the Catholic Worker; which competed with the Communist Daily Worker, and...
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Devine, Father 18777-1965
God or Man?
One of the most colorful religious personalities of the decade, Father Devine challenged religious convention, distributed food to the needy, and conducted healing services. Although his followers often confused Devine with God, few outside his church did. His charity and preaching of interracial tolerance nonetheless won him many admirers and made him the most well known of Harlem's many preachers.
Gaining a Following.
In the dark years of the early Depression, increasing numbers of people took advantage of Father Devine's charity. The crowds swelled around his Sayville, New York, home, and the number of his followers expanded. In 1931 protests from his neighbors led to charges that, because of the crowds and traffic problems, he was disturbing the peace. While the community insisted they were concerned with the large crowds Father Devine attracted, his followers believed part of the opposition came from the fact that whites, especially white women, attended his services and joined his group. He was convicted of disturbing the peace and given the maximum sentence, one year in prison. Two days later the presiding judge died, and Father Devine was alleged to have remarked, "I hated to do it," The remark became legendary among followers certain that Devine was God incarnate. His...
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Fosdick, Harry Emerson 1878-1969
MINISTER AND PROFESSOR
Harry Emerson Fosdick was one of the major voices of liberal Protestantism in the middle of the twentieth century. As pastor of the spectacular, nondenominational Riverside Church in New York City and as the leading Protestant speaker on radio, he helped to define the personality and meaning of mainline Protestantism for thirty years.
Fosdick was born in upstate New York and entered the Baptist ministry after graduating from Union Theological Seminary in New York. His talents and abilities were quickly recognized. He became professor of practical theology at Union in 1911 and taught there until he retired in 1946. In 1918, even though he was a Baptist, he was called to the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in New York City. In 1922 he attracted national notoriety when he preached a sermon called "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?," which entered him in the battle between modernists and fundamentalists that splintered many Protestant denominations in the 1920s. The furor over the sermon led to efforts to move him from a Presbyterian...
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Holmes, John Haynes 1879-1964
John Haynes Holmes was a leading political and religious liberal in the first half of the twentieth century. He was ordained in the American Unitarian Association in 1904 and in 1907 moved to the Church of the Messiah in New York City, where he remained until he retired in 1949. He was deeply disturbed by World War I and helped organize the American branch of the pacifist organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He was a leader in the American Union Against Militarism, an umbrella organization that opposed American involvement in World War I. The controversy over his pacifist views caused him and his church to leave the Unitarian Association, and the name of the congregation was changed to the Community Church. Following the lead of Holmes, the Community Church remained one of the most active liberal groups in the nation.
After the United States entered the war in 1917, Holmes helped to create an organization to protect the rights of pacifists to resist conscription into the military. After the war the Civil Liberties Bureau became the American Civil Liberties Bureau, later the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Holmes remained active with the ACLU and its efforts to protect the constitutional rights of free speech throughout his life.
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Ryan, Father John A. 1869-1945
PRIEST AND PROFESSOR
Father John A. Ryan was born in Minnesota to an Irish immigrant family. While attending a Christian Brothers school he decided to become a priest, and during his training he was deeply influenced by the publication of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Return novaruniy which spoke for social justice and condemned both the excesses of capitalism and the dangers of socialism. He was also impressed by the ideas of Archbishop John Ireland of Saint Paul, who sought to acculturate the Roman Catholic Church to the United States without compromising any of its essential qualities.
Ryan was ordained in 1898 and earned a Ph.D. at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. His dissertation, published as The Living Wage (1906), presented his belief that capitalism should be reformed to accord with Christian concepts of brotherhood and community. In 1915 he returned to Catholic University for a lifelong teaching career. When the National Catholic Warfare Conference proved successful in coordinating Catholic efforts during World War I, American bishops decided to create a permanent organization to direct Catholic charities. Ryan became head of the Social Action Department of the new National Catholic Welfare Conference and quickly moved into the public eye....
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Smith, Gerald L. K. 1889-1976
MINISTER AND POLITICIAN
Gerald L. K. Smith was born in Wisconsin and ordained when he was eighteen in the denomination that modestly called itself the Christian Church. After successfully serving a series of churches in Indiana, he moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1928 to give his ailing wife a better climate. There he led the largest church of his denomination in that state. Smith quickly recognized the usefulness of radio and developed a large local following with the broadcasting of his sermons, which focused on reform topics.
From Preaching to Politics.
In the early days of the Depression Smith began to attack the actions of important business leaders of Shreveport, including members of his own congregation. These people joined others in his church who charged that he was neglecting some of his pastoral responsibilities. The dissension in his church and his personal ambitions made Smith responsive to a chance to join Huey Long's organization. By 1934 Long was ready to challenge both the New Deal and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. That year he established Share Our Wealth, which proposed a massive redistribution of individual fortunes and massive taxation of high incomes. Smith left his congregation in Shreveport to become the national organizer for Share Our Wealth and rapidly...
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Ward, Harry F. 1873-1966
MINISTER, ACTIVIST, AND PROFESSOR
Harry F. Ward was probably the best-known fellow traveler of the Communist Party among American Protestant clergy in the 1930s. He was born in England in 1873 and came to the United States in 1881. He was ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church, the norther n branch of the Methodist denomination, and quickly became active in reform movements in the early part of the century. He was one of the principal authors of "The Social Creed of the Churches," the most widely circulated expression of the Social Gospel, which attempted to articulate the social ethics of Christianity. In 1907 he organized the Methodist Federation for Social Action (later the Methodist Federation for Social Service). After teaching at Boston University, he joined the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he taught social ethics until his retirement in 1941.
There is no evidence that Ward ever joined the Communist Party, but he was a prominent supporter of organizations associated with the party during the 1930s. He criticized the actions of the both the American Communists and the Soviet Union from time to time but had little difficulty in following the general shifts in Communist positions through the turbulent decade of the 1930s. He served as president of...
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Wise, Stephen Samuel 1874-1949
Stephen S. Wise came to the United States as a child when his father, also a rabbi, accepted a congregation in New York City. He graduated from the City College of New York and took a Ph.D. at Columbia University. He served a series of congregations, including one in Portland, Oregon. He returned to New York and in 1907 founded the Free Synagogue of New York, where he spent the rest of his career as a leading rabbi in Reform Judaism and a leading reformer in New York politics, He founded the Jewish Institute of Religion, now a part of the Hebrew Union College.
Wise was one of the first Reform rabbis to champion the cause of Zionism, the return of Jews to Palestine. He helped found the Federation of American Zionists in 1897 and served as its first secretary. He also helped organize its successor, the Zionist Organization of America,
When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Wise attempted to encourage and organize opposition to the Nazis' anti-Semitic actions. In March 1933 he organized a mass meeting in Madison Square Garden that attracted an estimated twenty-two thousand people inside the building and another thirty thousand outside. The meeting was addressed by Wise and former governor of...
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People in the News
In 1934 Evangeline Booth—a daughter of Gen. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, and its head in the United States since 1904—-was elected general of the International Salvation Army and moved to Britain for five years. She retired in 1939 and returned to her home in the United States.
Marie Joseph Butler, founder of Marymount School (later Marymount College) in Tarrytown, New York, founded new Marymount Colleges in Rome (1930) and Santa Barbara, California (1938).
Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, who became an American citizen in 1909 and died in 1917, was beatified in 1937, the first American to achieve that status. In 1946 she was canonized as the first American saint, and she was named Patroness of Immigrants in 1950.
Warren Akin Candler, who helped to develop Emory University of Atlanta into a distinguished institution, bitterly opposed the union of the northern and southern branches of Methodism. He helped to block a merger in 1922 but failed to stop the great Methodist merger of 1939. He refused to follow his denomination into the new organization and remained in the old Southern Methodist Church.
Distinguished church historian Shirley Jackson Case served as dean of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago from 1933 to 1935, developing it into one of the most...
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Jane Addams, 75, founder of Hull House and active in antiwar groups, the second American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, 22 May 1935.
Felix Adler, 82, founder of the Ethical Culture Society in 1876, 24 April 1933.
Guy Warren Ballard, 51, cofounder with his wife of the I Am Religious Activity, 29 December 1939.
Annie Besant, 85, a convert to theosophy who attracted many followers in the United States, from 1907 head of the World Theosophical Association, 20 September 1933.
William Montgomery Brown, 82, Episcopal bishop of Arkansas until his retirement in 1922, deposed by his church in 1925 because of his communist views, 31 October 1937.
Samuel Parks Cadman, 72, leading Protestant liberal who conducted a series of radio broadcasts over the National Broadcasting Corporation beginning in 1928, elected moderator of the national Council of the Congregational and Christian Churches in 1934, 12 July 1936.
Leopold Cohn, 75, founder of the American Board of Missions to Jews, 19 December 1937.
James Martin Gray, 84, president of the Moody Bible Institute, 1925-1935, 21 September 1935.
Patrick Joseph Hayes, 71, former archbishop of New York, 4 September 1938.
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Devere Allen, The Fight for Peace (New York: Macmillan, 1930);
Joseph B. Code, Spanish War and Lying Propaganda (New York: Paulist Press, 1938);
Dorothy Day, From Union Square to Rome (Silver Spring, Md.: Preservation of the Faith Press, 1938);
George Sherwood Eddy, The Challenge of Europe (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1933);
Eddy, The Challenge of Russia (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1931);
Eddy, Revolutionary Christianity (Chicago: Willett, Clark, 1939);
Harry Emerson Fosdick, As I See Religion (New York: Harper, 1932);
Fosdick, A Guide to Understanding the Bible: The Development of Ideas within the Old and New Testament (New York: Harper, 1938);
Fosdick, The Secret of Victorious Living: Sermons on Christianity Today (New York: Harper, 1934);
John Haynes Holmes, Rethinking Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1938);
Holmes, A Sensible Man's Guide to Religion (New York: Harper, 1932);
Mordecai M. Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization (New York: Macmillan, 1934);
Kaplan, Judaism in Transition (New York: Covici–Friede, 1936);
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Important Events in Religion, 1930–1939
- Charles E. Fuller, perhaps the most popular evangelist to appear on the scene between Billy Sunday and Billy Graham, begins his long-lived radio program The Radio Revival Hour, later called The Old Fashioned Revival Hour. On October 3, 1937, he moves to the Mutual Broadcasting Network, where he developed one of the largest audiences ever for religious programs.
- On February 26, The Green Pastures, a controversial depiction of African American religiosity by white playwright Marc Connelly, opens in New York. The play, written in 1929 and based on Roark Bradford's sketches Ol' Man Adam an' His Chillun (1928), wins the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
- On July 4, in a speech to supporters in Detroit, W.D. Fard (later known as Wallace Fard Muhammad) announces that he is the Mahdi, the chosen messenger to Muslims, and institutes the Nation of Islam. During his short ministry, Fard would teach that African Americans are members of a Muslim "Lost-Found Tribe of Shabazz" and that separation from whites, self-knowledge, and self-help will restore them to their proper place in the world. He founds a Temple of Islam, a University of Islam, and the Fruit of Islam (a self-defense organization) before his mysterious disappearance in 1934. His follower, Elijah Muhammad, continues the development of the Nation of Islam.
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