Topics in the News
The Billy Graham New York Crusade, 1957
In the summer of 1957 the Billy Graham Crusade filled Madison Square Garden with the most spectacular revival meeting since the decline of Billy Sunday earlier in the century. After a series of highly publicized revivals in the United States, Great Britain, and Western Europe, Graham and his associates were willing to tackle the city even Billy Sunday had been unable to tame.
By 1957 the Graham team, organized as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, had fully polished their system. A huge budget, amounting to six hundred thousand dollars, was set and guaranteed by a group of wealthy backers. A significant percentage of the Protestant churches in the city were brought in as supporters of the crusade, as Graham's revivals were called. (The support Graham received from more-liberal Protestants brought a rift between him and more-conservative fundamentalists.) In the weeks before the crusade began, prayer teams around the world prayed for the success of the effort and ministers in the area encouraged their parishioners to support the effort. The city was saturated with pictures and flyers calling attention to the approaching event.
By 15 May, when the crusade opened in Madison Square Garden, few in Protestant circles were unaware of...
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Black Church Leaders and Civil Rights
Struggle for Rights.
The long-running efforts by black Americans to gain constitutional rights, especially in the South, acquired national attention in the 1950s. The 1956 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruled that legal segregation was unconstitutional, a ruling that signaled its ultimate end. But national attention was drawn to the problem of civil rights in the South in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott. On 1 December 1955 Mrs. Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to obey a city ordinance that required her to give up her seat to a white person when ordered to do so by the bus driver. The long-simmering dissatisfaction of the black community with the segre-gated bus system boiled over.
After a successful one-day boycott of the buses, a meeting at the Holt Street Baptist Church organized the Montgomery Improvement Association and elected Martin Luther King, Jr., the new pastor of the Dexter Avenue...
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Communism in the Churches
In the wildly anti-Communist climate of the cold war some American religious leaders, mostly Protestant, became targets of red-baiters. While some clergymen had been Communists or fellow travelers, particularly in the 1930s, few remained allied with Soviet communism after World War II. In many cases the postwar charges of Communist sympathy were made and supported by conservative Protestants, often labeled fundamentalists, who were angry with what they perceived as a liberal drift by the mainline denominations.
In 1951 the Reader's Digest carried an article, "Methodism's Pink Fringe," which charged that organizations within Methodism, the largest Protestant church in the United States, were filled with Communists and fellow travelers. In 1952 the House Committee on Un-American Activities extended that attack when it issued an eighty-seven-page pamphlet, Review of the Methodist Foundation for Social Action, charging that the organization generally followed the Communist party line.
These issues came to a head in March 1953 when Harold H. Velde, the Republican representative from Indiana and the new chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), remarked in a radio interview that the Protestant...
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Dead Sea Scrolls
In 1947 a Bedouin youth discovered some manuscripts in a cave at Qumran in the Dead Sea area of British-occupied Palestine. The developing tension in Palestine, the creation of the new Jewish state of Israel, and the resulting Arab-Israeli War all diverted attention from the quiet announcement in April 1948 by Millar Burrows of Yale University that the earliest known manuscript of the Book of Isaiah had been found in the Syrian monastery of Saint Mark in Jerusalem. (The Arab-Israeli War that followed the declaration of Israel's independence caused scholars interested in the manuscript fragments to disguise their source.)
While academics in religious circles grew excited about the potential light the Dead Sea Scrolls would shed on Jewish culture and religion at the time of Jesus, the general public paid little heed until May 1955, when Edmund Wilson published a lengthy article in the New Yorker about the manuscripts and their implications. Later that year Wilson published The Dead Sea Scrolls, an expanded version of his article, and interest increased.
Clues of Historical Jesus.
Early the following year a new excitement swept religious circles when John Allegro, one of the scholars working with the Dead Sea Scrolls, made a series of...
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Separation of Church and State
Spellman and Roosevelt.
The issue of government aid to parochial schools remained divisive through the decade of the 1950s. Attempts to provide federal aid to education were opposed by the Roman Catholic church when the legislation that was proposed specifically prohibited any money going to church-run schools. In 1949 Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of the former president Franklin Roosevelt, supported federal aid with such restrictions. In a bitter letter Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, accused Mrs. Roosevelt of anti-Catholic prejudice and announced "I shall not again publicly acknowledge you."
While the quarrel between Mrs. Roosevelt and the archbishop was publicly papered over, his letter stimulated an outcry and triggered the revitalization of the Protestants and Others Organized for the Separation of Church and State. Paul Blanshard, head of Protestants and Others, published two bestselling books in the 1950s attacking what he considered anti-democratic and dangerous tendencies in the Roman Catholic church.
Supreme Court Ruling.
But the absolute separation of church and state was modified in 1952, when the U.S. Supreme Court in Zorach v. Clauson upheld a New York City law that gave students in public schools permission to leave the...
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Hollywood and Religious Films
Great Religious Interest.
The decade of the 1950s saw the movie industry produce several religious films which attracted large audiences and wide-spread attention. Hollywood had a long tradition of biblical and religious films set in a historical context, so these religious movies were not unique. Rather they were examples of the movie industry's long tradition of catering to the public mood. The great religious interest of the decade suggested a ready-made audience for such movies as Hollywood faced the growing competition of television. Historical spectaculars, shown on wide screens in vivid colors that the small, black-and-white television sets of the time could not match, were supposed to confirm the movie industry's slogan that "Movies Are Better Than Ever."
Most of the popular religious films of the decade were fictions set in the early Christian era. In 1951 Mervyn Le Roy directed Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr in a version of 1905 Nobel Prize winner Henryk...
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Integration of Churches
Much of the hard work of promoting civil rights and integration during the 1950s took place in the churches of the United States. In November 1952 eight of the nine faculty of the Graduate School of Theology of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, including the dean of the school, announced their resignation effective at the end of the academic year in 1953. They were protesting a ban on admission of black students to that Episcopal university. In June 1953 the trustees of the institution voted to permit the entrance of students to that graduate program without regard to race. The Reverend John M. Moncrief, black, of Orangeburg, South Carolina, applied.
In 1955 the Reverend Simon P. Montgomery was named pastor of the Methodist church in Old Mystic, Connecticut. A native of South Carolina and a graduate of Boston University, he was the first black minister to head an all-white Methodist congregation. His appointment was not forced on the Old Mystic congregation but was a result of a two-week visit as a guest minister. After two sermons the congregation voted to ask Montgomery to remain in Old Mystic. One worshiper commented, "It was the work of God that sent him here." In May 1956 the Quadrennial Conference of the Methodist Church, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, voted to send...
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The Banning of the Miracle
On 30 December 1950 the New York City License Commissioners banned the showing of Roberto Rossellini's award-winning film, The Miracle. The movie, shown in Italian with English subtitles, concerned a half-witted peasant girl, played by Anna Magnani, who is seduced by a man calling himself "Saint Joseph." The girl becomes convinced that she has miraculously conceived her child. Although the New York Film Critics gave The Miracle its award as best foreign film for 1950, the film attracted the attention of the New York archdiocese, which secured a permanent ban from the city's license commission on the grounds that the movie was "officially and personally blasphemous."
A temporary injunction against the ban was secured, but in January 1951 Francis Cardinal Spellman issued a pastoral letter to the two million members of the New York archdiocese. He condemned the film and decreed that New York Catholics boycott it. Spellman also recommended a boycott to all...
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National Council of Churches
The Ecumenical Movement.
The ecumenical movement gained strength during the 1950s as Christian churches joined together to attempt the formation of a single voice in support of peace and civil rights.
Founding of the NCC.
On 1 January 1951 the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America (NCC) came into being. This organization brought the old Federal Council of Churches and eleven other interdenominational bodies into a coopera- tive body that included twenty-five Protestant denominations and four Eastern Orthodox churches. It was, as the Christian Century commented, "potentially one of the most influential bodies in American Protestantism." The following year the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America affiliated with the National Council. The largest bodies remaining outside the council included the Roman Catholic church and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Dedication of Headquarters.
In 1958 President Eisenhower laid the cornerstone for the Interchurch Center, an eighteen-story building that occupies a city block on Morningside Heights in New York City near River-side Church, Union Seminary, and Columbia University. The first of the NCC agencies moved to the building the following year.
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Revised Standard Version of the Bible
On 30 September 1952 the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible was published under the sanction of the National Council of Churches of Christ. A group of thirty-two scholars worked for fifteen years to produce this contemporary translation of the Bible. The new translation was received with enthusiasm by most Protestants and immediately became a best-seller. The first printing of one million copies was sold in two days, and the translation sold an average of one million copies a year throughout the decade. That translation, along with other versions, made the Bible the continual top bestselling book. In 1955 booksellers agreed to take its status as a given and drop it from the popularity charts.
Controversy over the NCC.
There were protests against the new version. Conservative Protestants were offended at what appeared to be an attempt to replace the beloved King James Version. Criticism focused on two general issues, the relation of the RSV to the National Council of Churches, which had sponsored the scholars and benefited from its sales, and some shifts of words used between the RSV and the King James Version. A particular irritant for conservatives was the RSV's use of the phrase young woman instead of virgin in Isa. 7:14 foretelling the birth of the Messiah. These complaints charged that the RSV...
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A Man Called Peter.
The widespread interest in religious issues was evident in popular books with religious themes in the early part of the decade of the 1950s. In 1950 the words of the late Peter Marshall, Mr. Jones Meet Your Maker, continued on the BestSeller list. In 1951 his widow, Catharine Marshall, published A Man Called Peter, a popular biography of this former chaplin of the U.S. Senate. For nearly three years the book was on the BestSeller list, and more than one million copies were sold.
Other nonfiction books with religious themes attracted large numbers of readers. In 1952 the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, continued his run of BestSellers with The Power of Positive Thinking, which sold 971,336 copies in the next three years.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen confirmed the popularity of his television program with a 1953 collection of his messages, Life Is Worth Living. Neither Sheen's book nor Billy Graham's collection of sermons, Peace with God, published that same year, had the lengthy life on the BestSeller list as did Peale's work.
In fiction Francis Cardinal Spellman published The...
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Graham, Billy 1918-
Image Pop-UpBilly Graham (1918–) has preached his biblical message to more than 100 million people throughout the world, more than any other Christian in history.
Famous for Crusades.
By the end of the 1950s William Franklin Graham, better known as Billy, had become the most famous revivalist in the world. His effective presentation of evangelical Christianity in his "crusades" made him one of the leading figures in the revival of religious fervor in the postwar period.
Born in North Carolina to a family of dairy farmers, Graham first began preaching in 1938 in Florida. He was ordained in 1939 as a Southern Baptist minister and spent the next few years studying at Wheaton Bible College in Illinois and ministering at the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois. From 1944 through 1947 he was chief preacher at a series of "Youth for Christ" rallies conceived by Minneapolis, Minnesota, bookshop owner George W. Wilson.
Cold War Preaching.
Graham burst onto the national stage when his Los Angeles revival of 1948 received the attention of the...
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King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1929-1968
MINISTER AND CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER
Martin Luther King, Jr., first attracted national attention as the president of the Montgomery Improvement Agency, which successfully conducted a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1955 to 1956. This role began when, as the new pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, he was elected president of the ad hoc group organized in December 1955 to coordinate a one-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system to protest the arrest of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Parks had violated a city ordinance by refusing to give up her seat for a white man.
Success of the Boycott.
The success of the one-day boycott was such that it was continued for over a year as blacks refused to ride the buses until the Jim Crow restrictions were lifted. In time the bus company went into bankruptcy, and the city ordinance segregating blacks was struck down as unconstitutional. On 20 December 1956 King was one of the first to board the bus when the Montgomery bus...
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Niebuhr, Reinhold 1892-1971
In 1950 Time magazine called Reinhold Niebuhr the "number one theologian of United States Protestantism." Although a stroke affected his work to some extent Niebuhr remained an influential figure in American religious thought and political affairs throughout the 1950s. He resisted being classified as part of the European movement called Neo-orthodoxy, but his insistence on man's sinful nature and distance from God and the need for the medi- ating presence of Jesus gave some support to those who saw him as representing an American version of the movement. His theology, which greatly affected religious thought during the following decade, was best expressed in The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation, a work of two volumes published in 1941 and 1943.
The secular world paid more attention to Niebuhr the political thinker than Niebuhr the theologian. But his...
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Oxnam, G. Bromley 1891-1963
METHODIST BISHOP OF WASHINGTON, D.C.
G. Bromley Oxnam, Methodist bishop of Washington, D.C, was one of the six founding presidents of the World Council of Churches. He served as president of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America and was the presiding officer at the founding meeting of the National Council of Churches in 1950.
Opposed to Catholic Church.
He was an opponent of many policies of the Roman Catholic church and clashed with Francis Cardinal Spellman over international affairs, questions of public aid to parochial education, and the appointing of an American ambassador to the Vatican. In 1948 he helped found Protestants and Others Organized for the Separation of Church and State, an organization that attempted to limit the influence of the Roman Catholic church in American politics.
An active liberal, he abolished the ROTC and military training at DePauw University when he was president of that college from 1928 to 1936. He was popular with students there because he permitted...
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Peale, Norman Vincent 1898-1993
AUTHOR AND MINISTER
Norman Vincent Peale came to the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City in 1932, leaving his Methodist background for this Reformed Church in America congregation. He revitalized that congregation, turning it into one of the largest congregations in the city. One of Peak's most important innovations for Marble Collegiate was what became the American Foundation for Religion and Psychiatry, a psychological counseling program affiliated with his congregation. another aspect of his ministry was the creation of the magazine Guideposts, a periodical that focused on stories of religious faith in action.
In 1948 Peale published The Power of Confident Living and followed it with The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), which stayed on the BestSeller list for years. He revised his sermons into other books assuring his readers that religion would improve their personal lives, Stay Alive All Your Life (1957) and Amazing Results of Positive Thinking (1959).
Stevenson's Put Down.
While Peale was one of the most beloved ministers of the postwar world many people, particularly intellectuals, found his piety shallow and his religiosity offensive. Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate for...
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Rummel, Joseph Francis 1876-1964
ARCHBISHOP OF NEW ORLEANS
Role in Integration.
Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel was one of the most forthright white supporters of integration in the American Christian churches. His efforts to accomplish integration in the Catholic schools in his New Orleans archdioscese made him a much-admired and much-hated figure.
Knowledge of Racial Tension.
Rummel served as archbishop of New Orleans, the largest archdiocese in the South from 1935 to 1964. He served as pastor of a parish in Harlem in New York City from 1924 to 1928. The neighborhood was still predominantly white, but it had begun to experience the influx of black residents that soon made it the leading black urban area in the nation. The experience made Rummel sensitive to the issues of race and prejudice. In New Orleans one-fifth of the nearly 550,000 members of his archdiocese were black. The Roman Catholic church ran the largest school district in the state of Louisiana, with 184 elementary schools and high schools. Forty of those schools served only black students.
Integrating His Dioscese.
In 1953 Archbishop Rummel began the process of integrating the Catholic church in his dioscese. He ordered the desegregation of his parishes, including parish organizations from which blacks had been banned from...
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Sheen, Fulton J. 1895-1979
ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST;
The idea of the 1950s as a religious decade is given credence by the fact that a religious show was one of the most popular programs on television.
Man of the Year.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was probably the best-known Roman Catholic clergyman of the 1950s because of his widely popular television show, "Life Is Worth Living." Sheen, who had attracted attention by his writings and his conversions of celebrities such as Clare Booth Luce, took his radio show to the new medium of television and excelled. He became one of the first television celebrities. In 1953 a Radio-Television Daily poll named him Television Man of the Year, and that same year the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences presented him with one of the first Emmy Awards as most outstanding personality.
That same year his television sermons, published under the title of his show, were eagerly purchased, and a series of those sermons were issued each year. He served as director of...
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Spellman, Francis Cardinal 1889-1967
ARCHBISHOP OF NEW YORK
The American Pope.
Francis Cardinal Spellman, named to the Papal Curia in 1946, was America's leading Roman Catholic clergyman in the mid twentieth century. His enemies sometimes called him "the American Pope," and the cardinal's residence and office on Fifth Avenue was openly referred to as "The Powerhouse." A staunch defender of the interests of his church as he saw them, he had few compunctions in engaging in public quarrels with those he opposed. As in his quarrel with Eleanor Roosevelt in the late 1940s over government aid to parochial schools, he frequently accused his opponents of being prejudiced against Catholics.
One of his tactics was to create controversy in 1951, when President Harry S Truman nominated Gen. Mark Clark ambassador to the Vatican. Cardinal Spellman defended this appointment and its usefulness but weakened his case by implying those who opposed diplomatic relations with the papacy were anti-Catholic. In spite of extensive Catholic support for the appointment, Clark withdrew his nomination in early 1952. The resistance from...
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Tillich, Paul 1886-1965
Responding to Modernity.
Paul Tillich was the most influential Protestant theologian in the United States in the 1950s. His program was to meld traditional Christianity with modern sensibilies regarding science, psychology, sociology, and ethics. His influence was immense, and along with Niebuhr he was instrumental in developing a Christian realism which many religious people felt necessary in the modern scientific and technological world of the 1950s.
Against the Nazis.
A professor of philosophy at the University of Frankfurt, the Prussian-born Tillich was suspended from that position by the National Socialist government in early 1933 and immigrated to the United States later that year. He took pride in asserting that he was "about the first non-Jewish professor dismissed from a German university." When he arrived he was given a visiting professorship at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Tillich became an...
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Watts, Alan 1915-1973
WRITER AND THINKER
During his career Alan Watts became known as the most lucid Western interpreter of Zen Buddhism. His blend of Eastern religion and drug exploration had great influence in the Beat movement and nascent counterculture movement which flowered in the 1960s.
Leaving the Episcopals.
Watts was born in Great Britain and came to the United States in 1939. He was ordained in the Episcopal priesthood in 1944 and served as chaplain at Northwestern University in Chicago until 1947. Watts left the church in 1950 and married Dorothy De Witt shortly afterward. He was quoted as saying that he left the Episcopal church "not because it doesn't practice what it preaches but because it preaches."
He taught at the American Academy of Asia Studies, a graduate school of the College of the Pacific, in San Francisco from 1951 to 1957, serving as dean of the school from 1953 to 1956. He left the school when the success of his The Way of Zen (1957) gave him the financial and intellectual independence to leave the academic world.
Voice for Asian Religions.
Watts was a leading voice for Asian religions, particularly the Zen form of Buddhism. His first book, The Spirit of Zen, was...
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People in the News
In February 1950 Dr. Bernard Beskamp was installed as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. His predecessor, Dr. James Shera Montgomery, served in the post for almost thirty years.
On 10 September 1958 Rev. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A, issued a statement saying that desegregation in the South should be enforced "with troops and tanks if necessary."
On 3 March 1950 Rev. Dr. Osmond H. Brown was appointed honorary canon of the Protestant Episcopal church. He was the first black to hold that position.
In January 1953 President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower selected National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., as his presidential place of worship. National Presbyterian was pastored by Dr. Edward L. R. Elson.
In January 1950 Donald D. Foster, a San Francisco businessman and state of California tax official, resigned his positions and made preparations to enter the Benedictine monastery of Saint Johns Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.
On 9 December 1958 Clara French, Methodist missionary secretary for China and Southeast Asia, was elected as the first female chairman of the National Council of Churches Foreign Missions Division.
Dr. Arthur D. Gray was elected...
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Mother Mary Aloysia, 84, founder and first president of the Roman Catholic College of Our Lady of Good Counsel, 29 December 1950.
Dr. Thomas W. Ayers, 95, the first Southern Baptist missionary to China, 5 January 1954.
Rev. George Bolton, director of the Christian Herald Bowery Mission in New York City and known as the "Bishop of the Bowery," 29 July 1959.
Most Rev. Hugh C. Boyle, 77, Roman Catholic bishop of Pittsburgh since 1921, 2 December 1950.
Cardinal Giuseppe Bruno, 79, chamberlain of the Vatican College of Cardinals, prefect of the Apostolic Signature, 10 November 1954.
Dr. George Albert Coe, 89, religious educator, 9 November 1951.
Rev. Dr. Henry S. Coffin, 77, president of Union Theo-logical Seminary (1926-1945), 25 November 1954.
Archbishop Christopher Contorgeorge, 56, Turkish-born primate of the Greek Orthodox church in the United States, 30 August 1950.
Rev. James R. Cox, 65, Roman Catholic priest who led the march of the unemployed to Washington, D.C., in 1932, 20 March 1951.
Rev. Arthur Powell Davies, outspoken liberal Unitarian clergyman, 26 September 1957.
Rev. Edward Thomas Demby, 88,...
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John Allegro, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of Christianity (New York: Criterion Books, 1957);
Robert E. Bremner, ed., Reshaping American Society and Institutions, 1945-1960 (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1982);
Bruce Cook, The Beat Generation (New York: Scribners, 1971);
Richard M. Fried, Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Prespective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990);
David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: William Morrow, 1986);
Walter Goodman, The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968);
Arthur Gordon, Norman Vincent Peale (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1958);
Will Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew. An Essay in American Religious Sociology (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955);
Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (New York: NAL, 1951);
Martin Luther King, Stride Toward Freedom (New York: Harper, 1958);
Andrew M. Manis, Southern Civil Religions in Conflict: Black And...
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Important Events in Religion, 1950–1959
- A House bill that excludes parochial schools from education funding is rejected by the Education and Labor Committee.
- In May, two Southern Baptist seminaries are recognized, one at Berkeley, California, the other at Wake Forest, North Carolina.
- On May 22, the American Baptist Convention extends an invitation to all organized Baptist Conventions (including Southern Baptists and two African-American Conferences) to join the National Baptist Convention.
- The Supreme Court assumes the right to review cases of state interference in religious freedom.
- The Supreme Court agrees to review the constitutional status of released-time programs for religious study in public schools in New York City.
- Because of the fighting in Korea, American missionaries are no longer accepted in China.
- Several Jewish synagogues are bombed in Miami, Florida.
- The United States fails to ratify the UN Genocide Convention.
- California joins other states in granting tax exemption to parochial schools.
- The Methodist church grants the right of African-American churches to transfer to white jurisdictions upon mutual agreement....
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