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The Quiet Crusade: Moody Bible Institute's Outreach to Public Schools and the Mainstrearning of Appalachia, 1921–66

  • Adam Laats (a1)

In 1921, William Norton of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago pushed, pulled, and dragged his Model T along the back roads of the southern Appalachians. He visited churches, schools, and private homes, talking with anyone and everyone he could find. His question was always the same: “Do you have enough Bibles?” The answers he received shocked him. As far as Norton could tell, many of the “mountaineers” were nominally Christian, but they had often never seen a Bible, much less read one of their own. As the head of the Moody Bible Institute's Bible Institute Colportage Association, he immediately put together a plan. “To reach these people quickly,” he wrote in his report, “I am convinced that it can be done most efficiently … through the public schools.… A great majority of the teachers are ready to cooperate.”

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1. Quoted in Taylor, Kenneth, “Gold Behind the Ranges,” Christian Life (06 1948): 26, clipping in the Moody Literature Mission (hereafter MLM) File, Moody Bible Institute (hereafter MBI) Archive.

2. “Taylor-Gunther Southern Trip,” February 12–24, 1951, typewritten report, MLM File, MBI Archive.

3. Gunther, Peter F. and Abuhl, Bert, “MLM Southland Trip,” March, 1966, typewritten memo, MLM File, MBI Archive.

4. Gunther, Peter, “Evangelism in Depth for Appalachia,” Moody Literature Mission News (hereafter MLM News), no. 6, 1964, MLM File, MBI Archive.

5. Carpenter, Joel A., Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), xi.

6. Trollinger, William Vance, God's Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990); Brereton, Virginia Lieson, Training God's Army: Protestant Fundamentalist Bible Schools, 1880–1940 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990); Marsden, George M., Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987).

7. Marsden, George M., Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism: 1870–1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 6.

8. Quote is from Carpenter, Revive Us Again, 3.

9. Findlay, James F. Jr., Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 327; Getz, Gene A., MBI: The Story of Moody Bible Institute (Chicago: Moody, 1969), 37.

10. Runyan, William M., ed., Dr. Gray at Moody Bible Institute (New York: Oxford University Press, 1935), 131.

11. Brereton, Training God's Army, x. Even the historian Stewart Cole, usually a hostile critic of conservative evangelism, singled out the MBI as the leader of the Bible institute movement. Furthermore, he recognized that Bible institutes were the key to the promotion of conservative evangelical Protestantism: Cole, Stewart, The History of Fundamentalism (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1971), 249. The sympathetic historian Ernest Sandeen argued that the MBI was “certainly the most influential such school”: Sandeen, Ernest R., The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism 1800–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 242.

12. Getz, , MBI, 262, 276, 281, 314. For the Moody Institute of Science, see Gilbert, James, Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an Age of Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). As Gilbert argues, these technological achievements demonstrate the tension between the MBI's embrace of modern technology and its attack on theological modernism.

13. Getz, , MBI, 175.

14. Noah Porter quoted in Brown, Candy Gunther, The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789–1880 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 115. Comstock quoted in Denning, Michael, Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America (New York: Verso, 1987), 51. For more on early pulp fiction, see Blackbeard, Bill, “Pulps and Dime Novels,” in Handbook of American Popular Literature, ed. Inge, M. Thomas (New York: Greenwood, 1988), 217–50.

15. Nord, David Paul, Faith in Reading: Religious Publishing and the Birth of Mass Media in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 8385; Gutjahr, Paul C., An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777–1880 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999), 3233; Nord, , The Evangelical Origins of Mass Media in America, 1815–1835 (Columbia, S.C.: Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 1984), 18; and Wosh, Peter J., Spreading the Word: The Bible Business in Nineteenth-Century America (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994).

16. Arline Harris, “Free Print for the Hungry,” typewritten document, 1949, BICA file, MBI Archive. See also Harris's “Moody's Silent Missionaries,” typewritten document, n.d., BICA file, MBI Archive. Harris worked for the publicity department of the MBI, so her story is obviously told from a sympathetic viewpoint. However, her source for this information was a series of interviews with the old guard of the MBI, some of who had worked directly with Moody. Many of them told Harris their memories of the foundation of the BICA. Some remnants of their correspondence are in the BICA file at the MBI Archive. The foundation story also appears repeatedly in BICA literature. See, for example, the version told in “These Forty-Two Years: Still Reaching the Multitudes,” BICA annual report, 1937, BICA file, MBI Archive.

17. “29th Annual Report of the D. L. Moody Missionary Book Funds,” 1924, BICA file, MBI Archive. These targeted groups varied with time, but some long-lasting categories included the “Hospital” fund, the “Prison” fund, the “Pioneer” fund, which delivered books to isolated westerners, the “Negro” fund, the “Lumbermen” fund, the “Spanish” fund, the “Alaskan” fund, and so on. With the advent of New Deal programs, the “CCC” fund was soon established, and when World War II broke out, the “Army and Navy” fund was established. Of all these funds, the “Mountain” fund, which targeted southern Appalachian and Ozark schoolchildren, was consistently one of the largest. The “Prison” and “Hospital” funds were the other two funds that consistently attracted the highest donations.

18. Findlay, , Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist, 1837–1899, 398.

19. Harris, “Free Print for the Hungry,” 1949, and “Moody's Silent Missionaries,” n.d., typewritten documents in the BICA file, MBI Archive. BICA also occasionally published a catalog, “Best Books for Bible Believers.” These catalogs contain full listings of Colportage Library books, and several are extant in the BICA file, MBI Archive. For more about evangelical libraries, see Brown, , The Word in the World, 8688.

20. McCauley, Deborah Vansau, Appalachian Mountain Religion: A History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 377 ff. (Pierson's story), 404 (Myers). McCauley suggests that the residents of the southern Appalachians had a much stronger tradition of religion than most missionaries gave them credit for. Historian Henry D. Shapiro argues that in roughly 1870–90, the home mission movement “discovered” the idea that the southern mountains constituted a distinct target region for missionary work, and that this work took off in the 1880s. See his Appalachia on Our Mind: The Southern Mountains and Mountaineers in the American Consciousness, 1870–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978).

21. Rutledge, Arthur B., Mission to America: A Century and a Quarter of Southern Baptist Home Missions (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman, 1969), 45, 111.

22. Quoted in McCauley, , Appalachian Mountain Religion, 434.

23. Eastman, Fred, Unfinished Business of the Presbyterian Church in America (Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster, 1921), 15.

24. McMillan, Homer, “Unfinished Tasks” of the Southern Presbyterian Church (Richmond, Va.: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1922), 17.

25. Brown, , The Word in the World, 6065.

26. This plan is described in “Free Print for the Hungry” by Arline Harris, ot the Publicity Department of the MBI, typewritten report, MLM File, MBI Archive, 1949, 9. It is also described as “The Plan of Working,” in “Where Hungry Souls Await the Bread of Life,” Colportage department fundraising brochure, MLM File, MBI Archive. The scheme is also described by Gene Getz, in MBI, 247.

27. My calculations are based on several sources. The most complete source was the monthly reports of Book Fund performance, published between 1921 and 1938 in the pages of the Moody Bible Institute Monthly. Even these reports, however, were incomplete, since the Book Fund reports were occasionally omitted from crowded issues of the magazine. Another useful source was the file of annual reports of the Book Funds. These contained yearly totals for cash donations and literature deliveries. The archival file of these reports, however, is incomplete.

One further problem with the computation of total numbers of books delivered to public schools is that there was no accurate record kept of school deliveries between 1921 and 1957. Although the vast majority of the “mountain” books went to public schools, not all of them did. The records contain occasional hints about the ratio between total book deliveries and those intended for schools, and I based my estimate on this ratio. For example, the August 1929 monthly report contained a note that 454 out of 479 deliveries were made to public school teachers.

In light of all these approximations and estimations, I always used the lowest possible number to calculate the totals of books received. By this reckoning, it seems very likely that public schools received at least 8, 396, 836 books between 1921 and 1966. This does not include the number of tracts delivered, but it does include all other categories of book.

28. Brown, , The Word in the World, 1.

29. Trollinger, William V., “Creating Fundamentalist Community: The Pilot and Its Readers, 1925–1945” (paper presented at the conference for Religion and the Culture of Print in America: Authors, Publishers, Readers and More since 1876,Madison, Wisconsin,September 10–11, 2004).

30. Horton, T. C., ed., The Gospel of John (Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1922), 2; Weir, James H., “The Power of God unto Salvation,” Moody Bible Institute Monthly (05 1921): 423; Norton, William, “The Gospel in Print,” Moody Bible Institute Monthly (02 1921): 295.

31. Norton, William, “The Gospel in Print,” Moody Bible Institute Monthly (03 1921): 343.

32. “The Bible Institute Colportage Association” (Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1896); “Preaching the Gospel in Print” (Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1921).

33. Bible Institute Colportage Association's Annual Report, 1939, BICA File, MBI Archive. For a similar tension among earlier evangelicals, see Brown, , The Word in the World, 4878; see also Nord, , Faith in Reading, 145.

34. Nord, , The Evangelical Origins of Mass Media in America, 1815–1835, 22.

35. Brown, , The Word in the World, 55 (“purity and presence”); MLM News, no. 2, 1968, MLM File, MBI Archive; “Share in the Spiritual Victory Too!,” 194?, MLM File, MBI Archive; “‘The Poor Have the Gospel Preached to Them’ —By Means of the Printed Page: Forty-Fifth Annual Report of the D. L. Moody Missionary Book Funds for the Fiscal Year Ended February 29, 1940,” MLM File, MBI Archive; “Arm Our Boys with the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ for their ‘Fight of Faith,’” 194?, MLM File, MBI Archive; Kenneth, Taylor, “Gold Behind the Ranges,” 27. For an analysis of the ways this conflation of conversion and marketing appeal functioned during the nineteenth-century formation of evangelical print culture, see Brown, , The Word in the World, 2733, 5178.

36. Brown, , The Word in the World, 3341, 141–53.

37. Horton, , ed., The Gospel of John, 69 (five fundamental doctrines), 79 (“Royal Resolution”).

38. Wright, Anna Potter, Rosa's Quest or, The Way to the Beautiful Land (Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1905); Norton, William, “The Gospel in Print,” Moody Bible Institute Monthly (07 1921): 463.

39. Smith, Oswald J., The Man in the Well (Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1934).

40. Unfortunately, the Book Funds kept no record of the titles of books distributed, except to single out the Gospels of John and the Pocket Treasuries. These other books were all lumped together into two categories: Evangel Booklets and the Colportage Library. The annual reports of the Missionary Book Funds indicate that Appalachian public schools received a mix of both tendentious fiction and hortatory nonfiction, but the ratio between the two was never made clear.

41. “Preaching the Gospel in Print,” BICA instructional pamphlet, 1921, BICA File, MBI Archive.

42. See, for example, “Preaching the Gospel in Print,” BICA instructional pamphlet, 1921, BICA File, MBI archive; “A Million Neglected Souls Given the Message of Life: The Annual Report for the D. L. Moody Missionary Book Funds from March 1, 1930, to February 28, 1931,” 1931, BICA File, MBI Archive; “These Forty-Two Years: Still Reaching the Multitudes,” BICA annual report, 1937, BICA File, MBI Archive.

43. “A Million Neglected Souls Given the Message of Life.”

44. “Where Hungry Souls Await the Bread of Life,” Colportage department fundraising brochure, n.d., MLM File, MBI Archive (emphasis in original). “‘Holding Forth The Word of Life …’ to THOUSANDS in Army Camps, Prisons, Hospitals, Mountain and Pioneer Districts … through the PRINTED PAGE,” Colportage department fundraising brochure, n.d., MLM File, MBI Archive.

45. For a good overview of the antimodernity campaigns of the 1920s, see Dumenil, Lynn, The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995). For a look at the way this antimodernism formed a part of American intellectual culture, see Lears, T. J. Jackson, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1981). For an in-depth look at the campaigns of the 1920s KKK in Indiana, see Moore, Leonard J., Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921–1928 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

46. Shapiro, , Appalachia on Our Mind, 134.

47. McMillan, , “Unfinished Tasks” of the Southern Presbyterian Church, 98; Hutchins is quoted in Shapiro, , Appalachia on Our Mind, 278, n. 14.

48. “‘Without God and Without Hope,’” BICA fundraising brochure, 193?, MLM File, MBI Archive.

49. “Arm Our Boys with the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ for their ‘Fight of Faith,’” Colportage department fundraising brochure, 194?, MLM File, MBI Archive.

50. “Unto All …,” Colportage department fundraising brochure, 1947, MLM File, MBI Archive.

51. “An Encouraging Report,” Colportage department fundraising brochure, 194?, MLM File, MBI Archive.

52. Taylor, , “Gold Behind the Ranges,” 2728.

53. MLM News, no. 1, 1968.

54. Lowell, Saunders, “D. L. Challenged, ‘It Can't Be Done,’” The Moody Student 16 (11 30, 1951): 1; MLM News, no. 1, 1965.

55. See, for example, “and many Believed: A Report from Colportage Department of Moody Bible Institute,” Colportage department fundraising brochure, 195?, MLM File, MBI Archive; MLM News, February 1960; MLM News, December 1961; MLM News, October, 1962; MLM News, no. 2, 1966.

56. “An Encouraging Report,” Colportage department fundraising brochure, 194?, MLM File, MBI Archive.

57. Boles, Donald E., The Bible, Religion, and the Public Schools (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1963), 131–44.

58. Boles, , The Bible, Religion, and the Public Schools, 53; Jorgenson, Lloyd P.. The State and the Non-Public School, 1825–1925 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987), 135.

59. MLM News, no. 4, 1963.

60. MLM News, no. 1, 1964.

61. MLM News, no. 3, 1965.

62. MLM News, no. 3, 1964.

63. MLM News, no. 5, 1965.

64. “Supreme Court Rejects Hearing on School Prayers,” Chicago Sun-Times, 14 December 1965, clipping in MLM file, MBI Archive; MLM News, no. 1, 1966.

65. For the emigration from Appalachia, see Jones, Jacqueline, “Southern Diaspora: Origins of the Northern ‘Underclass’” in The “Underclass” Debate: Views from History, ed. Michael, Katz (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993). Jones argues that up to one-third of the population of Kentucky migrated, white and African American, and about one-fourth of West Virginia. I am indebted to Bill Reese for this reference.

66. Shapiro, , Appalachia on Our Mind, 240; McCauley, , Appalachian Mountain Religion.

67. “Moody Bible Institute Quarterly Fellowship Letter,” March 1963, MLM File, MBI Archive; Gunther, Peter, “Evangelism in Depth for Appalachia.”

68. “Moody's Oldest Employee Dies,” typescript memorandum, BICA File, MBI Archive.

69. Norton's 1921 report quoted in Taylor, , “Gold Behind the Ranges,” 26.

70. Carpenter, , Revive Us Again, 187210, 217–29; Marsden, , Reforming Fundamentalism, 3.

71. Taylor, , “Gold Behind the Ranges,” 27; Carpenter, , Revive Us Again, 206–9.

72. “Moody Memo” 7 (January 2, 1953): 1, news release, MLM File, MBI Archive; News release, October 21, 1963, MLM File, MBI Archive.

73. Askew, Thomas A. Jr., The Liberal Arts College Encounters Intellectual Change: A Comparative Study of Education at Knox and Wheaton Colleges, 1837–1925 (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1969); Williams, Robert, Chartered for His Glory: Biola University, 1908–1983 (La Mirada, Calif.: Associated Students of Biola University, 1983).

74. Shapiro, , Appalachia on Our Mind, 5, 39, 240.

75. Wosh, , Spreading the Word; Brown, , The Word in the World, 2733, 5178.

76. Marsden, , Reforming Fundamentalism, 10; Dalhouse, Mark Taylor, An Island in the Lake of Fire: Bob Jones University, Fundamentalism, and the Separatist Movement (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 114.

77. See, for example, Taylor, , “Can We Win the War of Words?,” Moody Monthly 55 (03 1955): 13, 1618, 33.

78. Carpenter, , Revive Us Again, esp. chap. 11–12.

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