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Review: “The Sword of the Lord”

August 9, 2011

This is the Amazon review the author (Andrew Himes, Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family, Chiara Press, Seattle, WA 2011) encouraged me to post after I e-mailed him after making my response to [Rice successor] Robert Sumner’s review (q.v. earlier post).

I didn’t even have an Amazon account, had to create one, but then buy something and wait 48 hours to be able to post. (I got Take 6’s “The Standard”; which for some reason I kept forgetting. I’ve collected all their albums since almost when they first came out. I also see they have a new Christmas album I didn’t know about).


This was a great read, and hopefully a conversation starter within the Church.
It’s like a refresher course on American history and on Protestantism as well, and places the development of fundamentalism in those larger contexts. It was a nicely interwoven account of personal testimony and secular and religious history, covering many of the top names of Christianity from a few decades ago, and showing how they converged and diverged.

It puts a human face onto those pesky people who’ve always been scolding society, and even other segments of the Church. Who are these people? To someone who grew up far removed from them (in a family already turned against Christianity by the ’60s), they were these strangers who yet seemed to want to control your life. And they preached against every sin except racial hatred. I could never for the life of me fathom that. Their political policies also seemed to favor racial status quo’s, and there was much self-righteous “we’re the good guys and everyone is against us” attitude.

From the way they denounce others, they themselves seem to promote themselves as these super Christians who have sin completely under control in their own lives. We had not really heard much public scandal among Independent Fundamental Baptists, from which this “separatist” fundamentalism hails. Yet, not to long ago, the IFB movement did come into the spotlight a bit with a 20/20 story on a reported sex scandal. Many reacted defensively for the movement in discussions, but they do not realize how they have made themselves big targets with the “righteous” posture they have taken towards everyone else.

On my end, this comes immediately on the heels of finishing Michelle Alexanders’ The New Jim Crow, which argues that the mass incarceration system of the “War on Drugs” continues the legacy in a way.
While many liberals (including Martin Luther King later on) came to see class (economics) as superseding race, both books show how wealth was at the root of racism the whole time; since slavery.

From [Sumner’s] review, giving the usual excuses about King’s bad theology, and reading that Himes had moved to the far left (and like a couple of others, not completely sure where he’s at today) I wondered if there’d be perhaps a guilt-stirring plea that King was an angel and should have been followed regardless of his theology. But he didn’t do that at all. Perhaps calling King a “prophet of God heeding the cry of the poor and oppressed” (p280) is what was reacted to, but then that seemed to be in the context of Billy Graham’s acceptance of him.

Himes managed to expose what went on without even having to do it in a “stick it to them” sort of way. Including the notion that people had fashioned a “God” that was just like themselves.
It is a needed insider account of this movement that manages to respect them as humans, rather than villains. He has gone through a lot in just his own journey. We got a little bit of this from writers like Philip Yancey over the years, but here we have a full account.
It was overall a very interesting, and nicely flowing read. It was even a quick read, for such a full volume.

I learned that Rice finally did put the KKK on the same level as other “secret societies”. The failure of others to do that was one of the most glaring inconsistencies I had always noticed.
And continuing to tone down and rethink his attitudes towards the end of his life. By the end of the book, I was practically sympathizing with him.
I would say the only real rebuke (and a good one) was to BJU professor Beale’s 1986 statement toward the end. Otherwise, he’s just telling it like it was.

I would say the book was very fair, just laying out the dirty truth that was there.
Leaders boldly spewed race rhetoric in the past, (confident it was divine truth), not knowing that it would one day become an embarassment that would come back to haunt them or their successors, and it could even become a “card” they would resent feeling they were having “played” on them (as people complain today).
So they ended up torn and riding the fence between upholding their predecessors as faultless and almost pure, and yet being hypersensitive to the modern offense of others’ towards racism.
So what they do is become touchy about the whole issue, wishing no one would mention it (unless it’s a fellow conservative highlighting blacks’ “problems” and negative effects on society).

So this was a good treatment of a subject that is hard to discuss. Hardly anyone has ever really called them out biblically on this stuff. (Maintaining the illusion that their beliefs are above scriptural reproach). People rebelling (and often throwing off Christianity along with it) may mock or ignore the fundamentalists, further feeding their martyrdom complex. (Which becomes their deflectionary tool). The other approach is usually the more moderate “peace and love” premise (which often takes those aspects of religion as givens, but does not expound scripture enough), which fuels their claim that their religious opponents have simply sold out to modernism.

So it seemed like the choice was either between the Bible and racism, or modernism and equality; with nothing inbetween. This is perhaps why so many people just turned away from the Bible, if they hadn’t taken the latter course.

The closest to a strong biblical rebuke I have seen is from Michael Horton; particularly in Beyond Culture Wars, which hits the nail on the head in several points. But he is addressing both fundamentalists and new-evangelicals together, with a stronger focus on the new-evangelicals. He actually echoes some of the fundamentalists’ criticisms in some respects. So I’m afraid that fundamentalists can look at his writings, and cheer them on, while missing the stuff that speaks to them. (Plus, it seems, Horton’s ultimate objective is the promotion of Calvinism which both I and most of the revivalists would disagree with).

The one thing I would fault Himes for is actually granting them that racism was based on a “literal” reading of the Bible. But it was not based on a literal reading at all! It was based on selective reading at best, and outright eisegesis (adding of stuff that was not there), at worst.

It would in fact have been so easy to chop down the entire tree of racism from just a handful of scriptures, —taken literally—:

•The very root, in Genesis 9, where it is assumed God placed a “curse” on black people (in favor of the presumed ancestors of the lighter skinned people), but from the very getgo:

—God did not even utter that curse (it was a hungover Noah; read the previous verses!), and never claimed to even honor it (we assumed it was honored since Noah evoked God, and the Canaanites were ordered to be conquered and killed, by God, but it doesn’t say this was the fruition of the curse).

—While some of the nations that descended from the three brothers can be indentified with modern people or their ancestors, this is still no hard “lines between the nations” (as Bob Jones Sr. once called what integrationists were seeking to “rub out”, cited p.259), as the races have all mixed, and God never upheld the Noahic divisions as fixed subspecies to be the basis for “separation”; it was always religious fidelity (next point); even in the nation of Israel, where “strangers” were allowed to integrate, as long as the obeyed the divine Law.

—And even if God had uttered it; why would something like a racial curse go beyond the Cross? If the Israelites were not saved by their inheritance, then neither would any other group be specially condemned by their physical inheritance, beyond the Adamic sin that cursed the entire human race.

The book also on p57 actually makes the mistake of quoting v25 as saying “And God said ‘cursed be Canaan’…”. It says “he”, referring to Noah in the previous verse.

•2 Cor 6:14, the key “separation” scripture, was another one extended to race, even when the people of the other race were Christians. The text clearly says “unbelievers”, and that, alone.
How do you expect those you preach to on “separation” to take you seriously when you can totally misread such a simple verse like that?

•And then, how even the scriptures mentioning slavery, their practices were in violation of.
The book cites Ex.21 (p57-8) where a slaveowner was punished if he killed the slave with the rod, but not if it didn’t kill him. But the fact is, in US slavery, they often did kill them, and let’s not forget other stuff like rape.
And then you have Eph. 6:9, Col.4:1 and many other scriptures on the way the people involved are to behave and treat each other (they only quoted the “servants obey your masters” portion of those passages).

•Positively, there’s Acts 17:26 and (within the context of the Body of Christ) Gal. 3:28.

Suggesting the ideology was based on a literal reading and then criticizing the ideology appears to discredit literal readings of the Bible and grants their case that they were defending the Word of God in maintaining racism and that those who opposed it were indelibly modernist.
But it’s not true. Adding to the word of God like they did is just as bad as taking away from it, like the modernists did!

Clearly, the racial ideology, wrapped up in fleshly human self-preservationism, was a false gospel pure and simple, every bit as much as what the dreaded modernists believe. A “gospel” that was no gospel at all, as its victims could certainly testify. (And ironic, that this was promoted, or later defended under the need to “win souls” and bring “revival”!) It was nothing more than, as Horton put it, a conservative Social Gospel”; and as he even cites Randall Terry as calling it, the “liberation theology of the Right”. (As he points out, in comparing the focus on abortion with all the other neglected issues, they were thinking “politically” rather than “theologically”).
If our own light was “darkness”, then how dark we (as a nation) were indeed! How could a “moral leadership” that would operate off of such rampant self-protection and denial of its own flaws ever be able to maintain a godly society or lead a society back to God or a Church to “revival”?

So they persecuted others at the same time as, and in fact under the premise of worrying that everyone was out to destroy or dominate them. Could they not see the parallel between the way they regarded blacks, with the way the Israelites regarded the Samaritans, and for some of the same kinds of reasons? (And at least Israelites were the “chosen people” in scripture, unlike these nations thousands of years later!)

Listen to the stories of the angriest black revolutionaries, or the most rebellious white children of fundamentalists from 40 years ago, and what do you consistently hear? “They taught us that self-preservation was wrong (“trust God”, “turn the other cheek”, “only soul-winning and Heaven is important”), but then defended themselves at any cost (including sending us off to war)”.
The ideology twisted scripture, and then presupposed itself as a given “truth” just like the doctrines of those other groups [modernists, and JW’s, Mormons, edited the latter two out]. This ultimately relativized truth just as much as the modernists did.

They probably feel that to admit their forefathers and predecessors wrong on this issue will call into question the truthfulness of everything else they taught (and verify “modernism”; and this was the whole excuse of moderates like Rice for not condemning racism).
But it was those people’s fault for binding race and self-preservationism up with the “fundamentals of the faith” in the first place. Part of realizing how wrong they were should be realizing the colossal mess they’ve left for us (and damage to the cause of the Gospel); and not simply blaming this on others (“race-baiters”, etc).

I believe the fundamentalists, with all their fervor and commitment to doctrine, would be the ones most likely to lead some sort of revival. Certainly more than the contemporary Church, which has in many ways blended with the trends of the secular world.
However, the reason why they have not been effective in revival, and are just being swept further to the fringes, is because their concept of revival is grossly distorted to begin with.
They start from a premise that they are already in line with God’s Word, and thus are qualified to call everyone else into line. (Assuming everything they were taught since their often strikingly young “conversions” was Biblical and beyond question).

Revival then becomes about them telling everyone else what to do, while they won’t budge an inch on anything, or even so much as check to see whether they (in their humanity) might have skewed some of their readings of scripture. (It’s like “regeneration” is seen as guaranteeing near perfection, which is not biblical). And further splintering in opposition to even their own former coworkers. This is actually the sin of “emulation” (basically, one-upmanship) mentioned in Gal. 5:20.
But this is not how any Biblical revival ever went, and not the attitude of true scriptural messengers, who often included themselves in the “sinners” they were preaching to, or even thought themselves too unclean to preach! This attitude was totally absent in fundamentalism, where it seemed everyone was so quick and eager to step up and preach against someone else. (James 3:1)

So hopefully, this book will bring all this stuff further into light, and perhaps today’s fundamentalists will be finally realize the negative side of their past, and then realize, as Himes concludes the book with, a greater need to love. It ends on the apologies offered by the SBC and even BJU, though many negative attitudes continue in politics, where it seems many people still blame “lazy, immoral minorities” for our economic problems (i.e. high taxes). So a lot more discourse is needed, and hopefully, this can be the start of it.

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