Tuesday in Mooseville – The Many Tentacles of Christian Libertarianism, Part Two 2/5/19

Last week, I wrote about the early history of the Spiritual Mobilization organization, a group whose activities were largely limited to pamphleteering. Although Spiritual Mobilization at one point sent tracts to more than 70,000 pastors across the United States, in 1944, only 400 ministers were formally affiliated with the group. With the influx of corporate funding and the addition of staff with one foot in the corporate world, the focus would shift to actively enlisting spiritual leaders in communities (although Spiritual Mobilization was overwhelmingly Protestant Christian, Jewish and Catholic leaders were a small portion of their ranks) to join with the corporate financial backers in defeating the New Deal. (Source material is One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin Kruse, unless otherwise stated.)

The new approach worked. By the fall of 1945, Spiritual Mobilization had grown to 1800 affiliated pastors (Kruse, p. 18), and in 1946, when the organization was again seeking corporate funding, James Fifield (Spiritual Mobilization’s director) reported that they had 3517 minister-representatives with the expectation that they would have 10,000 by the spring of 1947 (they met the goal in February 1947). A Businessmen’s Advisory Committee for Spiritual Mobilization was formed which took over all fundraising efforts; corporations like General Motors, Chrysler, Republic Steel, and International Harvester were among those who ultimately gave the maximum allowable annual contribution (Kruse, p 20).

Spiritual Mobilization provided this network of spiritual leaders with a monthly publication. The publication advertised Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (described by Kruse as a “libertarian treatise” [p. 19]) and the writings of Garet Garrett, an anti-New Deal journalist and libertarian author. Pastors were being “educated” and embracing the opportunity to embrace others:

“Occasionally I preach a sermon directly on your theme, ” a midwestern minister wrote, “but equally important, it is in the background of my thoughts as I prepare all my sermons, meet various groups and individuals.” As it shaped his work inside his own church, the organization also helped him connect with like-minded clergymen nearby. “Being a representative,” he wrote, “developed a real sense of fellowship and understanding between me and some other ministers in our community who share Mobilization’s convictions and concerns.” (Kruse, pp. 19-20)

In addition to their monthly and suggested readings, Spiritual Mobilization sponsored themed sermon competitions which included prize money ($5000 in total prize money in 1947). The 1947 theme was “The Perils to Freedom,” and although the group only had 12,000 representatives at that point, it received double that in submissions, “representing 15 percent of the entire country’s clergymen.” (Kruse, p. 20). It seems fair to assume that a significant percentage of those submissions were also preached from the pulpit. Even though the Cold War was in its very early stages, Spiritual Mobilization made it very clear that the perils to which they referred were not from the Soviet Union but from liberalism within the United States.

“There is a very much accelerated response to the efforts of Spiritual Mobilization,” Fifield confided [in private correspondence to funders], “because it is so obvious that the battle to collectivize America is really on, and on in earnest since the announcement of President Truman’s legislative program.” (Kruse, p. 22)

This focus on the enemy within worked well until Spiritual Mobilization decided to start broadcasting on radio. A public relations move disguised as a public service, Fifield started providing The Freedom Story to radio stations, 15-minutes of airtime with a dramatic story and a brief comment from Fifield. Because it was usable by radio stations as a public service segment, it was free airtime for Spiritual Mobilization, while also providing stations with a segment that was interesting to listeners. However, Fifield’s lawyer expressed concern that his direct attacks on Democrats would result in the segment losing its public service status.

“I admire your determination not to side-step the issues,” he [the lawyer] wrote, but “you can only go so far with respect to currently controversial and specific issues without disqualifying the program as a public service feature.” As a solution, his counsel suggested that Fifield use “from time to time a horrible example from current experience in the socialist and communist countries of Europe and Asia. We could go as far as we want in that field in the dramatic part of the program,” he continued, “and your speech could be developed in such a way as to make it plain enough to your radio audience that we are heading for the same kind of situation here.” …Heeding the advice of his legal counsel, Fifield relied on foreign examples to illustrate the issue, decrying the impact of collectivism in communist lands. But the minister tackled domestic subjects as well. One week the show explored Reconstruction, claiming that the southern states had thrived without federal policies or subsidies after the Civil War; the next, it celebrated the history of the Boy Scouts, arguing that the private organization’s success stemmed directly from a lack of government meddling. (Kruse, p. 23)

By 1951, The Freedom Story could be heard on more than eight hundred radio stations each week in the United States.

Spiritual Mobilization also launched a new monthly magazine, Faith and Freedom, billed as created by ministers for ministers. The magazine articles, however, were largely written by leading conservative and libertarian writers of the day, from Ludwig von Mises (Austrian school of economics) to Henry Hazlitt (founder of what is now called the American Enterprise Institute) to Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder).

Spiritual Mobilization had long operated on the principle that clergymen could not be swayed through crude propaganda. “The articulation should be worked out before-hand, of course, and we should be ready to help the thinking of the ministers on it,” Haake noted in one of his early musings on Spiritual Mobilization, “but it should be so done as to enable them to discover it for themselves, as something which they really had believed but not realized fully until our questions brought it ous so clearly. I am sure we may not TELL them: not as laymen, or even as fellow clergymen. We must help them to discover it themselves.” The new magazine embraced this approach wholeheartedly. (Kruse, p, 24)

Fifield and the magazine’s editor, William Johnson shared the belief that morality directly informed both politics and economics, and Fifield sincerely believed he sought solutions to problems by measuring those solutions against Christian principles and spiritual values (e.g. liberty and personal responsibility) that were in accordance with God’s will. Despite that claim, liberal policies were invariably found to be contrary to God’s will; by default, people who promoted liberal policies must be immoral and working against God’s will.

With that profound sense of assurance and rightness, in 1951, Spiritual Mobilization decided their next step would be to organize and promote events coinciding with the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The celebrations would be centered on the theme “Freedom Under God” and organized by a “Committee to Proclaim Liberty” (see Leviticus 25: 10). Although the committee alleged to have an underlying scriptural imperative, very few clergy were actually on the committee; instead the planning committee looked like a Who’s Who list of Big Business executives and conservative politicians. The push for a unified event centered around readings of the preamble to the Declaration across the country (reading the entire Declaration of Independence would have undermined their claims of oppressive government and highlighted the undesirable results of the absence of government). Some of the companies related to the committee took out full page ads in newspapers, and provided “helpful” commentary for each section of the preamble.

Freedom Under God

These words are the stones upon which man has built history’s greatest work — the United States of America. Remember them well!
“…all men are created equal…”
That means you are as important in the eyes of God as any man brought into this world. You are made in his image and likeness. There is no “superior” man anywhere.
“…they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” Here is your birthright — the freedom to live, work, worship, and vote as you choose. These are rights no government on earth may take from you.
“…That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…” Here is the reason for and the purpose of government. Government is but a servant-not a master-not a giver of anything.
“…deriving their just powers from the consent of the gov­erned…”
In America, the government may assume only the powers you allow it to have. It may assume no others.   Freedom Under God: Christian Libertarianism and the politics of piety and patriotism

In conjunction with the celebrations, minister-representatives were encouraged to preach on the topic of “Freedom Under God” on “Independence Sunday” (July 1, 1951), and to further encourage participation, another sermon contest was held with cash prizes. CBS national radio network carried a program amplifying the sermons on Sunday evening, and the ad agency J. Walter Thompson promoted the broadcast. Cecil B. DeMille produced the show; Jimmy Stewart was the master of ceremonies; and Lionel Barrymore read the preamble. The actual sermons were not read but merely served as the starting off point, and what a starting off point they were. An excerpt from the winning sermon by a Baptist minister in Mendota, IL:

“For 175 years we have focused our attention so much on ‘the enjoyment of our liberty’ that we have been perfectly willing to pass all kinds of legislation limiting the other fellow’s liberty for our benefit,” he argued. “‘Government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ has become government of the people by pressure groups for the benefit of minorities. ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ has been shortened to just plain ‘Give me.'”…”America stands at the cross roads. …The one road leads to the slavery which has always been the lot of those who have chosen collectivism in any of its forms,” he said, be it “communism, socialism, the Welfare State–they are cut from the same pattern. The other road leads to the only freedom there is”–free enterprise. (Kruse p. 32)

The Independence Sunday festivities were only outdone by the celebrations on July 4th. The Committee to Proclaim Liberty organized a plan for churches across the country to ring their bells at noon for ten minutes. After the bell-ringing groups congregated in churches, homes, and public spaces to read the preamble, and in Los Angeles, an evening rally was held which attracted 50,000 residents, and another reading of the preamble, this time by Gregory Peck.

The phrase “under God” had entered the American lexicon and consciousness. It would never leave it again. Although it wasn’t until 1954 that the words were added to the pledge, the momentum created by Spiritual Mobilization was integral and essential to the passage of the eventual legislation.

  5 comments for “Tuesday in Mooseville – The Many Tentacles of Christian Libertarianism, Part Two 2/5/19

  1. basket
    February 5, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Thanks for the second part in this series, DoReMI. It really seems as though they have become too embedded to be removed, but hopefully we can limit their influence.

    • DoReMI
      February 5, 2019 at 12:57 pm

      I think knowing that these sorts of groups spring from a long history that is neither organic or grassroots or new is a helpful perspective. Whether it helps combat them is an entirely different question, and one that I don’t see clear answers to. When one is willing to disregard facts in favor of self-created mythology (e.g. the United States is a Christian nation), I don’t know that you stop them as much as overwhelm them with the numbers of the majority and shove them back into a corner of irrelevance (and maybe even with a bit of shaming). But they have their own “news” channel; their own network of “think” tanks; and virtually unlimited funding, all of which make them…and the rest of us…fall into the trap of treating them as if they have earned their place as a governing force. “Electing” Individual 1 has made it even harder to marginalize them, because they can point to the Current Resident as some sort of proof of their power (completely ignoring the role of Russia, Bernie, Comey, et al). It’s a difficult problem, but I can’t help but think that knowing that these forces are built upon an edifice of myths and cynicism and self-serving corporate funding may be useful information…somehow.

  2. bfitzinAR
    February 5, 2019 at 11:55 am

    {{{DoReMI}}} As always, thanks for your research. This shows, one more time, how oh so easily self-serving propaganda can sanctify racism, greed, and a sense of unfulfilled entitlement. It took 10 years but probably would have done it in 5 if WWII hadn’t interfered. That whiny, wimpy, and damned dangerous elitist inferiority that always blames its lack on others – racist, misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic, isolationist, “nativist” (such an appropriation – kill the Natives, steal their stuff, claim to be natives, & get all whiny because the stuff ended up in somebody else’s hands – as originally planned by those whose hands it ended up in). It’s just so very easy to push Deplorables into believing what they want to believe because it removes any responsibility for their own actions or abilities from their real or perceived failures. And it works so very well because they want to believe it. Truly living up to “Christian” principles is work. And requires taking responsibility for one’s own actions. It requires being thankful for what we have, recognizing it was only party due to one’s own efforts that we have it, & sharing our blessings (& work) with those in need. Those are also the true principles of any religion or faith Tradition. And no nation lives up to them. America have always been exceptional in our not living up to them.

  3. JanF
    February 6, 2019 at 5:46 am

    Slightly off topic but inspired by your liberal(!) quotation from Kevin Kruse’s book. I follow Kevin on Twitter and his historical insights are always spot on. His pinned tweet is about the lie that causes me serious pain every time I hear it simply because it is willful ignorance of history: that Democrats are the party of racism and Republicans are the party of Lincoln. Here is the tweet thread:

    Southern Democrats were a completely different political party than Northern Democrats and Northern Republicans because the real party split was over the unresolved Civil War. When I see Hannity and his ilk saying that Democrats are the actual racists because they were the party of the KKK, I want to throw things at my computer screen. I think the only way to destroy this lie is to destroy the modern Republican Party – burn it to the ground and bury the ashes. Let it rise again as the Christian Libertarian Party so we can see exactly what they stand for and the principles that inspire them.

    • DoReMI
      February 6, 2019 at 10:01 am

      I follow a whole bunch of #Twitterstorians, but Kevin Kruse is one of my favorites. Not only is his history done well (watching him condense it into tweet form is a thing of beauty), but watching him dismantle D’Souza makes my heart sing. (I’m petty that way.)

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