I used to have a friend who occasionally wore a t-shirt with a picture of Billy Sunday and the caption “Evangelical with an Attitude.” (Hi Fred!).
I thought about my friend and his shirt when I read Liva Gerson’s latest at JSTOR Daily: “Pop-Culture Preaching in the 1910s.” The piece draws on Margaret Bendroth’s Religion and American Culture essay “Why Women Loved Billy Sunday: Urban Revivalism and Popular Entertainment in Early Twentieth-Century American Culture.”
Here is a taste:
Evangelical megachurches like Hillsong Church—mainly known outside Christian circles as the spiritual home of Justin Bieber—often come under fire from more traditional Christians for drawing crowds with dynamic rock-star pastors rather than Biblical teaching. As religion historian Margaret Bendroth writes, however, the dilemma of the entertaining, sexy preacher has long been an issue. In the 1910s, for example, a former baseball player named Billy Sunday drew huge crowds of both sexes to blunt, provocative revival meetings.
In the early twentieth century, Bendroth writes, Protestant leaders worried about the “feminization” of their churches that had occurred in the Victorian Era. Sunday presented himself as a solution to the problem of “more feathers than whiskers” in the pews. Decrying “off-handed, flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, thin-skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, effeminate, ossified, three-carat Christianity,” he held services just for men. In these services he railed against vice, supported the cause of temperance, and waved a huge American flag.
Read the rest here.