When I was in fourth grade my sister, Judy, with great urgency, convinced me to attend the revival happening at her church. She feared for my soul, and was distraught that I would burn in Hell forever if I didn't get right with God. The next evening I went with my sister to hear the legendary Sword of the Lord evangelist John R. Rice.
Rice was the mentor to Billy Graham, Bob Jones, Jerry Falwell and thousands of born-again, end-times, god-fearing evangelist preachers that were all equally convinced that there was a narrow door into Heaven, and that only a chosen few get in. Rice's powerful, emotional orations convinced me I was an abomination in the sight of a holy God.
Full of remorse and weeping, I left my seat and walked to the altar to give my life to Jesus. That very night I was baptized in a tub full of water and received assurance that God was no longer going to fry my sorry ass in hellfire forever and ever. I was given the key to heaven. I was, as the saying goes, redeemed.
Although the North won the Civil War, it has been the South that has won the culture war. Our entire nation has been shaped by that old time religion of an angry God that demands our obedience through threats of violence. This theology, born from suffering and yearning for the redemption of revenge has birthed a "God, guns and guts" spirituality that has shaped our national character of militarism and individualism. Perhaps one can say that we are all Southerners now.
Andy Himes, a one-time Southerner now living in Seattle, has written a powerful, insightful new book, "The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family."
In it, Himes, grandson of John R. Rice, details the historical and religious roots of Southern fundamentalism as it played out in his own family history. Although Himes himself does not draw this conclusion, I think his book illuminates the cultural spirituality that has our nation, and the Republican Party in particular, embracing the rightward drift toward fascism. Indeed, at the heart of all fascist movements is the punishing God who redeems through torture and whose love is only merited through submission.
On Sunday May 15, Himes will hold an event marking his book's publication. Joining him will be the soul-stirring music of the Total Experience Gospel Choir and various religious leaders, including myself, all of whom have been affected by the old time religion.
I encourage you to join us in a stimulating conversation that helps untangle the cultural knot that is slowly and surely strangling freedom in our nation. The event is hosted at Town Hall (Eighth and Seneca) at 5 p.m. Tickets are $5.