Christian Social Control

Transformation of people and cultures into what we were created for is God’s work; and He invites us to be His Hands through acts of service, words of truth, expressions of love. Problems happen when discouragement & impatience influence us to close our fists and take control. Whenever we fall into the sin of usurping God’s reign, ineffective domination and disillusionment are sure to follow. Read this insightful blog about an example of this from our nation’s history…

From “Story Of Grace 66” – Call of Duty (part 11): The Disaster of Changing Culture Through Laws Rather Than Through Apostolic Mission [Prohibition]

“The final gasp for political and social control of the nation by evangelical Protestants was in the 1910’s with the effort to abolish the sale, distribution and use of alcohol.  This was what is known as Prohibition. Evangelicals sought through political control and legislative power to bring America, once again, under the influence of Christ through banning its greatest vice–“the drink”.  This effort turned out to be disastrous!  It turned out to be a textbook case in the “law of unintended consequences.”  The effort to Christianize the nation through force of law created effects the entrenched “sin industry” and culture that persists to this day.

In this blog we will look at the development of this issue and then the lessons that we learn as it relates to being on apostolic mission.  Namely, we will see what happens when the church focuses on shaping culture through conformity rather than transforming through apostolic mission.     

The Development
There was no single issue which displayed the animosity with the new wave of post-Civil War flood of immigrants as the issue of alcohol. It was largely argued by Prohibitionists that if you legally rid alcohol from the nation you will wipe out the majority of other vices. Though no one doubted the problems and even disasters that occurred from the abuse of alcohol, the Prohibitionist movement took on larger meanings.  Billy Sunday, the best known evangelist of this period, said…

 “Take drink away and most of the other problems that immigrants created in cities would disappear.”
This idea was built upon strands of social research that had been conducted.  In the 1840’s a businessman from Portland, Maine called Neal Dow, made a study on the effects of alcohol there and discovered an astonishing range of evils. Family violence, crime, poverty, a loss of production in factories were, as he put it, “alcohol related.” In 1851 he persuaded the state legislature to pass the “Maine Law” which banned the sale of alcohol. 13 of 30 states passed similar laws by 1855. 

Counter to this emphasis was the rise of the Republican Party (the party of Abraham Lincoln) which was seeking to broaden its base,    began recruiting Irish and German Catholics, and German and Scandinavian Lutherans who were generally opposed to Prohibition, took its anti-alcohol stance off its platform. 

Yet after the Civil War militant women took up the cause and enlisted evangelical/Protestant churches into its army. A battle hymn written by Julia Nelson went:
And where are the hands red with slaughter?
Behold them each day as you pass
The places where death and destruction
Are retailed at ten cents a glass.
One of the key anti-alcohol movements was the Anti-Saloon League. And the league leaders insisted that the league was simply “the churches [and the decent people] organized against the saloon.” But the fact is that this movement was rural or small-town against the culture being formed by the immigration boom. Alphonso Alva Hopkins (a leader in the temperance movement) stated this…
“Our boast has been that we are a Christian people, with Morality at the center of our civilization. Foreign control and conquest is rapidly making us un-Christian, with immorality enthroned in power. Be-sodden Europe, worse scourged than by war, famine and pestilence sends here her drink makers, her drunkards, or her…habitual drinkers, with all their un-American and anti-American ideals of morality and government; they are absorbed into our national life, but not assimilated; with no liberty from whence they came, they demand unrestricted liberty among us, even to license the things we loathe…they have set up for us their own moral standards, which are grossly immoral; they govern our great cities…” 
By 1916, 21 states had banned saloons. In 1917 Congress submitted the 18th Amendment which was ratified in 1919. This changed the Constitution to ban “the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors.” Christians haled this as the dawning of a new era. Billy Sunday in Norfolk Virginia triumphed…
“Good-by John Barleycorn, the reign of tears is over…The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and children will laugh. Hell will be forever rent.”
The Unintended Effects of Prohibition
1) Prohibition brought about a qualitative and permanent change in the scale and sophistication of organized crime in America. Non Anglo-Saxon minorities consolidated themselves. In New York bootlegging was 1/2 Jewish,  1/4 Italian, and then 1/4 Polish and Irish. In Chicago it was the same story. Prohibition simply transferred the sale of alcohol to criminal sources away from legitimate retailers. The criminal elements had more finances than the police forces which would have to fight them.  John Torrio, who ran large-scale bootlegging in Chicago from 1920-24, retired to Italy in 1925 with a fortune $30 million. No one in the history of the world had made this kind of money from organized crime. Studies by the Justice Department’s Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in the 1970’s indicate that the beginning of Prohibition in the 1920’s was the starting point of the most identifiable crime-families, which continue to flourish today.

2) Prohibition made city improvement impossible. General Smadley Butler of the US Marine Corps was put in charge of the Philadelphia police to clean up the city in  1924. He gave up the job after two years explaining it to be a “waste of time.” Walter Ligget who was the foremost living expert on the subject testified to the House Judiciary Committee in 1930 that….
“…there is considerably more hard liquor being drunk than there was before the days of Prohibition and…drunk in more evil surroundings. He said [Washington D.C. had 300 bars before Prohibition: now it had 700 speakeasies, supplied by 4000 bootleggers. Police records showed that arrest for alcohol has tripled over the decade. Massachusetts has jumped from 1000 licensed saloons to 4000 speakeasies…Kansas was dry before Prohibition yet there was not a town where a total stranger could not tell you where to get a drink in fifteen minutes.”
A small desert town named Las Vegas was transformed into the world’s gambling capital. Because of Prohibition untold millions of dollars was reinvested into gambling, prostitution, and other assorted evils.
3) Prohibition drove division between the city and smaller towns of America. Bootleggers operated with public approval in the cities. Most urban men (not women) agreed with Mencken that Prohibition was the work of “ignorant bumpkins from the cow states who resent the fact that they had to swill raw corn liquor while city slickers got good wine and whiskey.”

The 18th Amendment was overturned by the 21st Amendment in 1933.

Christians can win the political war but lose the culture.  Even though Prohibition was a major win for evangelical Christians, the 1920’s cemented the end of the cultural control of pre-Civil War evangelical Protestantism. The nation began to develop an alternative culture through the entertainment industry. This could be represented in the developments of Hollywood and Jazz.

Hollywood was founded in 1887 by two strict Methodists, Horace and Daeidea Wilcox. The hope was to turn it into a haven for religious practice. When it was incorporated into a city in 1903 it banned liquor and the growing industry of movie houses. In 1910 it was forced to incorporate itself with Los Angeles in order to get water. However, in 1913 Los Angeles signed a petition with over 10,000 citizens to ban movie-making because it would bring immorality. By then, however, the Hollywood payroll was $20 million annually. The cultural momentum could not be stopped by force of law and regulation.
In 1890 there was not a single amusement arcade in New York. By 1900 there were a thousand. By 1908 there were 400 in New York City alone and they were spreading all across Northern cities. Many of these arcades contained Nickelodeons. These were movie pictures that could be seen for a nickle. They were silent and cheap. This had an extremely high appeal to the poor urban, non-English speaking immigrants. The Nickelodeons, arcades, and theaters were mostly owned by Jews. But the movie’s shorts were owned largely by Protestants. Thus Jews began to move to California where the litigation and governmental regulation was very lax and started their own movie patent companies. It was there that poor Jews of immediate immigrant stock began to build today’s movie empires. In 1915 Universal City was built by Carl Laemmle (1867-1939) and was producing a movie a day. William Fox (1879- 1927), born in Hungary, built the movie chain Twentieth Century-Fox.,  Louis B. Mayer (1885-1957), born in Russia, built Metro-Godwyn-Mayer. The Warner Brothers were two of nine children of a poor cobber from Poland.  In 1920 Gloria Swanson, who starred in Cecil B. Demille’s Male and Female (1919) and Why Change Your Wife (1920), built herself a twenty-two room, five bath “palace”, floored it in black marble, put in golden bath tubs and hung it in peacock silk. She said… 
☆☆☆“I will be every inch and moment a star.”☆☆☆
Jazz was also indicative of the entertainment change. The 1920’s had mass motoring, screaming advertising, endless movies, records sold by the millions–but above all it had jazz. Protestant America was rich in song, but not in a polyphonic music tradition. Yet blacks, though discouraged in many things, were encouraged to develop in music. Jazz was the development of blues and spirituals learned on the plantation combined with the folk music predominant in America. Yet this music was not bound by the old rules. In 1920 Dorthy Parker sang…
“I like to have a Martini/ Two at the very most./ After three I’m under the table./ After four I’m under the host.”

This whole effort was disastrous because the goal was not the expansion of God’s Story of Grace but rather the effort to gain Christian control of the nation.  The effort was not the expansion of God’s reign and rule through the gospel, it was the resurgence of legal control to a lifestyle that once was. 

By catalystshawn

Shawn is the founding Minister/Executive Director of Catalyst NW, launched in 2007. Before starting Catalyst, Shawn was a full-time Youth Pastor and Church Planter in traditional churches for 13-years. Shawn and his wife Marina live in Tualatin, OR, and are actively involved with Grace Chapel in Wilsonville. They have 2 adult kids who are their pride & joy, one funny little dog, and a cuddly cat.