No time to wallow in the mire

No time to wallow in the mire March 7, 2015

I learn via Eric/DN that there’s another fun variation of the What Song Was No. 1 on Your Birthday? site. This one tries to calculate what song was playing on the radio when you were conceived.

Fun stuff, although I’m doubtful about my result. I’m sure that many children were conceived to “Light My Fire,” but the idea that my parents were ever bopping along to The Doors is, well, inconceivable.

My mom’s favorite radio station was WAWZ — Zarephath, “Your Voice of Faith and Inspiration.” They didn’t offer a lot that would pass for mood music. It’s apparently switched over to a “contemporary” Christian music format these days, but back in late 1967 it was instrumental hymns and “teaching” programs.

So, no, I don’t imagine that Jim Morrison and rock radio played any role in my conception. If the radio was playing at all, it would have been the gentle, dulcet tones of Robert A. Cook saying, “Until I meet you once again by way of radio, beloved, walk with the King today, and be a blessing.”

Mom tuned in to listen to Dr. Cook every day, usually turning the radio off after his show, when Harold Camping came on. But she always listened to WAWZ in the kitchen. My parents bedroom radio was usually tuned to 1010 WINS, the all-news station out of New York. (I suppose their famous slogan — “Give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world” — was probably the basis for an obvious joke that helped conceive as many children as “Light My Fire” ever did.)

I can’t say that WAWZ’s broadcasts did anything for my love life, but I did once exchange some fraught notes with a girl in the radio station’s parking lot. That lot was adjacent to the gymnasium of the Zarephath Bible Institute, which was where my Christian high school basketball team played our home games.

Zarephath, New Jersey, is an odd little place. It’s named after a Phoenician city in what is now Lebanon. In the biblical book of 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah finds refuge in the home of a widow in Zarephath. (She shares the last of her food with him and he miraculously multiplies her food. It’s a sweet story.)

Zarephath, N.J., was founded by Bishop Alma Bridwell White in 1901 as a home base for her Pillar of Fire Church. She started the Bible institute there in 1908 to train missionaries in her holiness tradition and her particular brand of anti-Penetcostal Pentecostalism.

Oh, and also to promote her gospel of biblical inerrancy, justification by faith alone, entire sanctification, and white supremacy. See, for all her talk about Pentecost, Bishop Alma White didn’t have the first goddam clue as to what Pentecost actually means, as her Wikipedia entry summarizes:

Alma Bridwell White (June 16, 1862 – June 26, 1946) was the founder and a bishop of the Pillar of Fire Church. In 1918, she became the first female bishop in the United States. She was noted for her association with the Ku Klux Klan and her feminism, anti-Catholicism, antisemitism, anti-Pentecostalism, racism, and hostility to immigrants.

White’s “association with” the Klan wasn’t a matter of passing acquaintance. It was a formal alliance committed to a shared agenda. The first female bishop in the United States — White was consecrated in the Methodist church in 1918 — provides a classic example of How To Not Be Intersectional. Her warped idea of intersectionality is perhaps best summarized by the title of an essay in one of her books, “The Ku Klux Klan and Women’s Causes.” That’s from her 1925 volume, The Ku Klux Klan in Prophecy, which included a glowing introduction by the Grand Dragon of the New Jersey Klan.

Here’s more from White’s Wikipedia entry:

As a feminist, White was a forceful advocate of equality for white Protestant women.

Bishop Alma Bridwell White Supremacist.
Bishop Alma Bridwell White Supremacist.

However, she was also uncompromising in her persistent and powerful attacks of religious and racial minorities, justifying both equality for white Protestant women and inequality for minorities as biblically mandated. While the vast majority of her most vicious political attacks targeted the Roman Catholic Church, she also promoted antisemitism, white supremacy, and intolerance of certain immigrants.

Under White’s leadership in the 1920s and 1930s, the Pillar of Fire Church developed a close and public partnership with the Ku Klux Klan that was unique for a religious denomination. She assessed the Klan as a powerful force that could help liberate white Protestant women, while simultaneously keeping minorities in their place. Her support of the Klan was extensive. She allowed and sometimes participated in Klan meetings and cross burnings on some of the numerous Pillar of Fire properties. She published The Good Citizen, a monthly periodical which strongly promoted the Klan and its agenda. Additionally, she published three books, The Ku Klux Klan In Prophecy, Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty, and Heroes of the Fiery Cross, which were compendiums of the essays, speeches and cartoons that had originally been published in The Good Citizen.

Alma Bridwell White died in 1946. Forty years later, when I was playing basketball in her religious community’s gymnasium there in Zarephath, I had no idea that I was visiting the site of Klan rallies, cross-burnings, and terrorist propaganda. White’s Pillar of Fire church seemed just like any other large evangelical church in central Jersey — just like any other large evangelical church in America.

By the 1980s, nobody in Zarephath was preaching, as White once did, that “This is white man’s country by every law of God and man, and was so determined from the beginning of Creation.” Their preaching was the same as every other evangelical community’s preaching: Salvation by faith, biblical inerrancy, the urgency of evangelism to save sinners from Hell.

And none of that has anything to do with Alma White’s ferocious racism or her alliance with terrorists or her deformed gospel of white supremacy, right? 

P.S. My old high school built its own gymnasium in 1990 and started playing home games at home. The Pillar of Fire church finally repudiated its alliance with the Klan in 1996. And the Pillar of Fire’s Zarephath site along the Raritan Canal was destroyed by flooding and condemned after Hurricane Irene in 2011.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment