(The Moody Bible Institute)He wore a bristling beard, cultivated a paunch, and the hearty innocent manner of a high-geared drummer in the pulpit; he was, indeed, always far more the business man than the theologian, and I suspect that he often regretted his abandonment of the shoe profession for the sacerdotal shroud.
According to all reports, Dwight L. Moody, founder of The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, was a genuine kick-in-the-pants. H. L. Mencken, writing in the American Mercury, said that he
established soul-saving as Big Business, just as surely as John D. Rockefeller established oil-refining, or old Phil Armour the assassination of hogs, or Pillsbury the milling of flour.
Mencken, hardly a lover of religious folk of the fundamentalist persuasion, seemed to feel some affection towards this man who was so aggressive in conversion that he had been labelled "Crazy Moody:"
When he started out an evangelist had no more dignity and social position among us than a lightening-rod salesman or a faro-dealer; when he finished he was on terms of intimacy with such august characters as John Wanamaker, Morris K. Jesup, and General O. O. Howard.
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The daily newspapers of a hundred years ago were far more sensitive to evangelical fraud than the press of today. In those days, evangelicals worked cities and towns out of their "revival tents," much in the style of a visiting circus. Since they relied on word-of-mouth of the faithful to fill the benches, they never had --- nor used --- their assets to advertise. The highly competitive press of the day was always eager for scandal, especially of religious drummers, and they well knew of the mountebanks that filled the pulpits. (It is a significant contrast to today's media. The fall of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart did not come to light in in-depth, investigative journalism by the press, certainly not from television news. They were exposed by members of their own religious organizations who --- through greed or disgust --- blew the whistle on their obvious improprieties).
With all their hungry reporters, not a single newspaper of the day claimed that Moody used his enormous collections for anything outside of building churches and assorted good works. The sartorial styles and expense accounts of a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson would be unthinkable to this "servant of Christ." He made millions, and he gave away millions.
This is not to say that he was a namby-pamby. Mencken reports:
He discharged the obvious with all the explosive effort of an auctioneer. Also, he knew how to weep, and how to make others weep. His pathetic stories --- of drunkard's children, wives, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, etc., of atheist soldiers dying on the battlefield, of heroic missionaries garroted in the slums --- were famous in their day, and kept the country damp.
Critics --- not the least Mencken and his fellow journalist Robert L. Duffus --- stated that what set Moody apart was his openness, his enthusiasm, his expansiveness. Says Duffus:
Once he stopped a man on the street and asked, as was his custom, "Are you a Christian?"
"lt's none of your business," the offended pedestrian replied.
"Yes, it is," insisted Moody.
"Then you must be Dwight L. Moody," said the man.
The story goes no further, but anyone familiar with Moody's methods will be sure that that stranger eventually went to heaven, whether he wanted to or not.
Mencken, in reviewing the biography D. L. Moody (Macmillan; 1930), describes Moody's startling rise in the panoply of religious leaders:
He began, like the rest of them, by trying to paralyze his customers with fright, but an English evangelist, the Rev. Harry Moorehouse, showed him that it was a bad scheme, for when they ceased to shiver they tended to slip back into sin. Moreover, being harrowed was unpleasant, so the more timid who were precisely the more likely Bible fodder, remained away.
In his early days, Moody was an impressive figure --- tall, thin, earnest, scarcely unwilling to stop his good works even to sleep. His followers stated that he "saved a million souls from descending into hell." The exact count could be disputed; a later fire-breather, Billy Sunday, never claimed more than 50,000 souls.
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In light of this, it is passing strange indeed to pick up Irving Robertson's What the Cults Believe. The book is one of several score published by the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. We suspect that the good Dwight L. would rage and storm at their lack of charity, the very un-Christian pettiness in the author's world view. It's a good thing the Moody folk don't believe in channelling, because if "Crazy Moody" were about, even in spirit, he would be on their backs about the persistent attention to what is wrong in the world of contemporary religion, rather than what is right with it. He was never a carper.
Robertson, for starters, has a very peculiar idea of what constitutes a "cult." We might be able to agree with him on Scientology: L. Ron Hubbard certainly put forth a noodle full of nonsense about E-meters, reincarnation, and personal gods (namely L. Ron Hubbard). We might even buy into plugging the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon into the category of Cult, what with Moon's mass marriage ceremonies and his tales of personally chewing the fat with the Divine --- a lunacy that we always thought was the private preserve of Oral Roberts.
What the Cults Believe might be stretching the word "cult" a bit when the book includes The Worldwide Church of God, "The Wooooorld Tomorrow" --- with our favorite radio preacher of all time, Garner Ted Armstrong, the divine ambulance-chaser who has helped us to while away many a long drive with his bizarre discourses on Prophecy and Truth. And the Christian Scientists? Good Lord. Can you see those dear old ladies out of the Christian Science Reading Room even for a moment considering a nip on a cup of Kool-Aid in the jungle -- much less one laced with poison?
Robertson also sticks it to the Unity Church, with their bland and gentle and laconic "Truth," and, as well, The Rosicrucians (founded in 1313!) The Mormons? They may be tedious and sanctimonious, but we'd be hard pressed to stuff them in the same box as the Hari Krishnas. Robertson even manages to pillory those nice Jehovah's Witnesses who ring our door-bell on Sundays with their soft-spoken rock-hard faith, entertaining us on the front porch for hours. (The only thing we find strange about them is that they are crazy enough to buy Jesus' arguments against killing. They absolutely refuse to fight in wars, to murder the children and the old in the name of the Divine. Thank God the Moody folk aren't that crazy.)
It seems to us that by involving themselves in such intra-secular backbiting the Moody folks have not only gotten mean and testy as they get richer --- they are telling us how much they've lost touch with Dwight Moody's Christian humility, gentleness, and acceptance. By hanging their fellow theomaniacs on a meathook marked Cult, they are forgetting their own controversial past, most certainly the gentle charity of their founder. Dwight Moody, says Robert Duffus,
had nothing of the Ku Kluxer in him. He made a life-long friend of the Catholic Bishop of Chicago and he earned the gratitude of his Catholic neighbors in Northfield by contributing an organ to their new church.
(To appreciate the sheer munificence of this, one has to remember that eighty years ago, Catholics were thought by the main-line Baptists, Presbyterians, and evangelicals as being infidels somewhat to the left of the fire walkers of Fiji and the flesh-eaters of Borneo. For Moody to befriend them was charity indeed; for him to share his largess with them was close to saintliness.)
We would be so bold as to suggest, in light of their own gracious past, that the Moody people consider taking a leaf from the Yogas --- who Robertson so roundly denounces in What the Cults Believe: to join in praising all who seek the divine, no matter how flagrant, no matter how bizarre, no matter how dilatory. At worst, they could learn from Corinthians that
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil...now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.--- A. W. Allworthy