In ‚ÄúThe Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family‚Äù, Andrew Himes introduce us to his Fundamentalist ancestors, the Rice family. He takes us through their lives as displaced Scot-Irish men and women who fled to America seeking freedom and refuge from religious persecution, famine and war. We follow them through the blood and battle of the Revolutionary War, to their rise to peace and prosperity, as wealthy southern plantation and slave owners. We witness their downfall, as confederates of the Civil War, which left many dead or maimed and the south ravaged by destruction and poverty. Abolition forced the Rice‚Äôs to free slaves, who provided the labor that created and fed their southern white fortunes. In defeat of their ideals, their way of life and beliefs about how life should be, they must have surely, had tested their very identity and sense of belonging, in an often unfamiliar and radically changing world.
Andrew Himes writes movingly, of the long, brutal pioneering life his family, then endured in order to seek safe haven, in the northern great plains of Texas. Once there, he shows us the hardships they suffered as they struggled to settled a formidable and desolate wilderness, inhabited by a climate of extreme heat and cold, poor sandy soil and isolation, unknown dangers and uncertainty. Here they toiled again, to make a home and to build a community of family and like-minded souls.
Perhaps these conditions, provided the fodder for Fundamentalism and helps to explain the life guiding and shaping devotion to it, followed by generation after generation of Rice men, their families and their prot√©g√©‚Äôs, among them such notables as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones Jr., and W. A. Criswell.
Fundamentalism, as traditionally adhered to, as it was by the Rice‚Äôs, gives it‚Äôs believers an identity as ‚Äúborn again‚Äù and ever, thereafter belonging to God, eternally saved from sin and divinely protected from the dark follies, failures and fears of ‚Äúlesser‚Äù humankind and insured a place in heaven everlasting. The ‚Äúborn again‚Äù identify all those who do not share their race, their ideals and their kinship in Christ, as sinners and infidels, just as do radical Muslin‚Äôs and other extremists. As such, the sinners, and all they represented in opposition to Fundamentalism and it‚Äôs ideals were fought by prayer, conversion and salvation and, when found necessary, by judicial and political tampering and deceit or at the hands of vigilante justice, murder and the Ku Klux Klan.
Andrew Himes presents a vivid, no holds barred account, of the vendettas, movements and politics spurned by Fundamentalism, during significant times and events in American history, over the past few centuries. Among them were abolition and the Civil War, evolution and the Scopes Trial and desegregation and the Civil Rights movement. Today, we see the same or a similar ideology at work in defense of DOMA and in opposition to the Gay Rights movement. We see it in resistance to our bi-racial president and demands for proof of his citizenship; and by some, mostly or exclusively white, traditional, Christian, Republican, right wing groups, who represent themselves as the ‚ÄúAmerican People‚Äù while excluding the remaining majority of US citizens.
The author shares with us memories of his family, their joys, sorrows, triumphs and defeats, loves and losses, praises and prayers. He brings us to Sunday dinner and takes us to church. By the love, devotion and respect with which he portrays their lives as ordinary people, we come to know the Rice‚Äôs and their contemporaries as people we like, care for and can relate to, despite whatever differences and disagreements we may hold on religious and ideological grounds.
We cannot dismiss the sincere and reverent desire of John R. Rice to spread the word of Jesus in ‚ÄúThe Sword of the Lord‚Äù newsletter and to save the world by building congregations and saving sinners. His mission and devotion was of love. He sincerely believed a strict Fundamentalist interpretation of the bible. Andrew Himes tells us, ‚ÄúA scribe asked Jesus the fundamental question: ‚ÄúWhat commandment is the foremost of all?‚Äù His response was: ‚ÄúThe foremost is, ‚ÄòHear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.‚Äô The second is this, ‚ÄòYou shall love your neighbor as yourself.‚Äô There is no other commandment greater than these.‚Äù
To John R, Rice and his fore fathers this holy dictum meant to give oneself completely over to God and to not let, neither yourself nor your neighbor, die in an ‚Äúunsaved‚Äù state of sin, lest ye or he be doomed to eternal fire and damnation in hell.
After a young life of Fundamentalist living and learning backed by a long line of Rice family preachers, teachers and adherents, Andrew Himes, courageously broke the mold. He tells us that ‚ÄúJesus‚Äôs words, read carefully and in context, make it clear that the test of whether I am following these two commandments is not whether I am experiencing the proper emotions, not whether I feel good about my neighbor, or like my neighbor, or even know my neighbor. The true test is whether I allow the spirit of God to transform me and to transform how I act toward my neighbor.‚Äù
Perhaps the message Jesus gave was, ‚ÄúI am one and you are of me, just as is your neighbor. To love is to honor me and myself as manifest in you and as manifest in your neighbor. A Divine Spirit, given to each one, to be lived out and from each life unveiled. The lesson left to me was, remember to ‚ÄúJudge Not Lest We Be Judged‚Äù and to let God do God‚Äôs work.
Jesse Whitewolf, R.N., M.S.W.
Writer and Identanalogist: Specialist in the analysis and study of identity and identification.