Friday, September 15, 2017

Henry Gittinger, Mormons & a Baptist preacher

Roger Williams
Readers of vintage Chariton newspapers occasionally find evidence of conflict between one or more of the local preachers and newspaper editors they relied upon for publicity. That was the case back in July of 1913 when Henry Gittinger, of The Leader, and the Rev. H.J. Bryce, pastor of First Baptist Church, got into it.

It was Henry's practice at the time to publish without comment in a front-page column under the header "Church News and Announcements" whatever local clerics or others affiliated with religiously oriented groups handed in.

Henry apparently had been taken to task earlier in the summer by the Rev. Mr. Bryce for publishing announcements from local followers of Charles Taze Russell, founder of what then was known then as the Bible Student movement and, after Russell's death, as Jehovah's Witnesses.

So a few weeks later, when the Rev. Mr. Bryce decided to preach on the perils presented by Mormons --- rich fodder since the 1830s and 1840s for outraged protestants --- Henry decided to school him a little, elsewhere on the front page.

The Bryce announcement appeared under church news with the following header, "Lecture on Mormonism."

"Mormonism," the Rev. Mr. Bryce wrote, "Is a subject vital to our national well-being, and one of growing interest to all. It constitutes a real menace. Come and hear the illustrated lecture on this subject on Monday evening, August 11th, at the Baptist church. Further notice will be given next week."

Elsewhere on the front page of July 31 Henry responded under the headline, "An Age of Toleration: Old Roger Williams Might Tell of His Experience."

"It is noticed in another column that Rev. H.J. Bryce is soon to preach a sermon against the "menace of Mormonism." Ordinarily the Leader does not allude to these announcements, but as it is not in the sphere of a newspaper to take any hand in theological discussions it may be well to state that the notice appears merely through the right of publicity. Rev. Mr. Bryce objected a short time since to the Leader's publishing the announcements of the Russell Cult of this city in the Leader. However, it is to be hoped no Mormon will object to this announcement by Rev. Bryce.

"Of course he refers to the Utah church. Did he allude to the Reorganized church, with headquarters at Lamoni, represented by quite a membership of good men and women in Lucas county, we certainly would take issue on the menace proposition.

"We ought to thank God that we live in a more tolerant age and recognize that virtue really exists sometimes where we are not looking for it. Instruments which organize great charities and keep men and women employed and happy contain more of good than bad in spite of faults --- and in spite of what we would have them believe, because belief is hard to analyze anyhow, and a big part of it is theory.

"There was a time in the history of this fair land when the prevailing religionists of New England had but little respect for the Baptists, great and good church that it is, as old Roger Williams might explain were he walking upon the earth today.

"Hence a Baptist, above all others, should be tolerant. There is yet too much of this stalking about with doctrinal chips upon one's shoulder to incite controversy, which results in no good and sometimes have been known to end in street brawls.

"Preach something to make men and the world better. Let those who disagree go to hell --- still they may not be headed that way any more than we are; and maybe we haven't learned even the A.B.C.s of their Christian charity."

Good old Roger Williams (1603-1683) generally is recognized as founder of the the Baptist movement in the Americas. A puritan preacher booted for his liberality by Massachusetts colleagues, he founded Providence Plantation in 1636 as a refuge offering freedom of conscience. He also was an advocate of fair treatment for America's indigenous peoples, one of North America's first abolitionists and originator of the principle that church and state should be firmly separated.

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