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A Journey Toward Racial Reconciliation: Race Mixing in the Church of God of Prophecy

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A Journey Toward Racial Reconciliation: Race Mixing in the Church of God of Prophecy
  HirthI D. Hurter CsiJ M. Ra[ k Jr (7th7!9 PRE  16 A Journey Toward Racial Reconciliation Race Mixing in the Church of God of Prophecy Harold D. Hunter The faith community that came to be known (in 1952) as the Church of  God of Prophecy (CGP) has been captive to the spiritual journey of founder A.J. Tomlinson, an Indiana Quaker. Nowhere is this more evident than the distinction that CGP defied the axiom that most North American Pentecostal groups failed at interracialism within a decade of the fabled 1906 Azusa Street Revival. David Harrell judged CGP to be the "largest racially mixed church in the South from 1945 until the mid-1960s. Unlike the larger Pentecostal sects, the CGP never separated its black members into a satellite organization. While local churches have generally been either black or white, the state assemblies,international assemblies, and church institutions have been integrated through-out the history of the sect?"The account here will view the prehistory of this body in the narrative of its founder. Some attention will be given to the fusion of an ecclesiology linked toJune 13, 1903, with a resolve to work toward racial reconciliation. ' David E. Harrell Jr., White Sects and Black Men in the Recent South (Kingsport, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 1971) 95. 277  278   Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy The Westfield Years Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson was born on September 22,1865, near Westfield, Indiana, to Milton and Delilah Tomlinson. Grandparents Robert and Lydia Tomlinson joined the Antislavery Friends and participated in the undergroundrailroad. Having studied at the prestigious Westfield Academy and reared in a moderately well-to-do entrepreneurial family in Westfield, Indiana, provided the young A.J. Tomlinson with forays into the business and political arenas. The gospel call came to overshadow the serene life one would envision inthis large, rural Quaker community. A.J. would alter the course as a result of  encounters with Holiness Friends. This group was epitomized in the person of  A.J.'s boyhood neighbor Seth Rees, the "Indiana Earthquaker," who scorned   I mediocrity by proclaiming "Win or die!" Holiness evangelists owed much to 19th-century Quakers when they dismissed creeds and rituals, spurned ecclesi-astical hierarchy, or acknowledged Holy Spirit inspiration from both male and female, clergy and laity. Meanwhile, the significant African American com- munity in Westfield meant that among the closest neighbors of the Tomlinsons were two black families. Freed blacks and slaves who escaped through the Underground Railroad participated in "colored" camp meetings held each summer in Westfield, which attracted whites?J.B. Mitchell, a graduate of Oberlin, introduced A.J. to the famous revival- ist Charles G. Finney. Founded in 1833, Oberlin College was the first institute of higher education in the United States to conduct the "joint education of thesexes." By 1835, race was no longer a barrier to Oberlin admission, either. In1894, Mitchell and Tomlinson founded the Book and Tract Company. Duringthis time, Tomlinson corresponded with Martin Wells Knapp and did colpor-teur work on short-term trips to Appalachia. Tomlinson was also exposed to D.S. Warner, who wrote a hymn titled "The Evening Light," and his followers were often known as the "Evening Light Saints." Warner centered his work in and around Indianapolis, eventually end-ing up in Anderson, Indiana. When Tomlinson started a paper for the Church of God (Cleveland) in 1910, the first name was The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel. 2 For a full treatment of the early life of A.J. Tomlinson, see Roger G. Robins,' Plainfolk Modernist: The Radical Holiness World of A.J. Tomlinson" (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1999); cf. Roger Robins, "A.J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist," in Portraits of a Generation, ed. James R. Goff Jr. and Grant Wacker (Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 2002) 347-68. Thereare gaps in this earliest period inasmuch as the first set of Tomlinson's diaries have been lost. Voy Bullen, Homer Tomlinson's successor, showed them to me in 1980 but refused to allow them to be photocopied.  Harold D. Hunter 279 When Martin Wells Knapp's God's Bible School opened in 1900, the student body included Evening Light Saints. Some of the students at God's Bible School became colporteurs and sold Knapp's periodical known as God's Revivalist.3 Since Tomlinson was doing this kind of work at the time, and copies of  God's  Revivalist  were left in his personal collection, it heightens the possibility that he could have stayed for a 12 week course in Cincinnati, perhaps in 1903. That this school and Warner's group were integrated is highlighted by the fact that W.J. Seymour became part of the Evening Light Saints after moving to Indianapolis in 1895, then a student at God's Bible School in Cincinnati in 1900.4 This colporteur work led to short-term trips to Appalachia and exposure tomore radical holiness figures like Frank Sandford, who published the Tongues of  Fire (1894). Stays at Sandford's "Holy Ghost and Us Bible School" in Shiloh, Maine, account for two water baptisms there, one at the hands of Sandford himself when A.J. wrote in his diary on October 1, 1901: "1 was baptized by Mr. Sandford in the Androscoggin River into the `church of the living God,' for the evangelization of the world, gathering of Israel, new order of things at the close of the Gentile age" 5 Appalachia Beckons The exposure to the Acts 2 commune as practiced by Shiloh, and some awareness of John Alexander Dowie's Zion City in Illinois, would provide models A.J.'s family sought to imitate in Culberson, North Carolina. The fam-ily move was complete in 1899 and ultimately accounts for the unexpected in- teraction with B.H. Irwin's Fire-Baptized Holiness Association (FBHA). Some of Irwin's staunch supporters planted what amounted to an emerging nationalheadquarters in a Bradley County, Tennessee hamlet named Beniah .6 Tomlinson launched an eight-page serial, Samson's Foxes, while simultane-ously publishing reports of living on the faith lines like George Mueller in the Pentecostal Herald, God's Revivalist, and the  Evangelical Visitor. Tomlinson 3 Cecil M. Robeck Jr., The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the GlobalPentecostal Movement  (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006) ch. 1. 4 Robins, "Plainfolk Modernist," 263 n. 154, speculates that Tomlinson may have metSeymour around this time in either Indianapolis or Cincinnati. 5 A.J. Tomlinson, diary, vol. 1, Oct. 1, 1901, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. See Frank S. Murray, The Sublimity of  Faith (Amherst: Kingdom Press, n.d.) 288-89,166 et al.; Shirley Nelson, Fair, Clear, and Terrible: The Story of  Shiloh (Latham: British American Publishing, 1989) 162. 6 See Harold D. Hunter, "Beniah at the Apostolic Crossroads: Parham, Tomlinson, Sandford, Irwin," Cyberjournalfor Pentecostal-Charismatic Research 1,  /cyberj/cyberl.html (Apr. 24, 2003).  280  Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy projected his Mount Zion Mission Home that opened with an industrial school and orphanage to be a virtual "garden of Eden."' Shades of the FBHA were seen in Tomlinson's rejection of "tobacco, opium, pork, tea and coffee" 8 Yet another like source would be a group of evangelists —Milton McNabb, Joe Tipton, William Hamby and William Martin—who preached the noteworthy 1896 Shearer Schoolhouse Revival in Cherokee County, North Carolina.' Some of these evangelists and others either living in, or associ-ated with, Beniah eventually carried the FBHA message to W.F. Bryant's home at Camp Creek, North Carolina.lo Various issues of the FBHA's  Live Coals of Fire (1899-1900) reported on common efforts of William M. Martin, R. Frank Porter and Stewart T. Irwin, the son of B.H. Irwin. This same magazine showcased the interracial character of the group mostly in the person of Ruling Elder WE. Fuller, an African- American pioneer who planted 50 churches in 10 years. Fuller would rise to the level of assistant general overseer of the FBHA when the group was led by J.H. King, an i mposing figure in IPHC history. Bryant's small group witnessed crosscurrents of various spiritualities, like fellowship with R.G. Spurling. Spurling's roots lay in Landmark Baptists,but his identity was captured in the independent Christian Unions he start- ed. Spurling's first such effort was the short-lived Christian Union at Barney Creek, Monroe County, North Carolina in 1886." The ideals that defined 7 A.J. Tomlinson, diary, vol. 1, Apr. 14, 1902, Manuscripts Division, Library of  Congress, Washington, D.C. 8 A.J. Tomlinson, diary, vol. 1, Jan. 30, 1906, Manuscripts Division, Library of  Congress, Washington, D.C.; Samson's Foxes 1, no. 1 (Jan. 1901): 4. B.H. Irwin hadhimself coroneted as General Overseer "for life" in the 1898 national organization of  the FBHA. Homer Tomlinson captured this period of A.J.'s life in an article titled "The Fanatic," in The Faithful Standard 2:2, Oct. 1923: 20-23, where commandments on a treeread: (1) no hog meat; (2) no violin-playing; (3) no neckties; (4) plain dress for women; (5) no chewing tobacco; (6) no smoking or drinking; (7) no work on Sunday; (8) pay tithes; (9) no chewing gum; (10) no riding on Sunday. 9 A.J. Tomlinson, The Last Great Conflict  (Cleveland, TN: Walter E. Rogers, 1913) 189. After the initial revival, it was reported that approximately 100 persons spoke in tongues during later meetings. See Harold D. Hunter, "Spirit-Baptism and the 1896 Revival in Cherokee County, North Carolina," Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 5, no. 2 (Fall 1983) 1-17. ' o See: Daniel Woods, "Daniel Awrey, the Fire-Baptized Movement, and the Origins of the Church: Toward a Chronology of Confluence and Influence," paper presented to 2nd annual meeting of the Church of God Movements Historical Society, Cleveland, TN,May 24, 2003. "During a 1949 interview by H.L. Chesser, W.F. Bryant said that Spurling's 1886 church `vent dead:' See Deborah Vansau McCauley,  Appalachian Mountain Religion: A History (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995) 280, 283, 292, 295. McCauley cites Joe Abbott, The Forgotten
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