The Pentecostal Construction Of Race: Churches Of God In The American Religious Frontier 1884—1955
The Pentecostal Construction Of Race: Churches Of God In The
American Religious Frontier 1884—1955
This dissertation is dedicated to:
my grandmothers who taught me to be Pentecostal through their actions, bodies, words,
and enduring love: Carie Cullender Brady, Edna Mae “Ma” Tucker, “Granny” Shirley
Hudson and “Granny” Evelyn Brady.
my partner, spouse, friend and love Samantha. The “joy of the Lord is our strength” and
your presence, laugh, and smile remind me of this daily. Behind every comma,
paragraph and chapter of this project is your divine joy that carries me onward.
my parents, Kenneth and Jane whose lives model a Holiness Pentecostalism that
breaks molds and inspire me to pursue beyond what was known or expected.
my brother Joshua, my best friend,
my children, my hope: Grace Evelyn and Eleanor June,
and finally to the Church of God.
This dissertation project would never have happened without the love support and
patience of my family. From the moment as a high school student I told my parents that I wanted
to “get a doctorate,” to the arduous rehashing of ideas with my wife Samantha, to the
exclamations of my daughter Grace “Dada’s goin’ to work” this has been a family affair. There
would be no words, no actions, and no dissertation without them. Thank you.
My advisor Dr. Anthea Butler has guided this project and formed my work. From a
conversation at the 2012 American Academy of Religion as a prospective graduate student,
through deep conversations of navigating academia, and finally honing last drafts of this
dissertation. Her patience, advice, instruction, and modeling of scholarly teaching have helped
me take a generational story and put it into an academic process. Whether showing me the
ropes of graduate school or helping to hone a discrete argument, Dr. Butler’s influence on my
scholarship, person, and work is almost immeasurable at this point. I am immensely grateful for
Dr. Butler’s advising of this dissertation; she knew when to encourage, criticize and when I
needed honesty. I hope this dissertation in some way pays respect to her investment in me as her
student and that I can emulate her advising with my future students.
My committee members have made large strides to form me and my work. Their kind and
keen instruction have made this project much more than I imagined a dissertation could be. Dr.
Sally Gordon has taken the time to work with me from my first semester at Penn through
seminars and independent study. Dr. Gordon’s historical approach has continually challenged
me to look at the broader connections and lived realities of history. Dr. John Jackson has
encouraged me to expand my ideas of scholarship and given me opportunities to explore
multimodal approaches to academic production. Through two deanships Dr. Jackson has made
time to meet with me, facilitate teaching opportunities, and provide critical feedback for the visual
chapter of this dissertation.
Writing histories about Pentecostals necessitates an expansion of the presumed concept
of “archives.” One is required to invest in an ethnographic exploration of a living and vibrant
religion and its people. Whether recording oral histories, riding around with descendants to
unmarked graveyards, or scanning photographs from a hope chest on someone’s dining room
table, Pentecostal history lives and so do it’s many “archives.” Yet there are several formal
archive spaces that have also sought to bridge this world. Without these archives this
dissertation would not have happened. First and foremost Dr. David Roebuck and the Dixon
Pentecostal Research Center that he directs have provided unbelievable hospitality and
accommodation to my continual curiosity and explorations of the history of the Church of God.
For over ten years Dr. Robebuck has served as an external mentor, encourager, and friend.
From line-item requests from the finding aid to fragments of a quote David and his staff have
provided documents, direction, and constructive conversation. Second Dr. Wade Phillips, Marie
Spurling Crook and the Zion Assembly Church of God Archives provided unrestricted access to
thousands of primary sources in print, material, and film. Dr. Phillips’ personal and devotional
investment to the Church of God’s history reaches beyond my living years and was extremely
influential on this dissertation. Paul Holt and Sarah Rising at the Church of God of Prophecy
Archives welcomed me and opened their doors to look closely at the legacy of A.J. Tomlinson
and the Church of God of Prophecy.
Darrin Rodgers, Glenn Gohr, and the Flowers Pentecostal Heritage Center assisted in
the exploratory stages of this research. In addition regional archives such as the Cherokee
County Historical Society, the Ducktown Basin Museum, the Tennessee Overhill Association, the
Bradley County Historical Library, and the State Historical Society of Missouri were influential on
the development of this project.
THE PENTECOSTAL CONSTRUCTION OF RACE: CHURCHES OF GOD IN THE AMERICAN
RELIGIOUS FRONTIER 1884—1955
Andrew Sinclair Hudson
Anthea D. Butler
This dissertation claims that the early Pentecostals in the Church of God movement were
neither white nor Protestant. In turn this project argues that the early Church of God sought to
embody religious identities and actions that indirectly illustrated religious constructions of race in
the aesthetics of Protestant religion. This dissertation historically interrogates the microhistory of
the Church of God movement with a epicenter in Cleveland, Tennessee in 1884 to 1923,
alongside the writing and construction of histories in the 1950s that sought to remember this
history and construct a white Protestant identity.
Using lived religion and myth theory from religious studies this project documents the
alternate religious identity of Spirit filled bodies by early Church of God members in its founding
era 1884 to 1923. These alternate identities are foiled to the contemporaneous historic and
social constructs of race and gender. Instead of professing a private belief, this dissertation
claims that early Church of God members lived a religion of alternate identity as “Spirit filled
bodies.” In doing such this dissertation documents how they confronted and contradicted social
expectations for race and gender as they enacted Holiness Pentecostalism a restorationist
religion that broke time to restore the acts and miracles of ancient Christianity. Using social
history this dissertation contextualizes these countercultural activities within the longer and
broader Holiness movement of the late-nineteenth-century.
In contrast to the countercultural activity of this early history, the dissertation critically
dissects the later written history project of the Church of God (Cleveland) in 1955 that employed a
racial myth of Appalachian white ancestry. Alongside this denominational history project, this
project challenges the prevailing academic depictions of Pentecostals as “primitive” and uses the
microhistory of the Church of God to illustrate the embedded historic racial biases of this scholarly
interpretation. Finally this dissertation documents and interprets the visual and material history of
the Church of God of Prophecy in 1952 that sought to continue an embodied restorationism
rather than adhere to Protestant norms for respectability.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter One: …………………………………………………………………………………….1
Chapter Two: ……………………………………………………………………………………43
In 1953, Charles Conn a thirty three year old preacher with less than a high
school diploma set out to write a history of the Church of God movement. The young
man was a recent convert to the Church of God (Cleveland). The religious group he
joined was a Holiness Pentecostal organization that was seeking to establish itself
institutionally and Conn had shown potential in his writing. Conn though not formally
educated was an active reader and was able to write in a journalistic style that emulated
the prose of fiction. He was entertaining to read. In a huge feat, Conn researched,
interviewed and wrote a 300 page denominational history in less than two years.
The Church of God as a Holiness Pentecostal movement had its beginnings at
the turn of the twentieth century and many of the movement’s members in the mid
twentieth century, like Conn, were not yet born when the founding history of 1884 to
1923 transpired. Conn’s history provided an entertaining read but also a critical identity.
The form, choices, and people included as well as the people forgotten by his history
would shape the identity of the Church of God as a Pentecostal version of white
Protestantism. Those who read, and still today read, Charles Conn as the authoritative
voice and interpretation of the movement are left with a story that in many ways
completely molded, forged, and crafted the Church of God origins into an acceptable
form of religion as both white and Protestant.
This dissertation confronts the history and historiography of Conn with both a
corrective and as a constructive engagement into understanding the lived religion of the
early Church of God movement in which race, gender, and class were surpassed by a
new identity of Spirit filled bodies. Recovering the lived religion1 of an embodied theology
has required the author to take seriously the practices, beliefs, theologies, and the
blurring of these categories in the social history of the early Church of God movement.
By reconstructing the social history of this early period 1884 to 1923 in which the
Pentecostals in the Church of God created new embodied religious identities outside the
identities of race, gender, and class, this dissertation in turn highlights the later history of
Conn as a racial construction of a white Protestant identity.
This dissertation claims that the early Church of God was neither white nor
Protestant. This dissertation is the first study to make this claim of the early Church of
God. In doing so this project seeks to confront race as a category that was religiously
constructed and therefore beyond phenotype but embedded phenomenologically2 in the
actions, bodies, and materials of the everyday lives of the early Church of God
movement. From this perspective of analysis the omissions, inclusions, framing, and
form of Conn’s history are studied in this project as an act of white race construction, a
Pentecostal construction of race that foils the earlier lived religion of the Church of God
movement about which Conn wrote.
Conn’s history was written following a series of legal battles between the two
largest groups to emerge from the Church of God movement. Eventually they would be
known respectively as the Church of God and Church of God of Prophecy. The court
1 See e.g., Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice, ed. David Hall (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1997). Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press,
 2009). Ronald Grimes, The Craft of Ritual Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). Martin
Lindhardt, Practicing the Faith: The Ritual Life of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians (New York: Berghahn
Books, 2011), 1-48.
2 This dissertation seeks to emulate the phenomenological approach to race that was demonstrated in the
ethnographic work of John L. Jackson. See: Harlemworld: Doing Race and Class in Contemporary Black
America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).
cases revolved around a dispute over which group had ownership to the name, property,
and founding history of the Church of God movement. The Church of God (Cleveland),
who Conn’s history addresses, won the legal proceedings and were recognized as a
denomination and the originator of the movement legally. This dissertation in its
interdisciplinary approach has relied on the 4732 pages of legal depositions from these
trials to provide texture to the lived reality of the early history of the Church of God
movement. This dissertation is the only academic history to consult in full the
depositions, decisions, decrees, and opinions from these legal proceedings.3 In addition
to these legal proceedings the author has relied on denominational archives, personal
collections of descendants, and oral histories.4
A Pentecostal History of Race:
As indicated by the study of Conn’s denominational history, this is not the first or
only history of the Church of God movement.5 Yet it is the first study of the history of this
movement as a case study of racial construction through religion. Race has been a
3 Church of God et al v. A.J. Tomlinson et al, Chancery Court Bradley County, Cleveland Tennessee (1924);
M.L. Beard, J.L. Hardwick et al v. A.J. Tomlinson, W.F. Bryant, et al, Chancery Court Bradley County,
Cleveland Tennesee (1909); H.L. Chesser et al. v. M.A. Tomlinson et al. Tennessee State Supreme Court,
Nashville Tennessee (1952).
4 Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee; Church of God of Prophecy Archives,
Cleveland, Tennessee; Cleveland Historical Society, Cleveland, Tennessee; Zion Assembly Church of God
Archives, Cleveland, Tennessee.
5 Wade Phillips, Quest to Restore God’s House – a Theological History of the Church of God (Cleveland,
Tennessee), Volume 1: 1886-1923, R.G. Spurling to A.J. Tomlinson, Formation-TransformationReformation, Vol. 1, (Cleveland, TN: Center for Pentecostal Theology, 2014); Charles W. Conn, Like a
Mighty Army 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th editions (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press 1955, 1978, 1995, 2010); Ernest L.
Simmons, History of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN: Church of God Publishing House, 1938), “2nd
Edition History of the Church of God” typed galley proofs unpublished (Accessed and used by Permission of
Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, TN here after indicated by DPRC); M.S. Lemons, “History of
the Church of God” typed manuscript (DPRC); Lillian Duggar, Answering the Call of God (Cleveland, TN:
White Wing Publishing, 1952), A.J. Tomlinson Former General Overseer of the Church of God (Cleveland,
TN: White Wing Publishing, 1964); Joe Abbot, “The Forgotten Church” 1962 Self published book accessed
and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee; Richard G. Spurling,
The Lost Link (Turtletown, TN: 1920); Charles T. Davidson, Upon this Rock, 3 volumes (Cleveland, TN:
White Wing Publishing, 1973, 1974, 1976).
central controversy throughout the history and history writing of Pentecostalism.6
Pentecostalism began in the United States at a black Holiness mission in Los Angeles,
California in 1906. Whites, Latinxs, and Asian Americans attended these meetings and
spread the movement.7 Emerging from a network and practice of interracial worship,
social reform, and religious empowerment known as the Holiness movement in the
nineteenth century,8 Pentecostalsim was enthralled from its inception in controversies
over race, gender, and class.9 Notably, because Pentecostalism had transgressed the
social norms constituted in these socially constructed categories. Today Pentecostalism
is one of the largest and fastest growing forms of religion in the world and the radical
6 See: Walter J. Hollenweger, “The Black Roots of Pentecostalism.” in Pentecostals after a Century: Global
Perspectives on a Movement in Transition, ed. Allan and Hollenweger Anderson, Walter J. (Sheffield, UK:
University of Sheffield Press, 1999), 33-44; Iain MacRobert, The Black Roots and White Racism of Early
Pentecostalism in the USA (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1988).
7 Cecil M. Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement
(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006). Joe Creech, “Visions of Glory: The Place of the Azusa Street
Revival in Pentecostal History,” Church History 65 (1996): 406. Robeck claims an Azusa-centric beginning
for Pentecostalism while Allan Anderson claims a “poly-centric” genesis of the religious movement that
critiques the Azusa model as implicitly colonial in its American-religion-for-export nature. Allan Anderson,
Spreading Fires: The Missionary Nature of Early Pentecostalism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007), 290-
8 Donald W. Dayton,”The American Holiness Movement: A Bibliographic Introduction.” (Occasional
Bibliographic Papers of the B.L. Fisher Library 1, 2012) and The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism
(Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1987). Melvin Dieter, The Holiness Revival of the Nineteenth Century
(Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1980). Nancy Hardesty, Faith Cure: Divine Healing in the Holiness and
Pentecostal Movements (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003). Jay R. Case, “And Ever the Twain Shall Meet:
The Holiness Missionary Movement and the Birth of World Pentecostalism, 1870–1920” Religion and
American Culture (2006):125-60. D. William Faupel, The Everlasting Gospel: The Significance of
Eschatology in the Development of Pentecostal Thought (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996),
55-76. Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-nineteenth-century America (New York:
Abingdon Press, 1957). Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism, British and American
Millenarianism, 1800-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).
9 See e.g., Anthea Butler, Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World (Chapel Hill,
NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); David Daniels, “The Cultural Renewal of Slave Religion:
Charles Price Jones and the Emergence of the Holiness Movement in Mississippi.” (Union Theological
Seminary, New York, Ph.D. Dissertation, 1992). Leslie D. Callahan, “Fleshly Manifestations: Charles Fox
Parham’s Quest for the Sanctified Body.” (Princeton University, Ph.D. Dissertation, 2002).
roots of its beginnings are continually being revised so as to promote the influence of the
many denominations it produced.10
This dissertation seeks to identify the early Church of God movement, located in
the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Southeast Tennessee, Western North Carolina,
and Northeast Georgia as participants in the Holiness movement (1884 to 1907) and
eventually Pentecostalism (1907 to present). In recognizing the social history of these
historical movements, this dissertation has looked beyond the historical frame of
denominational history that Conn used to recover the voices of prominent women such
as Clyde Cotton Haynes and Rebecca Barr. Rebecca Barr, an African American woman
preacher and Clyde Cotton a renown white female evangelist have to date been
relegated to the margins, when included, to be mentioned as spouses of males.
Acknowledging the anachronistic role of institutions such as the later denominational
structures that later gave limited credentialing to women has allowed for an identification
of these women as central and crucial founders of a movement that to date has been
remembered in the legacies of two men.
A key task and challenge of this dissertation has been taking seriously the
restorationism of the Church of God. This has also wrought the illustration and critique of
academic treatments of Pentecostals such as the Church of God as “primitive.” Notably
this dissertation seeks to make explicit that “primitive” is a term that has been used as
code or indication of psychological pathologies and embedded religiousity that were
historically and socially presumed to be essentially black. Therefore this dissertation
10 See e.g.: Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity. (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2013); To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of
World Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Roger G. Robins, Pentecostalism in America
(Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010); Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality
and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: DeCapo Press, 1995); David
Martin, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish (Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 2002).
argues that the continual use of this evaluative term is a perpetuation of racial biases
and racial construction. This dissertation confronts the prevailing historical
interpretation of Pentecostals as “primitive and pragmatic” 11 as a latent continuation of
racialized marginalization of Pentecostals in American religious history. This dissertation
constructively engages the ethnographic and psychological implications of the term
“primitive” when applied to Pentecostals and specifically the Church of God historically.
Instead of seeing this historic case study of restorationism and its social consequences
that blurred race, gender, and class as “primitive” this dissertation frames it as a lived
religion in which the human body became the site of religious belief and practice through
“Spirit filled bodies.” This approach of social history to articulate the everyday lives of this
movement through its enactment is directly foiled to prevailing tendencies that continue
to marginalize Pentecostalism while reinforcing an assumed normative form of American
religion in white Protestantism.12 Instead of seeking to center this history within the
historical narratives of American Protestantism that have been established as the center
11 This dissertation critically confronts the use of the idiom “primitive religion” that has been employed by
Grant Wacker. I am particularly challenging the uncritical adoption of the Protestant church history model
that Wacker asserts through his lens of “primitivism and pragmatism.” C.f., Grant Wacker, “Are the Golden
Oldies Still Worth Playing? Reflections on History Writing among Early Pentecostals,” Pneuma (1986): 81-
100; Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
2001). Wacker’s historiography follows the trajectory of Max Weber, H. Richard Niebuhr, Liston Pope, and
Robert M. Anderson. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Stephen
Kalberg (New York: Routledge,  2012). H. Richard Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism
(New York: H. Holt and Company, 1929). Liston Pope Millhands & Preachers: A Study of Gastonia (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1942). Robert M. Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of
American Pentecostalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).
12 This marginalization of Pentecostalism can be dated to the stratified sociological studies of religion by
Elmer T. Clark, H. Richard Niebuhr, and Max Weber and continued to appear in social histories of religion
such as Robert Mapes Anderson directly and indirectly in the footnotes of Grant Wacker. Notably this
marginalization continues in the study of “new religious movements” which is an approach that evolved from
the study of cults and sects that Clark presented. Clark, Small Sects in America, Revised Edition (Nashville,
TN: Abington Press, 1949); Niebuhr, Social Sources of Denominationalism; Weber, The Sociology of
Religion; Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited; Wacker, Heaven Below. See also Donald W. Dayton, “Yet
Another Layer of the Onion: Or Opening the Ecumenical Door to Let the Riffraff In” The Ecumenical Review
(1988): 87-110; R. Laurence Moore, Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1986); Sean McCloud, Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, and
Journalists, 1955-1993 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Teaching New Religious
Movements, Edited by David G. Bromley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
or norm of American religion, this dissertation will argue that the Church of God, and
Pentecostalism13 more broadly, is misunderstood if categorized as “Protestant.” One
misses important key features of Pentecostal belief and practice if they insist on
interpolating this religion through techniques developed for writing history of Protestant
By de-centering Protestantism as the default lens through which one studies
religion in the United States, this project seeks to establish Pentecostal practices as a
body of material requiring their own precision toolkit, rather than as an incomplete or
particularly dysfunctional version of a Protestant model.15 In this way, this dissertation
13 This dissertation project will examine one particular branch of Pentecostalism but will not engage in the
pursuit of defining a specific origin or founder of Pentecostalism. One of the sub-arguments of this
dissertation will be to illustrate how this historiographic approach of claiming primacy of one branch and or
its leader as the founder of Pentecostalism has been rooted in a theological and Protestant church history
methodology. This project seeks to redirect the analysis to the lived everyday lives of these early
Pentecostal practitioners in the Church of God and the world they were making through an employment of
14 For approaches to Pentecostalism that do not use a Protestant theology lens see e.g., Daniel E.
Albrecht, Rites in the Spirit: A Ritual Approach to Pentecostal/Charismatic Spirituality (Sheffield, UK:
Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 10; Salvatore Cucchiari, “The Lords of the Culto: Transcending Time
through Place in Sicilian Pentecostal Ritual,” Journal of Ritual Studies 4 (1990): 1-14; Cheryl B. Johns,
Pentecostal Formation: A Pedagogy Among the Oppressed. (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press,
1993), 13, 62, 71; Keith Warrington, Pentecostal Theology: A Theology of Encounter. (New York: T&T
Clark, 2008), 16; Anderson, Allan. An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity. (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 14; Cox, Fire from Heaven, 3; Daniel Chiquete, Haciendo Camino
al Andar: Siete Ensayos de Teología Pentecostal (San Jose, Costa Rica: Centro Cristiano Casa de Vida,
2007), 27-30; Bernardo Campos, Experiencia del Espíritu: Claves para una Interpretación del
Pentecostalismo (Quito, Ecuador: Consejo Latinoamericano de Iglesias, 2002), 14; French Arrington,
Christian Doctrine: A Pentecostal Perspective, Volume 2 (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 1993), 46-47.
15 Here I am seeking to build off Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to explore both emically and etically
the ritual construction of religious history by Pentecostals. The goal is to “take seriously” Pentecostal
historians as Robert Orsi social history of public/lived religion would advise and Bruno Latour’s sociological
precipitatory/participatory research model requires, while also critically placing Pentecostals within the
broader American religious history landscape understanding that the American Pentecostal context is larger
than individual historical informants always know or acknowledge. Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of
Practice, Translated by Richard Nice (New York: Cambridge University Press,  2012), 78-79; The
Logic of Practice, Translated by Richard Nice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press,  1990), 53.
Robert Orsi, Madonna of 115th Street, “Preface to the Third Edition” (Yale University Press,  2010),
xviii; History and Presence (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016), 5;
Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 180. Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An
Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 23, 62, 234.
enables the characteristic materiality of Pentecostal practice excluded from a focus on
Protestant categories to have agency, demanding full explanation and engagement
alongside textual sources. For example the human body is a primary “text” and medium
of Pentecostalism as a living religion that blurs a distinction between belief and practice.
Notably this dissertation devotes a visual chapter to material and visual history
constructed contra to Conn’s history by the Church of God of Prophecy.
This project tracks a complex triangulated relationship between race, class, and
religion by focusing on the history of poor and working class white Americans who
practiced an initially African American religion, Pentecostalism. With special attention to
the Church of God’s location in Southern Appalachia, this project interrogates the racial
construction of “long lost Anglo Saxons brothers” of the frontier region by Protestant
missionaries during the reconstruction era. The transformation of time and space to
create a different racial identity for the poor mountain whites became a continual framing
of Appalachia. The racial depiction of poor mountain whites as phenotypically white but
not racially white along with the idea that Appalachia was a place time had forgotten,
lived on beyond the nineteenth century Protestant missionaries as an exceptional idiom
of identity. This dissertation highlights how Conn employed this pathologized depiction of
the early Church of God members in his history to provide a plausible and respectable
identity for the Church of God (Cleveland) denomination in 1955.16
For a similar historiographic approach to Pentecostalism see: Anthea Butler, Women in the Church of
God in Christ; “Observing the Lives of the Saints: Sanctification as Practice in the Church of God in Christ” in
Practicing Protestants: Histories of Christian life in America, 1630-1965, Edited by Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Leigh
Schmidt, Mark Valeri (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 2006), 159-76.
16 The broad and long swath of periodization in this dissertation roughly mirrors the race history bookended
by United States Supreme court cases in 1896 and 1955: Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896); and
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).
Today, the Church of God claims over seven million adherents globally with more
than one million living in the United States constituted in sixteen different
denominations.17 By studying Pentecostals through a methodology of history that does
not see them as marginally Protestant but American-born Christian, this project paves
the way to rewrite the history of the Church of God. It also opens the door to deploying
similar methods for rewriting other American religious histories marginalized by centering
Protestantism as the norm for religion in the historiography of American religion.
Secondarily, it aims to illustrate the latent homogenizing role of whiteness and Protestant
Christianity within the historiography of religions in America, by a social historical focus
on the early history of the Church of God, observing that the early protagonists of this
history were phenotypically white but not raced white.
This dissertation is structured into two parts and five chapters: two in the first and
three in the second. The first part of this dissertation reconstructs the social history and
lived religion of the early Church of God movement in the time period of 1884 to 1923.
The second part of the project addresses the later writing and construction of this history
in denominational history, academic study, and visual and material history. The second
part of this dissertation focuses on the use, and role of these histories in the construction
of distinct racial and religious identities.
17Church of God (Cleveland) reports that “ministries include more than 7 million members in 178 nations and
territories. Some 36,000 congregations serve around the world, while regional and international ministries
provide resources and support through our divisions of World Evangelization, Care, Discipleship, Education,
and Support Services.” [http://www.churchofgod.org/about/a-brief-history-of-the-church-of-god]; Church of
God of Prophecy reports: “The Church of God of Prophecy has over one-and-a-half million members,
worshiping in over 10,000 churches our missions in 125 nations of the world. Nearly 90% of our global
membership is outside of North America.” [https://cogop.org/about/].
Chapter one seeks to confront the glaring question: if not white and not
Protestant then what were they? Chapter one seeks to constructively engage the lived
religion of “Spirit filled bodies” as an alternate identity of the early Church of God
movement adherents outside of white racial identity and Protestant religious aesthetics
of belief and practice. Key to the opening chapter’s argument is an engagement of
restorationism as an embodied reality. Chapter two seeks to contextualize the
restorationist claims of the Church of God by reconstructing three overlapping and
collaborating groups from the Holiness movement that eventually coalesced into the
Church of God movement. This chapter’s argument is the recognition of the association
and parachurch nature of the Holiness movement within the early members of the
Church of God participated. Recognizing their participation in the broader Holiness
movement, chapter two reconstructs the auspicious and interconnected reality of the
earliest events of the Church of God that counter their later depiction as socially isolated.
Chapter three addresses directly the text, process, and circumstances of Charles
Conn’s 1955 denominational history Like a Mighty Army. In particular this chapter
highlights the use of the early Church of God history as a malleable past that Conn
sought to transform by employing a white racial myth. Recognizing the construction of
Conn’s history as a calculated construction of an identity, this chapter explores the
transformation of the Church of God (Cleveland) from not white and not Protestant to a
“legitimate branch of Protestantism” with roots in “long lost Anglo Saxons” of Appalachia.
Chapter four turns to the outside treatment of the Church of God movement’s history by
dissecting the racial implications of the identification of these Pentecostals as “primitive.”
Highlighting the historical and intellectual pathologization of the embodied religion of
Appalachian whites and Pentecostals this chapter historically highlights the latent
ethnocentrism and racial biases of the academic treatment of Pentecostals as
“primitive.” Chapter five is presented in the form of a “visual chapter.” This visual chapter
consists of a short film accessible via a hyperlink included in an accompanying written
script. The script provides historical background, transcribed film narration, and
interpretative commentary for the film. This visual chapter is a multimodal attempt to
both analyze and demonstrate the form of visual and material history constructed by the
Church of God of Prophecy contra the written denominational history of Charles Conn in
the mid twentieth century. The conclusion provides an overview and summation of the
dissertation’s argument and contents making explicit the Pentecostal construction of
race in the Church of God movement.
This dissertation builds off the existing written and visual histories of the Church
of God movement to analyze and make explicit the construction of race within this
branch of Pentecostalism. Instead of seeing race as an external topic to be discussed or
projected onto the history of the Church of God this dissertation has sought to find and
amplify the ways in which this Pentecostal group created their identity. Firstly by creating
an enacted theological restorationism in their human bodies as Spirit filled bodies.
Secondly by rewriting their identity through adoption and employment of Protestant
myths of racial identity.
This dissertation project seeks to navigate efficiently between contextualizing the
Church of God through disciplinary approach of social history in which chronology and
larger socioeconomic forces worked upon the group and individuals of the Church of
God movement. Yet at the same time this project has also sought to investigate
constructively the “theology” of Pentecostals that did not fit into the patterns of what
American religious history has presupposed theology to be. Notably this has
necessitated an interdisciplinary employment of ethnographic theory that takes seriously
the phenomenological enactment of identity such as race, gender, and class. In this
case seeking to give voice to the “Spirit filled bodies” or lived religion of Pentecostals
that did not fit into these categories but sought to reorder both time and identity through
the enactment of their religion in their bodies. At moments this navigation between
listening closely to the claims of the religious protagonists and contextualizing or
qualifying their claims within the larger history will be judged successful and at times it
might seem lopsided. It is the hope of the author that this project continues this
negotiation in further academic writing on the audacious acts, claims, and identities that
the early Church of God and other Pentecostals sought to enact. Still it is the aim of this
project to bring constructive and critical analysis to the assumed unbiased acts of the
denominational historian and academic historian. Navigating the constructions and
recording of the early history of the Church of God by different historians within the
Church of God movement has wrought at times complex reflexivity for the author of this
dissertation. This reflexivity has been productive to continue questioning the form and
purpose of this task of American religious history while also inspiring further writing.
Spirit Filled Bodies: New Pentecostal Identities of Power
December 25, 1914 in Richmond, Virginia, Louise Werner the daughter of the
chief of police, decided to transgress the social norms for a white woman of her day and
attend a religious meeting. But it was a transgression not primarily because it was a
Holiness Pentecostal revival18 held in a storefront that was loud or rowdy, but rather
because it was a predominately African American led meeting. Werner remembered in
her published memoir-tract published six years later:
“A friend called me up over the telephone and asked me if I would go to the colored mission on
Christmas night. I consented and seven of us went. Praise Jesus! Conviction seized me more than
ever, still I went home that night without God. We decided we would go back the last day of the
year just before midnight, and stay until the service was over. The service was not over until the
next morning. About three o’clock while the white preacher was preaching, conviction seized me in
such a way I had to hold to the seat to keep from bouncing up. A colored sister came to me and
asked me if I was not even saved. The preacher left the pulpit while he was preaching, came to me
and invited me to the altar. I told him he knew I could not give up and he went back and
commenced preaching. Again he stopped and said he knew some one in that mission would be
damned forever if he did not give up. ….The colored preacher go up to preach and had the same
impression that some one in that place ought to give himself to God. After he finished preaching, he
came to me and asked me to give my heart to God. I had so much hatred in my heart against the
colored race…. when I realized that a colored preacher cared enough for my soul to invite me to
the altar, friends, it almost broke my heart. I then began to look up and ask God to show me what I
could do. I was meditating how I could be really saved. They began to sing and I was looking
toward the ceiling, saying, ‘I can’t give up unless you take the desire of dope from me, take all my
pride, and malice and hatred toward these colored people from me.’ Praise Jesus, as I was looking
up and praying in my feeble way, suddenly about 4:45 A.M., Jan. 1, 1915, the desire of taking dope
and the burden of my sins rolled away. Glory to Jesus!… Since confessing in the altar that Jesus
had saved me from my sins, from that day till this I have had no desire to go back into the world. I
did not like the colored race, but praise Jesus, when I was saved the middle wall of partition was
18 This is likely the same Pentecostal mission that William J. Seymour leader of the famed 1906 Azusa
Street revival in Los Angeles visited in 1908. “…Souls were baptized in Richmond and God is working in
mighty power. The saints are just as sweet as can be. Glory to God for this Gospel. The saints are so simple
here, that is the reason they receive the Pentecost so quickly. They are ready for the power.” William J.
Seymour, “Portsmouth and Richmond, Va.” The Apostolic Faith 1:12 (January 1908): 1. Notice how
Seymour, an African American minister and leader indirectly points to the humility and lower class status of
broken down. A real love came into my heart that morning and the same love is standing true
today. Glory to God!”19
Later in 1915 after receiving her salvation at the mission Louise had an
overwhelming experience at work. As a successful single business woman she had
advanced to a position of management for the sundry section at the drug store and had
male employees under her direction. This would have been a sign of her success and
work ethic to be placed in this position and would also be seen as controversial in the
gender norms of the Southeast United States, particularly in Richmond a former capital
of the Confederacy. One day at work Louise directed a male employee to do a task.
Leaning on the biases and assumed superiority of his gender he simply said no and
insulted her telling her she could not tell him what to do as woman and should not be his
boss or any man’s superior. Despite the new joy from her religious conversion, Louise
felt powerless. So she returned to the “same colored mission the next day, Sunday. I
testified and told the people how I felt. The colored preacher said I needed more power. I
realized that was what I wanted. They made an altar call and I was the first to the altar. I
began to cry to God for I knew I had to be sanctified. I began to pray, ‘Lord, I want you to
sanctify me right now.’ I put everything on the altar, my business, home, loved ones,
friends, everything I had or ever expected to be, and placed myself on it all… I got up
and sat in one of the chairs near the front, the saints gathered around me and began to
sing. Suddenly I felt like a bucket of blood had been poured over my whole body. I felt so
clean and I knew I was sanctified. I stood up and began shouting and dancing over the
mission, and clapping my hands for joy. It was something to shout over. Praise Jesus,
the blood is still applied to my soul and I know what it is to be really sanctified… Jan. 12,
19 Louise Werner, Life, Incidents and Experiences of Louise Werner Written by Herself (Cleveland, TN:
Church of God Publishing House, 1920), 24-25.
1915, about two o’clock P.M. I was sanctified and I knew the next experience was to be
baptized with the Holy Ghost… The Holy Ghost came in and I began to speak in other
tongues, April 12, 1915, and I have the Holy Ghost yet for He still speaks in other
Werner despite her professional accomplishments found that the gender and
social norms of her world were continuing to make her powerless. She turned to the
religion of Pentecostalism that she found in the “colored mission” in Richmond to receive
a new power. It was in this identity as saved that she confronted and grappled with
racism and submitted herself in relationship to African American leaders and then found
her sanctification and Baptism in the Holy Ghost. As members of the Church of God
movement, early adherents such as Werner were able to receive a new identity of power
in spite of the reality that they were socially labeled as marginal, subordinate, and even
powerless. It is on this identity and the religion that created it that this chapter focuses.
As not white and not Protestant in their religion, class, race, and practices Church of
God members forged a new identity.
A New Identity of More Power:
The chapter that follows showcases historical examples of Church of God
movement people in the early period of 1909 to 1923 to highlight the alternate identity of
these Pentecostals. In particular this new identity construction of “Saved, Sanctified,
and Baptized with the Holy Ghost” provided power to live outside the constraints and
limits of race, gender and class. This chapter focuses on the emic expressions,
cosmology, and lived practices of the everyday lives of Church of God members in its
20 Werner, Life, Incidents and Experiences of Louise Werner, 31-33.
early history. In recording the lived reality of this religious history, this chapter
intentionally focuses on participants who have been neglected, abbreviated, or omitted
from the later denominational histories. This chapter seeks to demonstrate how these
people embodied an identity beyond simple phenotype and census data that remembers
them as “female or male; white, black, or Mexican” and “protestant.” From within their
lived religion of Pentecostalism these Church of God members forged a world in which
they lived in embodied identities of religion outside these constructs.
One of the central claims of this dissertation project is that early history of the
Church of God movement has been largely written out of existence by later myths, or
narrations of the early history. Specifically, the prevailing published historical narratives
have often forgotten the lives of those that actually composed this movement; namely
women and people of color. In an attempt to confront this from the opening chapter this
dissertation begins not with the story of the famous men but rather forgotten women that
exemplified this movement’s founding ethos and character: Clyde Cotton, and Rebecca
Barr. In this same vein this chapter seeks to orient attention to the “form” of the Church
of God religious movement itself, namely the human body as site and medium for this
religion. As gendered, raced, and classed subjects in their contemporary settings these
women were conscious of their bodies and identities in social and cultural settings and
provided clear testimony of God’s presence on, in, and through their bodies.
In acknowledging their historical importance this chapter will begin with their
voices and histories and move to broader theoretical implications later in the chapter.
These women were explicitly involved and leading in the primary sources of periodicals
and this chapter relies heavily on those sources. Historiography that recovers their
voices has necessitated that the author read with an ear to these women instead of
simply seeing them as affirmations of the periodization of certain men. With established
histories of this movement in great supply relying on the narrative of select white males
this is a new innovation in the history of the Church of God movement.
21 As the research
of those previous history texts have structured the formal archives of the subsequent
denominations that preserve and house Church of God history it would be much easier
to follow the narrative material of the Church of God movements that revolves around
men such as Richard Green (R.G.) Spurling and Ambrose (A.J.) Tomlinson.
Biographies have been written on the leadership and influence of these founding men.
And the published historical narratives have been punctuated to the nuances of these
males’ lives and activities.22 Yet to follow this pattern of historiography would in many
ways be to uncritically and anachronistically apply the racial identity constructs of White
Protestantism that part of the movement sought to adopt in the mid twentieth century.
Specifically the practice of assumed partriarchy as a defining factor of proper religion led
by “reasoned men” and “well mannered women” that support the role of male leadership
21 Richard G. Spurling, 1897 Manuscript, twenty two page handwritten manuscript. Used and accessed by
permission of Zion Assembly Church of God Archives (Cleveland, Tennessee); Ambrose J. Tomlinson, The
Last Great Conflict (Cleveland, TN: Walter E. Rodgers, 1913); Simmons, History of the Church of God; and
“2nd Edition History of the Church of God” typed galley proofs unpublished (Accessed and used by
Permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, TN here after indicated by DPRC); M.S.
Lemons, “History of the Church of God” typed manuscript (DPRC); Duggar, Answering the Call of God; A.J.
Tomlinson Former General Overseer of the Church of God; Abbot, “The Forgotten Church;” Spurling, The
Lost Link; Conn, Like a Mighty Army; Davidson, Upon this Rock, 3 volumes.
22 See e.g., Phillips, Quest to Restore God’s House – a Theological History of the Church of God (Cleveland,
Tennessee), Volume 1: 1886-1923, R.G. Spurling to A.J. Tomlinson, Formation-TransformationReformation. Vol. 1; James M. Beaty, R.G. Spurling and the Early History of the Church of God (Cleveland,
Tennessee: Derek Press, 2012); Roger G. Robins, A.J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2004); Douglas G. Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal
Movement (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003); Conn, Like a Mighty Army; Mickey Crews, The
Church of God: A Social History (Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 1990); Charles T.
Davidson, Upon This Rock. Vol. 1-3, (Cleveland, Tennessee: White Wing Publishing House, 1973, 1974,
1976); Dale M. Coulter, “The Development of Ecclesiology in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN): A
Forgotten Contribution?” Pneuma 29 (2007): 59-85; Harold D. Hunter, “A.J. Tomlinson’s Emerging
Ecclesiology.” Pneuma 32 (2010): 369-89.
cannot and should not be assumed.23 In this manner this chapter is following the lead of
scholars such as Anthea Butler who have shown, the construction, proliferation, and
maintenance of the lived reality of Holiness Pentecostalism was typically forged in the
lives and activities of women.24
This chapter will seek to illustrate the new identity that Pentecostals took on as
Spirit filled bodies in their individual lives, in burgeoning group of the church of God and
how they were perceived by outsiders. First this chapter will begin with brief histories
from the lives of Clyde Cotton, and Rebecca Barr. Second, the chapter will look broader
at the social class of the early Church of God through the case study of the 1909 court
case A.J. Tomlinson et al. v. M.L. Beard et al. Third, the chapter will close with the 1922
segregation of the Church of God with the adoption of a separate “colored work.”
On September 19, 1910 following a day-long revival meeting in Gintown a small
settlement in Jefferson County, Alabama, Ella Clyde Cotton marched forward to the front
of the tent to the altar where many people had throughout the day prayed in voices
aloud, screamed, spoken in unknown tongues, cried out for healing, and rolled on the
ground filled with the Holy Ghost and fire. Yet as the folding organ that Clyde had
23 For more on the persistent historiography of religious history as primarily male led history see Catherine
Brekus’ introduction to the edited collection: The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the
Past (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).
24 See e.g., Butler, Women in the Church of God in Christ; and “Observing the Lives of the Saints:
Sanctification as Practice in the Church of God in Christ;” Heather D. Curtis, Faith in the Great Physician:
Suffering and Divine Healing in American Culture, 1860-1900 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 2007); Matthew A. Sutton, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).
played often through Holy Ghost inspiration and power bellowed another revival hymn
she was not coming to make a profession of faith, or to preach powerfully as she had so
often done for the last seven years of her life around the Southeast United States.25
Instead as she arrived to the altar she was joined by the musician and evangelist Efford
Haynes and they were married under the direction of another evangelist Ambrose J.
Tomlinson. After the marital vows were completed, the evangelists conducted an altar
call and people came forward to receive the Baptism in the Holy Ghost and then five
new members were brought into the Church of God.26 This incident in Clyde’s life is
important because it helps the historian see the way in which the sacred, everyday,
familial, evangelistic, leadership, and social were interwoven into the lives of early
Pentecostals in the Church of God movement.27 Clyde married Efford Haynes on that
day but long before she had married a life of transformative commitment and ministry to
25 In contrast to Wheeler’s depiction of women of the New South, I am arguing that the poor white and black
women in Holiness Pentecostal circles during this era presented a different model of independent
womanhood that transgressed the sacred roles of gender and race retained and anchored in the Lost Cause
of Confederate memories for middle and upper class white women. In this way Holiness Pentecostal
women embodied a class and race blurring religious identity that historian John Hayes has described in his
concept of “Southern folk religion” during the era of the New South.
Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, New Women of the New South: The Leaders of The Woman Suffrage
Movement in the Southern States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); John Hayes, Hard Hard
Religion: Interracial Faith in the Poor South (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2017). For
an exception to this characterization of Southern Holiness women c.f., Lucy Elizabeth Simpson Holmes’
romanticizing of her plantation childhood and Alma White’s advocacy of the Klu Klux Klan. Nickels J. Holmes
and Lucy Elizabeth Simpson Holmes, Life Sketches and Sermons (Royston, GA: Press of the Pentecostal
Holiness Church, 1920); Alma White, Demons and Tongues (Bound Brook, NJ: The Pentecostal Union,
26 “September 20, 1910” Diary of A.J. Tomlinson 1901 to 1924 (Cleveland, TN: White Wing Publishing
27 Despite her legacy and continual work as a powerful leader and establisher of churches, Cotton would
later only be remembered primarily as a faithful wife to Efford. E.g., Conn in his text body only mentions “a
devout lady” and then in he names her in a footnote as “Clyde Cotton who would later become Mrs. Efford
Haynes.” Conn, Like a Mighty Army (1955), 88.
Ella Clyde was born in Antioch, Georgia, a small outpost that took its name from
the Baptist church founded there in 1840 and later moved with her mother and siblings
to the city of Atlanta. Achieving the highest common education given to women in
Georgia at this period, Clyde had an eighth-grade diploma. As the oldest child of her
widowed mother’s household, she would have been expected from an early age to lead,
organize, and care for her siblings and their needs. It was in this domestic context of
leadership that she was able to cultivate her influence and leadership abilities, like many
other similar young women in the holiness movement, that were given amplification and
direction through her sanctification experience.28 Growing up in the shadow of death of a
parent and in the setting of rural poverty, Clyde moved into the city of Atlanta where she
was able to secure employment as a school teacher and her mother as a dressmaker.
Yet with these two meager incomes and the more expensive cost of living in the urban
Atlanta, Clyde and her mother would have been required to act in creative ways to keep
her four younger siblings fed and clothed. It was likely in this creative activity that
Clyde’s religious faith led her to connect with the “Hephzibah” healing home of “Mother”
Elizabeth Sexton. Sexton had moved from rural Shelbyville, Indiana to start this healing
home in 1890 and would become the relational connection that brought Cotton into the
Pentecostal movement in 1907. It was with Sexton that Clyde was introduced to
sanctification and given this experience of empowerment and also taught the practice of
28 The goal here is to think more deeply about how the domestic and public spheres were not as clearly
defined in situations of household that was headed by a widow as well as to acknowledge that domestic
labor and leadership is also public and important leadership. It is this leadership that led and guided much
of the formation of the Holiness Movement and the social reforms from the ground up in contrast to the
larger social elites’ Progressive Era reforms. For other examples of the influence of the leadership within
domestic sphere on shaping society, culture, and religion see also: Butler, Women in the Church of God in
Christ; Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street.
divine healing. From her sanctification experience she creatively worked “under divine
influence” to do what women were not typically allowed to do namely, travel broadly,
independently, and lead congregations of men and women.
As peculiar as the name Clyde for a woman may sound to a reader today the
sight of a single woman in her late twenties preaching charismatically in a tent at the turn
of the century in the southeast United States was even more peculiar. Yet through her
travels she became a renowned evangelist preaching extensively in Georgia, Alabama,
Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, The Bahamas, Ohio
and Michigan. During her evangelistic travels in 1905 she helped lead and organize a
holiness church in Cleveland, Tennessee with A.J. Tomlinson. This church would
eventually become the home of the Church of God movement. In 1906 to 1907 when
Tomlinson began ordaining ministers he sought out and ordained “Sister Clyde” into the
Church of God movement as an Evangelist.29 No doubt her presence within this
fledgling band brought credibility to the holiness group as her effective evangelistic and
recruitment work in the holiness circles far outshined the smaller regional work of
Tomlinson at this time. Clyde continued to travel, preach, teach, and play the organ. In
1907 after preaching and traveling she heard through Mother Sexton and others in the
holiness Christian circles of a “Latter Rain” Pentecostal revival taking place in Los
Angeles, California. It is likely that she read William Seymour’s words in the Apostolic
Faith paper herself in the healing home of Hephzibah in Atlanta as Sexton became
involved in spreading the Los Angeles’ events to the Southeast United States. These
holiness people in Los Angeles were claiming a new experience beyond sanctification,
29 Wade Phillips, Quest to Restore God’s House, 249
something Clyde would have been weary of, yet their experiences where providing
further power for the spread of the gospel to all people of the earth. Specifically black,
white, Mexican, and Chinese holiness peoples were worshipping in a spirit of unity that
had lasting impact on Cotton’s theology and life. In the words of Clyde herself: “The unity
of believers is the most luminous evidence of the divine mission of Christ. He prayed that
His followers might all be united in the bound of one common faith, and certainly His
prayer will be answered.”30
In the 1900 census it was recorded that her profession was that of a
schoolteacher, one of the few jobs that were available to women in the New South that
allowed them some mobility and leadership outside the domestic sphere. During her
late twenties armed with the religious confidence and technology of the Spirit Baptism,
what she would later distinguish as sanctification, she began to travel preaching,
evangelizing, and leading prayer for others to receive conversion (salvation) and
sanctification. It was during this same time period that she began networking with
several other leaders in the holiness movement.
Clyde, coming to Atlanta from Antioch, would have been reared in the social and
structural influence of the local Baptist church in Antioch.31 Studying all the way through
30 Mrs. Clyde Haynes, “Unity” 6:24 Church of God Evangel (June 12, 1915): 4. This four-column-length
article was later published into a tract by the same name and advertised for sale into the 1940s in the
Evangel. Clyde’s voice in this tract became extremely important for the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) after
the departure of A.J. Tomlinson in 1923.
31 Antioch Baptist Church was founded in 1841 and became the naming and centering structure for the
unincorporated area of Antioch. From 1841 to 1876 the log church functioned as both a church house and
the only school in the area. In 1876 the church was deeded 10 acres of land and built their second building
that became used as both the church and local grammar school. Having attained an “eighth-gradeeducation” at this the only grammar school in the region, the Baptist church, polity, and social norms would
have been greatly important in the formation of her worldview. Particularly the role of autonomy instilled in
the congregational life of these local churches. “Antioch Baptist Church History” accessed online on
February 27, 2019 [http://www.antiochga.org/49566]. For more on these rural Baptist churches see e.g.,
Howard Dorgan, Giving Glory to God in Appalachia: Worship Practices of Six Baptist Subdenominations”
her “eighth-grade-education” was completed in this clapboard frame church, built the
year of her birth, she was formed socially and religiously within the walls of the Baptist
church instilling a sense of autonomy and responsibility. When Cotton encountered
Atlanta for the first time in the 1890s she was confronted with quickly growing city of
89,872 people whose buildings, infrastructure and population belied the post
reconstruction South at the turn of the twentieth century. Cotton’s world would have
surely been transformed by the move from Antioch to Atlanta.32 Atlanta was only a
quarter of a century removed from Sherman’s march that burned much of the town and
decimated its landscape and economy. Strong Republican politics had provided new
opportunities for African Americans and the former Confederate families were
scrambling to revive their understanding of order in the form of white supremacy.33
Clyde’s experience of this terrific pursuit of white supremacy would have been
lived, felt, and seen right in front of her house. Clyde, her mother and siblings lived at 40
Auburn Avenue just walking distance from the center of the city known as Five Points
and directly in the path of one of the most violent demonstrations of terrorism in pursuit
of white supremacy during the era known as 1906 Atlanta Race Riots.34 At least 35 black
(Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1987); Paul Harvey, Redeeming the South: Religious Culture
and Racial Identities among Southern Baptists 1865-1925 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina
Press, 1997); Bill Leonard, Christianity in Appalachia: Profiles in Regional Pluralism (Knoxville, TN:
University of Tennessee Press, 1999); Deborah V. McCauley, Appalachian Mountain Religion: A History
(Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1995).
32 1900 census via online world population review [http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/atlantapopulation/] 33 For more on Atlanta’s urban development and social transformation during this period see: LeeAnn Lands,
Culture of Property: Race, Class, and Housing Landscapes in Atlanta, 1880-1950 (Athens, GA: University of
Georgia Press, 2009).
34 Mark Bauerlein, Negrophobia: A Race Riot in Atlanta, 1906 (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2001);
Sarah Case, “1906 Race Riot Tour,” Journal of American History 101:3 (December 2014): 880-82; Charles
Crowe, “Racial Massacre in Atlanta, September 22, 1906,” Journal of Negro History 54 (April 1969): 150-73.
men, women, and children were viciously slaughtered by white mobs and hundreds were
wounded in three days of violence. Clyde’s home sat right in the path of one of the
prominent mob marches that moved from Five Points to the predominately black
business and residential neighborhood known as “Darktown.” After the mayhem of mob
violence was finally ended race relations in the city would never be the same and goals
of disenfranchisement, segregation, and urban control through zoning were set into
action. One of the biggest consequences of this migration of black businesses and
residences coincided with Clyde’s home as much of the businesses moved to Auburn
Avenue.35 Clyde as a poor single white woman living with her widowed mother resided in
a newly racially integrated neighborhood.36 Many poor, working, and middle class whites
migrated quickly from Auburn Avenue but Clyde stayed.
It was on Auburn Avenue just across the street from Clyde’s home at 53 Auburn
Avenue that Atlanta Pentecostal Mission was founded in 1907. The establishment of a
Pentecostal mission here at 53 Auburn Avenue and Clyde’s choice to remain in this area
show that she had consciously invested in the Holiness Pentecostal values of interracial
life and worship where Spirit filled bodies were not limited to “world’s” constructs of race,
gender, and class. As a single white woman, working as a schoolteacher since at least
1900, Cotton witnessed firsthand in front of the mission and her home the racial violence
and the transformation of the racial politics solidified in the blood of the mutilated bodies
of the murdered black men, women, and children in 1906. Mobs of white textile workers
had marched past where Cotton lived and the mission would be established the
35 Gregory Mixon, The Atlanta Riot: Race, Class, and Violence in a New South City (Gainesville, FL:
University of Florida Press, 2005), 43-44.
36 Gary M. Pomerantz, Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: The Saga of Two Families and the Making of
Atlanta (New York: Scribner, 1996), 76-77.
following year. After the riots many black business owners moved their businesses to
Auburn Avenue. The placement of Cotton and the establishment of the Pentecostal
mission on Auburn Avenue relay more than an address but speak to the Pentecostal
empowered identity that she sought to embody as an early Pentecostal.
From the Atlanta mission Clyde would travel wide and far throughout the
Southeast United States sharing this Pentecostal identity. Her work with Gaston B.
Cashwell who had attended the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles is well documented.
Cashwell like other males who attended meetings in Los Angeles were attributed for
being the carriers of Pentecost. Yet Clyde in her preaching at Greenville and Laurens,
South Carolina, Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tennessee, Atlanta and LaGrange,
Georgia had become renown as she was referenced in the Pentecostal periodical often
of the Bridegroom’s Messenger from Atlanta well before other Church of God figures
entered into that print publication. These print networks provided a continuation of the
Holy Spirit-led activity of Pentecostalism and provided a material transference of the
revival to Pentecostal adherents around the world.37 Clyde Cotton’s name, renown, and
effectiveness as a Pentecostal preacher preceded her and she was sought ought to
preach. She was an evangelist who not only preached at the Cleveland Pentecostal
revival in 1908 but also was the persuasive proof and testimony for Pentecostalism that
37 Here I am building off Benedict Anderson’s idea of “imagined communities” established through print
media as well as taking seriously the contents and expressed intent of these publications. Benedict
Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso,
1983). An example of the material spread of Pentecostal practice is evidenced in the first edition of the
Atlanta based The Bridegroom’s Messenger. There is a front page article that is written in tongues in
phonetic spelling. “Nutala oca seta oca, duta e miloo ackile iro. Arnace duda ole tete ankati sela riro allahoo;
osahee in keta nilah ochrema laluh caulati sene….” Gaston B. Cashwell, “An Explanation” and “Sept. 6th 5
A.M.” The Bridegroom’s Messenger 1:1 (October 1, 1907): 1. Clyde would spread this same prayerful
understanding of the Church of God’s Evening Light and Church of God Evangel in 1910 leading others to
pray for the start and mailing of these papers. Flavius J. Lee “The Evangel its mission” in Minutes of the
Fourteenth Annual assembly of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN: Church of God Publishing House, 1919),
26. Used and Accessed by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
brought several male leaders into the Church of God movement through her famed
practice of singing in tongues at the revival.38 When the Church of God movement
entered into the Pentecostal revival it was not later-prominent men such as A.J.
Tomlinson, W.F. Bryant, or M.S. Lemons that announced it to the Pentecostal
readership of the world it was Clyde Cotton.39 No doubt her name brought legitimacy to
the revival in the eyes of the readers of the Pentecostal periodical The Bridegroom’s
Messenger and was given a front-page placement.40 Clyde’s life and leading influence
give a glimpse into the early life of Spirit-filled Pentecostals that made up the Church of
God. She was poor economically but her agency and desire to transform the world
around her new identity as Saved, Sanctified, and Baptized in the Holy Ghost led her to
travel widely and live unconventionally. Residing in the middle of poverty, racial
violence, and urban migration Clyde was not a passive recipient but an active agent of
individual and social transformation as she spread Pentecostalism.
Rebecca Clayton Barr:
On May 31, 1909 Rebecca Clayton Barr was ordained as the first foreign
missionary of the Church of God. In the wake of the previous year, 1908, being the
inaugural entry of the Church of God movement into the larger Pentecostal movement,
38 Notably Cotton was referenced by the second Church of God general overseer Flavius J. Lee as
convincing him of the authenticity of this religious practice in Cleveland, Tennessee. Ironically Cotton is only
mentioned as a “devout lady sang in tongues under the influence of the Holy Spirit” only in the footnote she
is identified as “Miss Clyde Cotton, who was assisting in the meeting; who later became Mrs. Efford
Haynes.” This is most lengthy description of her or her work in the denominational history by Conn. Conn,
Like a Mighty Army, 88.
39 Clyde Cotton, “Great Pentecostal Revival in Cleveland, Tenn.” The Bridegroom’s Messenger 1:22
(September 15, 1908): 1
40 Gaston B. Cashwell, “Victory at Cocoanut Grove, Florida” The Bridegroom’s Messenger 1:3 (December 1,
1907): 1; Elizabeth A. Sexton, “Pentecost in Atlanta” The Bridegroom’s Messenger 5:1 (January 1, 1908): 1.
Barr’s ordination along with that of her husband Edward (Edmund) Barr, added
authenticity to the Church of God movement’s membership of the greater Pentecostal
movement. As primarily a missionary movement built on the social networks of holiness
associations and their impact throughout global missionary networks globally,
Pentecostalism from its inception was a missionary movement.41 One of the most
significant reasons for the renown to the “Latter Rain” Pentecostal movement that
originated at the Azusa Street mission in Los Angeles, California the global missionary
activity connected to this movement. Those that received Baptism in the Holy Ghost
with speaking in tongues were seen to be given power to evangelize and in most early
instances literal foreign languages for their task. In 1908 the Church of God had adopted
the practice of speaking in tongues through the preaching of Clyde Cotton and G.B.
Cashwell, a white preacher from North Carolina who had visited the Los Angeles,
California Azusa Street mission. To this point the Church of God had not sent out any
missionaries beyond the boundaries of the United States. Barr’s ordination as an
Evangelist to go to the Bahamas brought about the full transformation of the Church of
God from a Holiness group into a branch of Holiness Pentecostalism.
In addition to becoming the first missionary, Rebecca was the first African
American ordained by the Church of God another indication of the Church of God’s
participation in Pentecostalism. Prior to Rebecca’s ordination, A.J. Tomlinson the
moderator of the Church of God’s annual assembly and later the editor of its periodical,
had sought out the teachings of Pentecostals and attended a service led by Charles H.
Mason in November 12, 1908 to hear from Mason directly about his recent trip to Los
41 Anderson, Spreading Fires, 290.
Angeles and conversion to Pentecostalism.42 It was the radical interracial nature of
Pentecostalism that had attracted Tomlinson to the ministry of African American Charles
Mason and the spread of Pentecostalism into the Church of God in Christ in Memphis,
Tennessee, a predominately black Holiness Pentecostal denomination.43 Moving forward
from this transformation of the Church of God into a Holiness Pentecostal movement,
Tomlinson went to Tampa and Durant, Florida to participate in the interracial and Spiritfilled meetings there.44 Since the Summer of 1907 Pleasant Grove, a campground near
Durant, had become a epicenter for Pentecostalism as an interracial holiness gathering
welcome to the new practices of Pentecostalism.
At the Pleasant Grove, the campmeeting grounds of the South Florida Holiness
Association,45 the Church of God would coalesce the ministries of Rebecca Barr, Flora
42 “November 26, 1908” Diary of A.J. Tomlinson 1901 to 1924. Tomlinson also met and united with L.P.
Adams at this meeting. Adams would become prominent in the Church of God in Mississippi converting
Holiness congregations there under the auspices of the Church of God to Holiness Pentecostal churches.
See: Louis F. Morgan, Streams of Living Water: 100 Years of the Church of God in Mississippi 1909-2009
(Cleveland, TN: Louis F. Morgan, 2009), 6-12. In November 28, 1907 Charles H. Mason wrote to the Azusa
Street Revival’s periodical saying: “…I was put out, because I believed that God did baptize me with the
Holy Ghost among you all. Well, He did it and it just suits me. Glory in the Lord. Jesus is coming…”
“Testimonies: C.H. Mason, Lexington, Miss., Nov. 28” Apostolic Faith 1:12 (Janurary 1908): 4. Charles H.
Mason converted the Holiness denomination Church of God in Christ into a Pentecostal denomination and
was eventually awarded the name of the denomination through legal proceedings. Frank
43 See: Iain MacRobert, The Black Roots and White Racism of Early Pentecostalism in the USA (New York,
NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1988); Walter J. Hollenweger, “The Black Roots of Pentecostalism;” Butler, Women
in the Church of God in Christ; Ithiel C. Clemmons, Bishop C.H. Mason and the Roots of the Church of God
in Christ, Centennial ed. (Bakersfield, CA: Pneuma Life Pub., 1996).
44 We know from Flora Bower who would later be a dynamic leader in the Church of God that there was
already a Pentecostal revival sweeping Tampa and Durant in 1907. See her testimony in the periodical of
the Azusa Street Revival: “Some of wished we might go to Los Angeles; but, O glory to God! He was so
good as to send some of His children near us that had the experience—just 15 miles from Tampa.” Flora
reported having received “the baptism with the Holy Ghost, July 23 .” Flora E. Bower, “Testimonies:
Hephzibah Rescue Home, Tampa Fla.” The Apostolic Faith 1:12 (January 1908): 4.
45 Pleasant Grove Campground was the home meeting location and owned by the South Florida Holiness
Association. This location served as one of the epicenters for the early Pentecostalization of Holiness
groups in Florida. In 1909 Ida Evans was the secretary and J.Howard Jullierat was the president of the
association. Eventually the group meeting at Pleasant Grove would form an Assemblies of God
congregation that still exists at the same location outside Durant today and the Church of God would
gravitate toward Wimauma, Florida where they continue to own a campground.
Bower, and A.J. Tomlinson. Tomlinson recognizing the powerful influence and talent of
Bower and Barr sought to recruit them and was successful at this point in ordaining
Rebecca Barr. It is likely that Rebecca Barr and Flora Bower knew each other prior to
their involvement in the Church of God as Flora’s Holiness background in the Union
Mission Association from St. Louis was interracial in outlook and outreach and had
commissioned her to Tampa in 1901 to create another rescue home by the same name
“Hephzibah Rescue Home.”46 Flora Bower would return to Cleveland in 1910 to work as
a missionary in Cleveland and then eventually follow Rebecca to the Bahamas later with
another family, the Evans all of whom had met at the Pleasant Grove campmeeting.47
It is likely that Rebecca and her husband Edmund, a Bahamian immigrant were
active in the Pentecostal revival of 1907 that continued into 1909 when Tomlinson
ordained Barr. Yet Rebecca’s work in Holiness ministry reached well beyond the origins
of the 1909 Pleasant Grove Campmeeting. Rebecca Clayton was born in 1871 in Leon
County Florida near the border town of Thomasville, Georgia to parents Wesley and Ann
Clayton who had recently been emancipated from slavery. As slaves they were owned
and forced to work in the cotton industry of “middle Florida” in the panhandle region
surrounding Tallahassee. Rebecca’s paternal grandparents had been sold to a
46 “Bower Flora E. asst. matron Hepzibah Rescue Home. r. 3740 Marine av.” St. Louis, Missouri in Gould’s
1897 Directory, 243. Accessed online March 8, 2019 [www.ancestrylibrary.com]. “St Louis—Hephzibah
Rescue Home, 3614 Morgan. Est’d 1893. Capacity: 45 adults, 15 babies. Med Staff. Mngr. Mrs. M E O
Gott.” Missouri in Polk’s Medical Register of North America Thirteenth Revised Edition (New York: R.L. Polk
& Co. Publishers, 1914), 933. “Hephzibah Rescue Home, 3014 Morgan St. St. Louis. Established 1893; 43
beds; Mrs. M.E. Gatt, president” in American Medical Directory Seventh Edition 1921 (Chicago: American
Medical Association, 1921), 841. Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Special
Reports “Benevolent Institutions 1904” (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1905), 268.
47 In 1910, at 42 years old, Flora was living with Mary Jane and A.J. Tomlinson at 2525 Gaut Street in
Cleveland, Tennessee. She was listed as a Missionary for her occupation and the industry or employer was
“Holiness.”1910 United States Federal Census, Cleveland Ward 3, Bradley Tennessee. Accessed online
March 8, 2019 via [www.ancestrylibrary.com]. Ambrose Tomlinson is listed for Employment as “Evangelist
and Editor” with no employer provided and he was 45 years old. Homer Tomlinson at sixteen years old was
listed as “peddler” for the “newspaper.”
plantation owner in Leon County from a plantation in North Carolina and her maternal
grandparents had been previously enslaved in Georgia before being sold to a Florida
plantation owner. Rebecca’s very recent and felt history with the enslavement of her
parents and grandparents is intricate to understanding the lived reality of racial tension in
Florida generally and the context in which she joined the Church of God.
Just six years prior to her Church of God ordination, while Rebecca was living in
Tampa, Lewis Jackson an African American male was publically lynched in the city and
groups such as the White Muncipal Party explicitly published and maintained white
supremacy as public policy.48 This kind of terror along with the itinerant nature of
Methodist evangelism would have characterized the continual and strategic mobility of
Rebecca Barr throughout her life; in pursuit of safety, work, and service to God. As a
single woman moving throughout the state until she married at 22 years old and then
never bearing children she focused her life outside the confines of the traditional gender
roles and continually held work outside the home. She worked as laundry washwoman,
washing, ironing, and folding the clothes and linens of others in the town to provide
income while ministering would have brought in small freewill offerings. Her husband
Edmund worked as laborer in West Tampa and likely was a day laborer at the docks for
the cigar industry. The thrift, success, and acumen of her holiness Methodist upbringing
would be evidenced in the ownership of their home in Tampa when 75% of the African
American population was renting and subject to the whims of predominately white
48 Walter T. Howard and Virginia M. Howard, “Family, Religion, and Education: A Profile of African-American
Life in Tampa, Florida, 1900-1930” The Journal of Negro History 79:1 (1994): 3-4.
Rebecca was active in the African Methodist Church prior to joining the Church of
God at her ordination in 1909 and likely had family roots in the beginnings of the AME in
Florida as indicated in her father’s name Wesley named after the Methodist founder
John Wesley. In 1894 Rebecca was married to Edmund in the Zion AME Church in
Arcadia, Florida and in 1900 while Edmund had returned to the Bahamas, she was living
in the household of Smith and Salley Bellamy the pastor of the Dade City, Florida Zion
AME Church.49 In 1903 she moved to Ocala, Florida and by 1905 Rebecca and Edmund
were living in West Tampa, a Cuban neighborhood of Tampa where many African
Americans immigrated to work in the cigar industry and as dock laborers.
Quickly after receiving their charge as missionaries for the Church of God,
Rebecca and Edmund sailed for the Bahamas. It is clear from the writings concerning
the Barrs that Rebecca was a strong speaker, a charismatic seer or visionary, and
wielding charismatic authority in moments of opposition to the Pentecostal mission.
Though no photo as of yet has been recovered of the Barrs, due to the pattern of
renewing and receiving new ordination certificates every year, we have the ordination
certificate of Rebecca Barr in 1909.
In 1910 Edmund reported in the Evening Light and Church of God Evangel that
his wife Rebecca wielded divine power to confront conflict: “God is just sending my wife
to people who are rebellious against His words, and as she lays her hand of power upon
49 United State Census 1900, Dade City, Desoto County Florida accessed online via
[www.ancestrylibrary.com] and Michael S. Swann, The Holy Jumpers: A Concise History of the Church of
God of Prophecy in the Bahamas 1909-1974 (Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2018).
them they go to the floor and stay until the Comforter comes in.”50 Here we see a black
woman from the United States literally and physically slaying those that opposed her
ministry through the divine power of the Holy Spirit. This is key insight to see how
women and people often viewed within and outside Christianity as individuals to be
subordinate were able through the habitus and lived ritual/mythology of Pentecostalism
affect and boldly transgress boundaries. By laying her hands physically on those that
opposed and rebelled and subsequently these rebellious ones being physically
humiliated into prostration on the floor until a move of the Holy Spirit or “Comforter” took
over the situation, Rebecca Barr was a physical embodiment of divine power. By
placing her body and corporealy enacting the human divine interaction of Holy Ghost
power in the ritual of laying on of hands, she transgressed gender and race boundaries
as a spirit-filled body.
In a similar way when confronted with the theological problem of explaining and
apologizing for the restorationist theology of the Church of God that was innovating as
well as creating controversy in the Pentecostal ranks, Barr responded through Holy Spirit
given vision. Evangelist Rebecca said:
“And on my handmaidens I will pour out…my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” Dear Brother
Tomlinson and readers of the Evening Light and church of God Evangel: Greetings in Jesus’ name.
I feel it will be to the glory of God to testify to the goodness of God. I first want to praise Him this
morning for saving, sanctifying and filling me with the blessed Holy Ghost. By obedience to the
Spirit of God I am able to see great things. On the fifth of this month I was able to behold great
wonders of God. I was taken out in the Spirit, and beheld great things that I did not have the faith
to stand, so I cried for the Lord to increase my faith that I might be able to stand everything He
would show me. When He had shown me everything just as it was, why IT WAS JESUS, and He
was between the earth and the sky, with both hands lifted. His right hand was above His head, and
His head dropped over on His right shoulder, and He was looking down upon the world. Then I
saw an angel descend from behind a great brightness, and His face was the face of a man. He
had great wings, and as He flew across the world there appeared a pool or spring between him and
myself, and as he descended he turned himself to one side and dipped his right wing into the pool,
50 Edmund S. Barr and Rebecca Barr, “ Nassau, N.P., Bahama Islands,” Evening Light and Church of God
Evangel 1:4 (April 15, 1910): 6.
and as he ascended there appeared a great wall above him. As he went upward he lifted up his
right wing like Jesus did His right hand, and blood dropped from the tips of his wings, and it was
revealed to me that the angel was stamping or sealing the ‘Church of God’ with blood, but the work
of the blood was gold. After this I beheld two other angels, and they descended to the ground.
Their wings formed a ring, and in the center of the ring was a body. It was revealed the child I saw
in the circle was a child of God. It was told to me that the angle that stood on the right side of the
body was the body guard, and that the one on the left was the messenger, and he was to be sent
up any moment.
“I am praising God for the interesting letter we had just received from Brother Tomlinson.
He said that it was important that we have the ‘Church of God’ revealed to us just as it is, and we
being interested, and in the Spirit concerning the church is the cause of me seeing these great and
deep things of God. And saints, I see the need of our faith being increased momentously, because
Jesus is coming into the world, and our faith must be as the faith of the Son of God, or we can’t go
with Him when He comes, for the ‘brightness of His coming’ will be wonderful, and if we are not like
Jesus we will flinch, and if we flinch we can’t go with Him. I know I was meek and lowly, and was
fully carried off in the Spirit; and I know it was such brightness that I was not able to behold, and I
had to cry for more faith, and I know the Lord increased my faith so I entered into the brightness,
but the first brightness I saw, I don’t say I entered into it, but I am traveling on to it. I was led by the
Spirit of God to where three streams came out into one, then led to the head of the stream, and
there was over just ONE EYE, brighter than the sun; and a voice was spoken to me which said: ‘Be
thou there until I bid thee higher.’ O, it is glory in my soul this morning!
“I am praising God for the services we had, three nights, about two miles from where we have our
regular services. There were about five or six saved at the first altar service and several others at
the altar. The minister was down on his knees saying he wanted to be sanctified, but the third night
the devil shut us out, yet we are still in prayer that the Lord may open the way for a good service
there. Highway services are good, but we can’t altogether discharge our whole duty in a highway
service like we can in a place of worship. I must say the Lord has wonderfully provided for us since
we have been in this hard country. We were in need of two dollars yesterday, and husband went
up town, and when returned he had the two dollars. Praise God for the dear saints at Pleasant
Grove who have helped us. On last Tuesday night we had a church council, and had some pretty
touching cases, but the Lord just worked it to His own glory and gave us the victory over every plan
of the devil. At five o’clock Sunday morning we went down to the water side, and three were
baptized. At eleven o’clock service was preaching, and the Lord was wonderfully with us, and at
three in the afternoon we had Bible reading. Sunday night the Lord’s Supper, and the eleventh
chapter of First Corinthians was preached from. After the sermon was delivered the Lord led me to
read the thirteenth chapter of St. John and explain every verse until I got to the seventeenth verse,
and then we went into the performance of the chapter, and the Lord Himself was there.
Impressions were made on the hearts of the people as had never been before in any of our
services. I must say that the children of God are happier since they have obeyed the commands as
given in Matt. 28:19 and St. John 13. O, it is glorious! I want you all to pray that we may make full
proof of our ministry out here. Times are very hard, and forty-eight cents in the collection is
Your sister in the Lord till Jesus comes.
51 Rebecca Barr, “They ‘Shall See Visions’” Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1:7 (June 1, 1910): 6-
This sermon is the longest extant record of Rebecca’s incredible preaching and
prophetic work in the Church of God. As Bahamian Church of God of Prophecy historian
Michael Swan has illustrated in his recent history, the Bahama islands that Rebecca and
her husband entered to preach were economically depressed and like much of the
Florida of Rebecca’s youth still in development. The “highway meetings” that Rebecca
spoke of were outdoor preaching, singing, and exclamations to passerbyers of the new
Pentecostal message. The “highway” itself would have been a sand path used by mule,
horse and ox carts to move people from farm to home to market. Though phenotypically
black, aurally and verbally Rebecca would have been noticeably foreign as she
preached in her Southeastern United States accent to Bahamians versed in the
“Queen’s English” and local pigeon. Yet her vision provided power and influence and
shape to the “Church of God.” Shaped by her body, gender, accent, and visions the
Church of God movement would flourish.
Here in this published testimony blended sermon we see Rebecca blending both
the human and divine aspects of Pentecostalism. Her new identity takes the form of
being saved, sanctified, and filled with “the Blessed Holy Ghost.” It is this identity that
took her for the first time to the Bahama islands on a sailing passenger boat and out of
her home of Florida and the United States.52 This journey seemed daunting and the
travel by boat was a harrowing experience Rebecca wrote that “After leaving Miami, on
our way to Nassau, on the sailboat, the weather was very unfavorable, but I and
52 It is clear through passenger records that Edmund had returned to the Bahamas occasionally during their
marriage but Rebecca stayed in Florida. Not only is she not on the ship manifests she is also found without
Edmund in Dade City Florida in 1900 ministering with another African Methodist Episcopal congregation.
See: Swann, The Holy Jumpers.
husband prayed to the Lord….”53 The Bahama Islands were a “hard country” and despite
having a vision of truly knowing who Jesus her savior was and that she was carrying the
message of his Church of God, she still was in need of “two dollars” for food, shelter,
and basic survival. Her words hint to the lived reality or challenging moments as a
foreign woman minister that were “pretty touching” where “the devil shut us out” where
she likely wondered why she left the security of the familiar Florida A.M.E. church
networks of her upbringing. But with the harshness of these challenges Rebecca also
provides a glimpse into the divine transformation of her and her placement within this
Rebecca saw in a vision the need to grow her faith to be like that of the Son of
God’s. Literally she was becoming like Jesus through this baptism of the Holy Ghost and
it was in her Spirit filled identity that she continued to speak and preach. Even when
they were pushed out of Methodist, and Baptist congregations she proclaimed the
message from the dirt roads. Likely she was displaced because she was a woman who
was empowering other local women such as her convert Mrs. Arabella Eneas to also
preach.54 The word of God was not just a holy text but was as she records the
embodied performance that as Spirit filled believer she led others into. Expounding
upon the text of John chapter 13, Rebecca would likely have used this moment of
teaching to blur the role of servant and leader. The text retells the narrative of Jesus the
leader or rabbi of his followers relenting his privileged status as leader and teacher and
53 Rebecca and Edmond Barr, “Nassau, Bahamas, West Indies” The Bridegroom Messenger 3:53 (January
1, 1910): 2.
54 Swann, The Holy Jumpers, 7.
washing his disciples’ feet.55 Church of God movement revered and continued
footwashing as part of their Baptist and Anabaptist roots56 but as a Pentecostal
movement they were also embodying the actions of the apostles in the narratives of the
New Testament. In the narrative the entire body is enveloped as the apostle Peter after
relenting to allowing his teacher Jesus to wash his feet says “not my feet only, but
also my hands and my head.” In Rebecca’s published words one can imagine the way
in which she would have embodied this expository form of preaching. A woman with
foreign ways, accent, vocabulary and a new religious experiences, she was not only
embodying her Christianity she was physically touching others as she led a footwashing
service. And in the same inversion of leadership roles that took place in the New
Testament narrative, Rebecca would have also inverted the gender power. By
submitting to serve, wash and be like a servant she was literally take charge of the
religious service, ordering the liturgy and directing the bodies of others.
55 “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart
out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the
end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to
betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from
God, and went to God; 4 he riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded
himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to
wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. 6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto
him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now;
but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If
I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but
also my hands and my head. 10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but
is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he,
Ye are not all clean. 12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down
again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well;
for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s
feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto
you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye
know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” John 13:1-18
56 See e.g., Wade Phillips, “Richard Spurling and Our Baptist Heritage” Reflections: Newsletter of the Hal
bernard Dixon Jr. Pentecostal Research Center 2:4 (1993): 1-3.
When the Bahamian converts were introduced to the Church of God they found it
in the embodied practiced theology of Rebecca. She quickly took on a powerful role in
leadership and was able to use her manifestation of Holy Ghost practices such as being
“slain in the Spirit” to maintain order. When Pentecostals were “slain in the Spirit” they
physically fell down onto the ground “under the power of the Holy Ghost.” And in reports
to the Evening Light and Church of God Evangel, Edmund reported clearly that not only
did Rebecca operate this Holy Ghost manifestation in worship services, she also wielded
it in disputes among congregants and leaders. “God is just sending my wife to people
who are rebellious against His words, and as she lays her hand of power upon them
they go to the floor and stay until the Comforter comes in.”57 Here we see a black
woman from the United States literally and physically slaying those that opposed her
ministry through the divine power of the Holy Spirit. By laying her hands physically on
those that opposed and rebelled and subsequently these rebellious ones being
physically humiliated into prostration on the floor until a move of the Holy Spirit or
“Comforter” took over the situation, Rebecca Barr was herself a physical embodiment of
divine power. By placing her hands on the body of others and corporeally enacting the
human-divine interaction of Holy Ghost power in the ritual of laying-on-of-hands, she
transgressed gender boundaries as a spirit-filled body. Sister Barr was seen as a
“vessel” not as a subordinate woman but a saved, sanctified, and Holy Ghost filled body
operating in the power of God.
But the human divine empowerment of Rebecca did often clash with those
outside of Pentecostalism. The unpopularity of her Rebecca’s preaching and the female
57 Barr, “Nassau, N.P., Bahama Islands,” Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1:4 (April 15, 1910): 6.
preachers that she converted and empowered brought about controversy. We can
gather through later editorials of a white male preacher in the Church of God that
Rebecca’s role and subsequently other women such as Arabella Eneas brought sever
critique from other social and religious circles. The author R.M. Evans in a editorial
published in a local Nassau paper and selected for republication in the Evening Light
and Church of God Evangel sought to apologize for any ideas of women leading over
men but did relent: “when God puts His Spirit upon them [women] for His glory we dare
not presumptuously put our hands upon the Ark, or throttle the inspiration of the Holy
Ghost, as some Uzzahs, who seem to have very little spiritual life left…”
apology not only reveals the ongoing challenges of patriarchy even within the early
Church of God male adherents but more importantly the reality of Rebecca’s influence
and work. It is because she was acting, preaching, slaying in the Spirit, and establishing
congregations that Nassau public was outraged. Yet in her new identity as Spirit filled
body she became “the Ark” that Evans would not touch. Alluding to Uzzah59 in the
Hebrew bible, Evans a white male missionary from Florida metaphorically compares
Rebecca to the place where God dwelled. She was God’s body in the operation of these
acts to throttle her was to “throttle the inspiration of the Holy Ghost” and risk being struck
dead just as Uzzah was struck dead for seeking to adjust the Ark of God in action.
58 This was quoted and noted that Evans published this in the local newspaper in Nassau, Bahamas R.M.
Evans “Editor Tribune,” Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1:16 (October 15, 1910), 3.
59 Uzzah here is an allusion to the man named Uzzah who was struck dead by God for seeking to steady the
“ark of the covenant” as King David was having it returned to Jerusalem on a cart. The narrative relays that
the cart jostled and Uzzah reached out and touched the ark to readjust it and keep it steady. God is angered
that Uzzah touches the ark and smites him. 2 Samuel 6.
Social Class and the Aesthetic of Spirit filled bodies
Building on these innovations of new identities that transgressed the categorizing
constructs of race and gender, one must also consider the role of class. Early
Pentecostals in the United States were predominately members of the poor and working
class strata. The early Church of God movement’s history affirms this pattern as well.60
Faced with unsafe factory conditions in the industrial economy of the New South, Church
of God adherents were often excluded and marginalized from the Protestant worship
opportunities. Pentecostalism building on reform practices from the Holiness movement
embodied egalitarian religious practices that upset and embarrassed the religious elites
of cities and towns such as Cleveland, Tennessee. In 1908 Clyde Cotton, A.J.
Tomlinson, and Gaston B. Cashwell led a tent revival that ushered the Church of God
and indirectly the town of Cleveland into the Pentecostal movement. As the revival
continued forward into 1909, the city officials and prominent citizens had had enough of
this disturbing movement. The late night tent services, the gospel band parades through
the streets, and the poor whites and blacks moving in unseemingly bodily motions on the
ground and speaking gibberish they called “tongues” had to be stopped. In late 1908 a
prominent citizen M.L. Beard paid a group of young men to cut down the circus tent
being used for the revival meeting. This dangerous event was barely survived by some
of the preachers who were almost physically crushed by large falling center poles. But
instead of stopping the meeting this act spurred the group on as they felt the violence
made their work akin to the persecutions of the early Christians in the New Testament.
60 Crews, The Church of God; Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited; Wacker, Heaven Below.
The violence was seen as an affirmation for their restorationist theologies; not only were
they speaking in tongues like the apostles in the New Testament book of Acts they were
also facing persecution. The group rebounded, spun the loss into a victory and
continued stronger and louder with nightly meetings.
Coming into 1909 Beard went a step further and filed an injunction for disturbing
the peace and brought the Church of God into the context of the local Bradley County
Chancery Court. It was in the context of the court and preserved subsequently that the
Church of God had to translate their Pentecostalism into the latent Protestantism of the
judicial system. This is a pattern that would emerge again in 1923 as well. Faced with
the need to justify what they were doing as religious worship services instead of a
nuisance of noise and debauchery the group was pushed to present a list of beliefs, a
contrast to their explicit anti-creedal stance since 1886 and a propositional
demonstration that they could be seen as under the protection of the first amendment of
the United States’ Constitution. This contortion of their embodied praxis oriented religion
into a doctrine-like list is striking in and of itself but included in the list is another layer of
the role that these new Spirit filled identities played to overcome social class that was
placed on the Church of God adherents. Particularly the Church of God confronted the
idea of poor whites being noise, trash, nuisance, and a social ill.
Not seen as possibly a formal leader by the court Clyde Cotton is not listed nor
any other woman leader in the list of defendants. Instead A.J. Tomlinson, W.F. Bryant,
M.S. Lemons, et. al are listed as the defendants and respondents. In a rare glimpse one
is able to hear the Church of God speak in the metrics of social class as they responded
to the complaints of Beard and Protestant social elites. Beard had complained that the
Church of God was merely a group of poor ignorant people who needed to be controlled,
sequestered, and moved back into the marginal location of town near the factories
where they worked. For Beard and his fellow town leaders, religion was a private,
proper, and socially important activity that took place in the confines of brick churches
finely built in the center of town. These people that were rolling on the ground, speaking
in “gibberish,” and practicing what appeared to be hypnotic or emotional control were
infecting the city with their ignorances and the perils of their poverty. Beard as a social
reformer saw this as a straightforward social and religious responsibility. In contrast to
the overarching reforms of the Progressive Era and New South, Pentecostals such as
the Church of God provided social transformation through sanctification and Baptism in
the Holy Spirit at grassroots level that empowered the poor to lead societal reform. The
challenge to race, gender, and social class that Pentecostals like the Church of God
brought to the public in their emotive and embodied worship countered and revealed the
biases of these larger reform movements and the way they have been remembered by
In their response to the court fine and reprimand the Church of God responded
with a list of scriptures and practices and rebuttal to the slandering of the Church of God
adherents as being poor and ignorant. Church of God preachers such as Clyde Cotton,
A.J. Tomlinson, Flora E. Bower, and W.F. Bryant saw themselves:
61 For more on Progressive Era social reform and countering to the assumptions of race and class in the
New South era see respectively: Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998) and Hayes, Hard, Hard Religion. Hayes provides clear
social examples of shared practice and material culture that testify to the way in which poor whites and
blacks transgressed the supposed clear segregation and racial politics that is depicted in histories of the
New South. Ironically Hayes’ concept of “folk religion” that he created to designate religious practices of
poor whites and blacks neglects the presence of Pentecostals in the south until the 1940s conveniently but
incorrectly outside his periodization. Hayes, Hard, Hard Religion, 151-52, 190.
Especially sent to these people in Cleveland, some of whom are poor and some are
ignorant; some of whom are reasonably blessed with the world’s goods, but the most of them are
poor. They are men who work at the loom, at the anvil, at the plow, at the plane, some digging
ditches, and throw the axe; some live in kitchens and the most of the men earn their living ‘by the
sweat of their face.’ They rise before day and work the day through, through heat and cold, through
wet and dry, and perchance, the shades of night may fall across their pathway before they arrive at
home at night and when they get their scanty meals, mostly by the coal oil lamp, it is far into the
evening before they arrive at their place of worship, and after the services are over it may be that
these defendants worship long to the hour of 10 or 11 o’clock, and maybe more. But this is not the
fault of these worshippers. They are working mostly for those who do not have to labor, and they
are working for those who can regulate their meals sooner and attend their divine service at what
they may call seemly hours, but these working people are compelled by necessity to take a part of
the night if they worship at all, and they are not to be censured by complainants who, perhaps,
have been blessed more abundantly with the things of this world, than the defendants and their
It is here, when reading the description and defense of the poor peoples that
made up the adherents, converts, and preachers of the Church of God, that class can be
seen as collectively responded to in the Spirit-filled identity of the movement. In these
new Spirit filled bodies the group of the Church of God took on a body politic collectively
that also transformed the role of class. Particularly paying close attention to the
aesthetics of decorum, time, and material culture social class becomes fluid indicator for
the construction of race.
This aforementioned quote from the Church of God’s response to the court may
seem afield from a discussion about race at first but when one considers the history of
whiteness and religion at the turn of the 20th century it becomes a central text to this
analysis. It is fruitful here to compare the Church of God with other religions such as
Mormonism in the nineteenth century and Father Divine’s Peace Mission during this
same period as the Church of God. The aesthetics of interracial worship and embodied
actions in these worship spaces easily qualified the Church of God to be a “religion of a
62 M.L. Beard, J.L. Hardwick Et al. v. A.J. Tomlinson, W.F. Bryant, Et. al, (Chancery Court Cleveland, TN,
1909), 19 paragraph 10. Deposition accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research
Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
different color”63 even if the majority of adherents in Cleveland were likely phenotypically
white. The “aversive aesthetics” of this embodied praxis oriented religion would have
caused the Church of God to blur the social orderings of the New South and its
categorizations of race and gender that sustained white supremacy and Protestant
hegemony.64 In this historic context of the Church of God Pentecostal revival in 1908 the
claims of boisterous and injurious “fanaticism” facilitate a clarified triangulation of race,
class, and religion. The followers of the Church of God were legally charged with
disavowal of proper Protestant Christian practice due to their sounds, timing, embodied
actions, and open-air approach. These accusations would have been clear to the
contemporary hearer to associate these followers under the same pathological
characterization of religion that those in the Southeastern United States had projected
onto the black bodies of African Americans and Mormons of the Utah territory. The
Church of God rebuttal based the primary agent of difference in their worship, and
essentially their religion, on class. They were “poor” and “working people” living by the
“sweat of their face.” This use of class both by the Church of God and their accusers
points to a broader understanding of class that speaks to a latent understanding of
identity as well as fiscal wealth.65 It is not only that the Church of God members were
63 W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2015), 8-10; Judith Weisenfeld, New World a-Coming: Black Religion and Racial
Identity During the Great Migration (New York: New York University Press, 2016); Jill Watts, God, Harlem
U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1992); Kenneth E. Burnham,
God Comes to America: Father Divine and the Peace Mission Movement (Boston, MA: Lambeth Press,
64 Ashon T. Crawley, Black Pentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (New York: Fordham University
Press, 2017), 196, 11, 30, 12.
65 “Class is—and always has been—more than a status grounded in material conditions but also an identity
rhetorically and symbolically made and unmade through representation.” Sean McCloud, Divine Hierarchies:
Class in American Religion and Religious Studies (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press,
without formal education and material wealth, they were also acting, speaking, praying,
spreading a habitus of religion that had been socially prescribed to be phenotypically
black in their poor white religion. In short what the Pentecostal adherents of the Church
of God saw as a new embodied Spirit filled identity, social elites such as M.L. Beard saw
as poor white trash that was spreading a pathological race mixing and ignorance to the
Outsider Perspective of Spirit Filled Bodies
Understanding class in this aesthetic presentation of culture, one can see closely
how in the 1920s George (G.P.) Jackson, a musicologist from Vanderbilt University,
would study what he termed the “white spirituals” of the Church of God movement in
Cleveland as “tom-tom-like noise for inducing the desired ecstasy” and “terrifying
rhythmic noise…” “Terrifying because it impressed me as being the production of the
wild, subconscious human animal, one which we seldom come upon in such frightfuly
self-regimented herds. But the extreme mesmeric orgies of such primitive groups have
been often enough described. And after all, my purpose is simply to make clear how the
indigenous song merges into the hypnotic rhythmizing used in this indigenous type of
G.P. Jackson’s interpretation might be overtly racist and biased to a current
reader but the rawness of its metaphors allows for a clear connection of theoretical
assumptions. Jackson’s use of fearful images of “jungles,” “herds,” “human animals,”
66 See e.g., Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (New York:
Viking, 2016); Nathaniel Deutsch, Inventing America’s “Worst” Family: Eugenics, Islam, and the Fall and
Rise of the Tribe of Ishmael (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009).
67 George P. Jackson. White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands: The Story of the Fasola Folk, Their Songs,
Singings, and “Buckwheat Notes” (NY: Dover Publications,  1965), 405-407.
and “orgies” removes any doubt that the author saw not merely an embodied religious
experience but that these bodies where aping people he saw as apes: black Americans.
This is poignant when one considers Jackson’s career as a musicologist who sought to
disprove the innovation of African Americans by claiming the musical genre of the
“spiritual” was adopted by slaves from whites. Ironically in his analysis of a Church of
God general assembly in the 1920s Jackson labels a group of a primarily phenotypically
white congregants as black in his description. The frenzy-like account he provides
journeys through several different musical expressions, until he roots it into the praxis of
a black man playing a tambourine. This rhetorical journey from the outlandish poor
primitive whites in Appalachia to the black tambourine player allows Jackson’s readers
to follow to the root of a pathological other. For Jackson poor whites like the members of
the Church of God’s orchestra are the true purveyors of “spirituals” in America. Shapenote singing68, according to Jackson, was the true form of ancient religious music
developed in the crux of frontier America and epitomized by these Appalachian
Pentecostals, isolated whites suspended in time. But the overt pathology here or
fanaticism that he maps onto them is what he saw as the prevision of the sacred [music] through Africanness, African form, and particularly black bodies. Jackson’s career at
Vanderbilt was accentuated by his defamation of the Fisk Jublilee Singers. For Jackson
the Jubilee Singers’ performances under the leadership of Eva Jessye were pathological
distortions of an American form: Spirituals.69
68 For history and practice of shape note or sacred harp singing see: Stephen A. Marini, Sacred Song in
America: Religion, Music, and Public Culture (Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2003).
69 Judith Weisenfeld “Truths that Liberate the Soul: Eva Jessye and the Politics of Religious Performance” in
Women and Religion in the African Diaspora, 222-24.
Here writing about the sonic sound scape of a Church of God worship service it
is visible that Jackson also sees Pentecostalism pathologically distorting the form of the
white body. White Appalachian Pentecostals are strangely other to Jackson, these are
“primitive” whites, but not in the ahistorical/atemporal sense later Pentecostal historian
Grant Wacker might claim but rather by infusing a different religious content, namely the
historically essentialized religious black body.70
Though a musical description of the Church of God may at first seem peripheral,
if one looks again at the role of cultural aesthetics here class becomes again a
prominent factor. Jackson’s academic treatment of “white spirituals” is seen widely
today as a racist-biased social research focused on relinquishing any creativity, agency,
or intellect to communities of color. But when one looks closer at what Jackson sought to
remove from the Church of God music in order to make it a proper “white spiritual” then
a critical insight into the Appalachian Pentecostals of the early Church of God can be
gleaned. Namely, Jackson saw the root of all the perversion of all American music and
particularly American religions in the activity of African Americans. As one follows
Jackson’s description through the “jungle roar” of a Pentecostal service where the shape
note songs have gone awry one ends beneath all the guitar playing, piano playing, brass
instruments, to the lone black man playing a tambourine. It is the aesthetics of these
poor and working class whites, the way they sang, the way they shouted, the way the
70 Curtis Evans has identified and historicized this essentialization in the moniker of the “black church.” This
“primitive” religiousity has been a continued construction and study of race centered and proliferated in the
United States. See e.g., W.E.B. DuBois’ “frenzy,” Melville Herskovits “retensions” and E. Franklin Frazier’s
disavowal of these so-called “retensions.”W.E.B. DuBois, The Negro Church (Atlanta, GA: Atlanta
University,1903). For analysis of the Frazer and Herskovits debate see Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion:
The Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 48-92. Melville
J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1958); E. Franklin Frazier and C.
Eric Lincoln. The Negro Church in America (New York: Schocken Books, 1974), 9-25.
moved their bodies, the structure of anti-structure in their meeting, the unfettered
approach to lengthy services that for Jackson were essentialized and rooted in a black
When one places this description into conversation with the 1909 deposition of
the Church of God adherents, the triangulated relationship between race, class, and
religion takes on new dimension. The musical instruments, songs, and books were
familiar to Jackson but it was the transformation of the form, the style, the cultural
aesthetic that he alerted the reader to as pathological and thusly essentially black in
body. As Sean McCloud has reiterated class is a necessary element of analysis in
American religious history, particularly when one looks reflexively on the academic
writers themselves.71 George Jackson’s description exemplifies clearly McCloud’s
definition of class as “more than a status grounded in material conditions but also an
identity rhetorically and symbolically made and unmade through representation.”72
Understanding Jackson’s description of the Church of God as a rhetorical construction
and representation of these whites as other and also noting his explicit rooting of this
other in the body of a black American, it is clear that the early Church of God wrought
serious concern to the religious norms of America as a class of underlings who devolved
their sacred heritage as white Christians in a forbidden collaborative relationship with
African Americans. Jackson’s project sought to suspend white “folk” practices as
ancient yet contemporary but needed to purify any tainting of African Americans. The
class of these whites easily made these white Church of God adherents backwards but
their collaboration with blacks made them sinful in the American sacred tradition.
71 McCloud, Divine Hierarchies, 17.
72 Ibid., 10.
It was a popular academic assumption in this period to label black Americans as
“primitive” and as such to place upon them a savagery that consumed more purer forms:
white bodies, white religion, and white music were thus seen as susceptible. Maurice
The more primitive the human type the greater is its physiological strength, and consequently the
more considerable its power of absorption. As the black is the most primitive of human beings,
crossbreeding between individuals of negro and of white blood has been more injurious to the
whites. The same thing may be said of the mingling of whites and Indians. From a physical and
oral standpoint the half-breed is nearer to the Indian than to the white, just as the mulatto is more
like the negro than like the white man. In both cases it is the white race which has been sacrificed.
North America unfortunately offers an unparalleled field of observation for such accidents.73
In this context the Church of God and their Pentecostal contemporaries were seen as
cross-bred threats to the white race. The Pentecostal worship of the early Pentecostal
movement was not just illegal in its interracial arrangement and seating, it was the
exemplification of religious innovation that dodged simple pragmatic social advancement
in pursuit of practiced and embodied belief.
Jackson’s tracing of African roots in this Pentecostal expression were not
completely off base. Yet not because there was an essential African or black religious
nature, pathology, or psychosis. Instead there was a forbidden collaboration and black
leadership exemplified in Pentecostalism that shook the social order of religion and
American life for Jackson. If one takes seriously the embodied theological claims of
identity of Pentecostalism, the Church of God would not have been exceptional but
rather typical in this suspension of cultural norms; class, race, and gender became
subservient to Holy-Ghost-filled bodies bringing in the last days.
73 Maurice Muret, The Twilight of the White Races, translated by Mrs. Touzalin (Westport, CT: Negro
Universities Press, 1970 ), 169.
Building on McCloud’s work on class that roots class in the aesthetics of culture
as well as material possession, an attempt to augment class beyond basic Marxist
critiques, it is important not to forget material. In particular the material bodies, buildings,
clothes, and modern technologies that displayed, embodied, and substantiated these
aesthetic differences. As Colleen McDannell’s work has shown, the kitsch of the elite
Protestant perspective is often the site of the sacred for those socially marginalized.74
The tambourine and particularly the black body wielding it were the root of the
aesthetically class based articulation of race. On one hand the phenotypically white
Pentecostals of the Church of God in Cleveland were seen as denigrating a sacred
tradition of white sacred song by warping the aesthetics in a bodily form, act, and sound
that for Jackson had to be rooted in material of a black body. Yet on the other hand, it is
the very “primitive” form of these poor whites, exhibited in their kitsch sacred dress,
atmosphere, and sound that made them suitable for description as protohistorical
retainers of history’s lost music forms. White trash becomes instead an ancient
receptacle for sacred, instead of backwards they are the pure untainted Anglo Saxon
Jackson’s analysis provides a node for unravelling the Protestant repulsion with
Pentecostalism generally and poor white Pentecostals specifically. Pentecostal
theologies of embodied form, the collaboration, commingling, and overlapping bodies of
poor white women and men with Native Americans, Latinos, African Americans in a way
that also defied the socially constructed comportment roles of gender, were not seen at
the turn of the century as post-racial or post-gender. They were seen as pathological,
74 Colleen McDannell, Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1995), 163-97.
and reveal a double-bind construction of race and root of “primitive” in the body of black
and brown Americans.
What was at stake in the control, conversion, (and eradication) of poor white and
black Holiness Pentecostals to proper Protestant religion was not merely a propositional
doctrinal correction but in essence the racial soul of American religion. If these Church of
God members were merely pathologically aberrant and tainted by the “germ” of African
influences who did not innovate but only contaminate, then one need only to treat,
rehabilitate, and segregate to arrive at the pure contemporary ancestor. But if this was
truly a collaborative, innovative form of religion in America, then Protestantism was
vulnerable, Americanness might be fluid and conversion was imperative in order to
police the normal. While Pentecostals saw themselves transformed into a new identity in
order to evangelize and convert as many people possible before the immanent second
coming of Jesus, middle and upper class Protestant reformers saw them as a
pathological disintegration of an assumed sacred American identity: White and
Conclusion: “Colored Ministry,” Constitution, and the March to Protestantism
Yet within the history of the Church of God this new identity slowly began to
dissipate as its existence was intricately connected to a lived restorationism and
eschatology. In 1921 the Church of God adopted a constitution and created a
segregated “colored work.” In a move to create institutional identity predicated on a
series of court cases in which the state did not recognize the Church of God’s authority
to dictate and arbitrate congregational arguments, congregations left and took property
with them, the Church of God moved toward creating a legally recognized institution. In
1917 when two preachers led several congregations out of the Church of God, Sam C.
Perry in Tampa, Florida and John L. (J.L.) Scott in Chattanooga, Tennessee, some in
the Church of God sought to retain the congregations. Without a formal process of
retaining members, local church properties, and monies donated to the Church of God
movement on a local level, the Church of God had no legal right and the congregations
left with their property and no penalty. When leaders in Cleveland sought to assert
authority by divine appointment as leaders of the Church of God, J.L. Scott took the
argument to their local chancery court in Hamilton County, Tennessee. Without any
legally recognizable form of institution outside the text of the New Testament and their
embodied Pentecostal practices, the local courts in the neighboring county sided with
J.L. Scott and not with the leaders from Cleveland. This court case and the advice given
by the arbitrating judge to the leaders from the Cleveland contingent, notably to a
movement leader, businessman, and preacher J.S. Lewellyn, was to create a
constitutional identity. The reasoning was that if the Church of God did not have any
record other than the Spirit filled bodies and the biblical texts they saw themselves
embodying, then they had no legal authority and rights.
At this same time period 1917-1921, the Church of God began to purchase
communal properties and to build a “headquarters” for their movement in Cleveland,
Tennessee. Previously Cleveland had been important because the group met there
annually at the largest congregation that was pastored by the General Overseer, A.J.
Tomlinson. Yet in 1917 the group voted to build an auditorium, a new orphanage, and a
modern printing plant for its publications and periodical. During this period of acquisition
and growth the Church of God movement not only took on large amounts of debt, they
also quietly began to favor Protestant forms of institutional-denominational identity. Most
denominational historians75 have focused on the more apparent fiasco of finances that
began during this period such as the Church mandating tithes, selling stock, asking local
churches to sign over their deeds to the Church of God in Cleveland, and an attempt at
Christian communism. However little attention has been paid to how these
advancements towards Weberian institutionalization: a “constitution,” a centralized
headquarters, a list of doctrinal beliefs, and a fledgling centralized government, not only
made the group more Protestant like in their form but also segregated the movement.
In 1922 in a moment that is often glossed-over or omitted from histories of the
Church of God movement, the annual assembly voted to create a separate “colored
work.” Beginning as early as 1917, the denomination started segregating the seating of
this annual assembly. Beforehand the opening of the new auditorium in 1917 in
previous gatherings there was no official separation and ordering to the seating. Yet
with the construction of a new auditorium that had the largest seating capacity in the
entire town of Cleveland, the Church of God took on not only massive debt, primarily
under the name of a few individuals as there was no incorporated entity to borrow
monies, they also adopted Jim Crow laws in the material form of zoning codes.
Following the laws of Bradley County Tennessee, a former Union majority and
Republican county that by 1910 had transformed into a Democratic normativity and Lost
Cause Confederate stronghold, the Church of God built an auditorium with an officially
designated “colored section.”76
75 See: Simmons, History of the Church of God; Conn, Like a Mighty Army; Davidson, Upon This Rock;
Crews, Church of God; Phillips, Quest to Restore God’s House. C.f.: David Michel, Telling the Story: Black
Pentecostals in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 2000).
76 See: J.S. Lewellyn Deposition in Complainants Proof Church of God v. A.J. Tomlinson 1924. In 1910 the
largest stone monument in town was built in Cleveland of an Unknown Confederate Soldier. See:
Though the gathering of the Church of God annual assembly, known as the
“general assembly” had been attended by predominately poor white people, there had
been a growing number of African Americans, Bahamians, and Jamaicans that began
attending following the establishment of the Church of God in the Bahamas under the
leadership of Rebecca and Edmund Barr. There was a move to incorporate explicitly
“colored leadership” in these annual meetings by designating at least one whole service
to this visible diversity in 1919. Yet by this point the segregated seating of the
auditorium had demarcated a division that required a rope be placed between the
“colored section” and the general seating. This indicates that likely the charismatic acts
of worship in which the Spirit filled bodies moved into places that raced, gendered, and
classed bodies were not allowed had brought worry to white onlookers. It was not
enough to have designated seating for when the Holy Ghost came onto someone and
they spoke in tongues, shouted, were “slain in the spirit,” jumped, or ran in joy they were
likely to not stay seated. The very idea of asking Pentecostals to have assigned seating
areas did not work apparently so a “cord” or rope was placed as a partition in the
auditorium. And though there were instances in which the cord was knocked down or
temporarily forgotten from 1921 moving forward it was continually picked up, restored,
and maintained. In 1918 The Colored Work began a separate segregated General
Assembly in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Confederate Monument, Cleveland, Tennessee; Daughters of the Confederacy” in Southeast Tennessee
Digital Archive, Accessed online March 17, 2019 via
[http://csccdigital.cdmhost.com/cdm/ref/collection/p4024coll8/id/229]. For more on the Republican history of
Cleveland see: William R. Snell Cleveland, the Beautiful: A History of Cleveland, Tennessee 1842-1931.
(Cleveland, TN: First American National Bank, 1986), 166, 213. By 1923 during the deposition hearings of
the Church of God v. Tomlinson case “Republican” was used as a slanderous description of insanity and
met with laughter in the chamber.
As the Church of God adopted a Constitution, argued over finances, and moved
toward a legally recognizeable form of Protestant religion they also began to shed the
social consequences of their identity of Spirit-filled bodies. Yes, they continued to speak
in tongues, pray for divine healing and live under the high-boundary social
consequences of sanctification, but now there was a need to do so in a way that was
respectful of the white Protestant culture. In a move that in many ways reversed the
consequences of the ordination of Rebecca Barr, the downward social mobility of Clyde
Cotton by basing her ministry out of Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, and the confrontation of
the social Protestant elite M.L. Beard, the Church of God began a march forward of
social mobility in 1921. It was this march that would forge the largest number of white
members eventually into a Evangelical Pentecostal denomination recognizable as a
“form of Protestantism” known today as Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). In 1923
the Church of God would split over this very governing structure and identity, and of
course finances. A.J. Tomlinson would be expelled under the new constitutional
government for which he had helped advocate two years prior. Tomlinson would reject
the authority of the government and depart with about one third of the 22,000 members
and in doing so take the majority of the black membership with him as Thomas J.
Richardson the first overseer of the “colored work” followed Tomlinson.
Breaking Time with Empowered Bodies: Looking for the Church of God in History,
Restorationism, and the Holiness Movement
The Church of God movement in the early period of 1884 to 1908 was a part and
form of the Holiness movement. Histories that have precipitated from denominational
institutions have recognized the identity of the early Church of God history as Holiness
Pentecostal but have delimited their historical research to the parameters of Pentecostal
sources. This characterization of denominations and form of denominational research
that is typified both in later claims for founding Pentecostalism and the reorientation of
the origin narrative to the later involvement of other leaders will be further explored in
part two of this dissertation. The guiding intellectual orientation to previous
denominational historiography has been Pentecostal restoration theology rather than
social history, ethnohistory, or cultural history. This chapter will seek to outline the social
history and synergy of Holiness and Pentecostal groups that elide and deny connections
by paying close attention to theology, religious practices, and shared idioms.
This chapter seeks to clear up the early history of the Church of God movement.
In doing so, the author has discovered that the form of the previous histories were in fact
religious practices and continuations of theological restorationism.77 Notably the
77 The approach of the author here is to treat the theological orientation of previous denominational histories
as descriptive and consequential content that can be used without adopting the form and goal of these
previous histories. This chapter aims to mine the previous theologically oriented histories as primary sources
imagined and perpetuated form of historical narrative that moves chronologically from a
unified group to fragmented multiple groups is historically inaccurate but theologically
important for the Church of God movement and its subsequent denominations. The
assumption of a unified origin elides the historic reality of multiple Holiness bands,
leaders, geographies, genders, and races coalescing in a movement. As this chapter
illustrates below, in reality the Church of God movement as a unified whole, did not take
on this unified form until the first major split within the group in which the group made
efforts to legally keep the people and the property as part of the movement in 1917 and
claimed to be the Church of God. The resultant denominational history project,
precipitated by a series of legal cases from 1917 to 1954 over property and legal
propriety of the name Church of God, will be explored in chapter three of this
dissertation.78 Here below this chapter will historicize the early Church of God as,
content and form, part of the Holiness movement in the late nineteenth century and thus
for the current project of social history of religion. In light of this dance-like use of historical sources,
choosing what is and is not a “historical” or religious/theological claim (or both), this project seeks to take
seriously the lived religion of their theological practiced-beliefs of the historical and historical historians used
in this project. In short, theology does matter but it is only one piece of the puzzle and must be
contextualized within all the voices who claimed to authoritatively define the Church of God as well as those
who sought to theologically disown them. Taking this approach the author seeks to take denominational
historians’ beliefs and practices seriously while also highlighting that their restorationist theology does not
allow them to recognize their kinship, lineage, and common heritage of religious practices, beliefs,
associations, and institutions. The approach here is to acknowledge that history and history writing is a
religious practice for Pentecostals as restorationist Christians. In this way the demarcation between beliefs
and practices in the lived religion of denominational histories in the Church of God movement is blurred.
Robert Orsi, “Everyday Miracles: The Study of Lived Religion” in Lived Religion in American: Toward a
History of Practice ed. David D. Hall (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 6-7.
78 A.J. Tomlinson et al. v. J.L. Scott et al; Chancery Court Hamilton County, Tennessee Chattanooga,
Tennessee 1917; A.J. Tomlinson et al. v. J.L. Scott et al December 1921. No. 17583, Chancery Court
Hamilton County Tennessee, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Church of God v. A.J. Tomlinson et al. Filed August
20, 1924 Chancery Court Bradley County Tennessee, Cleveland, Tennessee; Church of God et al. v.
Tomlinson Church of God et al. March 7, 1952 Tennessee Supreme Court 29 Beeler 583. Nashville,
Tennessee; Church of God (H.L. Chesser, Zeno C. Tharp et al) v. The Tomlinson Church of God, or Church
of God of Prophecy (M.A. Tomlinson, J.R. Kinser et al) filed May 1, 1952 Chancery Court Bradley County
Tennessee, Cleveland, Tennessee.
not a unified whole.79 In order to accomplish this, first the chapter will give a brief
overview and introduction of the Holiness movement, second the chapter will explore
three of the more prominent Holiness groups that coalesced in the early Church of God:
(Christian Union, Fire Baptized Holiness Association, and Holiness home missionaries).
Third the chapter will conclude by making explicit the lived religion of restorationism
rehearsed in the form of these Pentecostal histories.
I. Remembering of the Early Church of God
Prior to this project, the earliest period of Church of God movement history has
been presented in a disjointed narrative of four events in 1884, 1886, 1896, and 1902.80
According to A.J. Tomlinson, Ernest L. Simmons, Charles W. Conn, Charles T.
Davidson, authors of denominational histories, the Church of God began or initiated with
the religious dissatisfaction of Richard Green (R.G.) Spurling in 1884.81 Spurling held
ordination through the congregational polity of Missionary (or Landmark) Baptist church
79This approach to historiography is informed by a media studies approach to narrative. Notably biases of
media and the inferred message of the medium itself. In recognizing the human body as the site of
restorationism and history in Pentecostal historiography of the Church of God the history itself becomes a
“sensational form.” Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium Is the Message (New York: Bantam
Books, 1967); Harold A. Innis, The Bias of Communication (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press,
1964); Birgit Meyer, “From Imagined Communities to Aesthetic Formations: Religious Mediations,
Sensational Forms, and Styles of Binding” Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion, and the Senses, ed. Birgit
Meyer (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 1-31; “Mediation and Immediacy: Sensational Forms,
Semiotic Ideologies and the Question of the Medium” Social Anthropology 19:1 (2011): 23-39.
80 This vague and malleable Church of God historical narrative has played well in the formulation of doctrinal
identity for the various restorationist narratives that later developed into Holiness and Holiness Pentecostal
denominations from the Church of God. Debates over which theological voice and persona should define
this early period of the Church of God continues even today. See: Dale M. Coulter 2007. “The Development
of Ecclesiology in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN),” 59-85; and “Founding Vision or Visions?”; Harold D.
Hunter. 2010. “A.J. Tomlinson’s Emerging Ecclesiology,” 369-389.
81 Tomlinson, The Last Great Conflict; Simmons, The History of the Church of God; Lemons, History of the
Church of God; Davidson, Upon This Rock. Vol. 1-3. Not until the recent publication of James Beaty’s and
Wade Phillips’ books has there been any elaboration on the narrative that Tomlinson wrote in 1913. See:
Beaty R.G. Spurling and the Early History of the Church of God; and Phillips, Quest to Restore God’s House
– A Theological History of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), Volume 1: 1886-1923, R.G. Spurling
to A.J. Tomlinson, Formation-Transformation-Reformation.
at Holly Springs Baptist Church in Cherokee County, North Carolina.82 This
dissatisfaction led to Spurling traveling across the religious boundaries of Christian
denominations notably preaching in a Methodist congregation.83 These events
precipitated in 1886 the founding of a religious group known as the “Christian Union.”
This group of eight people, members of two families,84 met at Barney Creek gristmill
under the direction of Richard Spurling and his son R.G. Spurling. The group formed
with the intent of cultivating Christian love, union, and fellowship and entitled their group
a “Christian Union.” They explicitly avowed that their group was not to found a separate
denomination but rather to be a place of unity and Christian renewal.85 The
82 For more on the Baptist culture of Southern Appalachia see: Howard Dorgan, The Old Regular Baptists of
Central Appalachia: Brothers and Sisters in Hope (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2001); “Old
Time Baptists in Central Appalachia” in Christianity in Appalachia, Edited by Bill J. Leonard (Knoxville, TN:
University of Tennessee Press, 1999); Giving Glory to God in Appalachia; McCauley, Appalachian Mountain
Religion, 90-112; Melanie S. Reid, “’Neither Adding nor Taking Away:’ the Care and Keeping of Primitive
Baptist Church Houses” Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 1 (1982): 169-76; and Arthur C. Piepkorn,
“The Primitive Baptists of North America,” Concordia Theological Monthly 42 (1971): 297-314. For more on
the restorationist doctrine and controversy of Landmarkism see: Scott Stephan “A Sectarian’s Success in
the Evangelical South: J. R. Graves and the Tennessee Baptist, 1846–1860”” Journal of Southern Religion
17 (2015): [http://jsreligion.org/issues/vol17/stephan.html]; Bill J. Leonard, Baptist Ways: A History (Valley
Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2003), 183-85; James E. Tull, Shapers of Baptist Thought (Valley Forge, PA:
Judson Press, 1972); J.R. Graves, Old Landmarkism: What Is It? (Texarkana, TX: Bogard Press, 1880) and
J.M. Pendleton, Landmarkism (Walker, WV: Truth Publications, 1899).
83 To the outsider fratinizing with another Christian denomination seems to be a minor detail but in Southern
Appalachia the weight of Baptist influence and disdain for outside religious groups notably Methodists who
they saw as “socieities” instead of churches and were often led by Northern missionaries based out of
institutions like Grant University in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was a highly controversial act of Richard
Spurling and substantiates his dissatisfaction with the local religious norms. For more on the religious culture
of Southern Appalachia see: Leonard, Christianity in Appalachia; McCauley, Appalachian Mountain Religion.
84 According to James Beaty, “The charter members of Christian Union came from only two families: the
Spurlings and the Plemons. The Spurling family (three persons): Richard (R.G.’s father), and Barbara
(R.G.’s wife) were among the first eight and Richard Green Spurling, his son, was received after the “setting
in order” by Richard Spurling. James M. Beaty, “What Happened at Barney Creek.” Typed manuscript of
address given at the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the Christian Union at Barney Creek. August 19,
2011 and R.G. Spurling and the Early History of the Church of God.
85 R.G. Spurling 1897 handwritten manuscript is the earliest record of the event we have. “…so I began to
tell the people about gods law and goverment I preached what I now saw and soon found others who saw
the fallibility of laws made by men so we formed a christian union agreeing to unite upon christs law
denouncing all human laws an government and articlels of faith among this number were a elder or an
ordain minister who served the church untell anoter were ordained on testament authority and
qualification…” Richard G. Spurling. 1897. Untitled Manuscript. Used and accessed by permission of Zion
Assembly Church of God Archives. There are similarities from this narrative and the founding minutes
denominational histories then move thirteen years forward to a revival meeting that is
recognized, not as Holiness, but, Pentecostal in its preaching. This revival series was
held in a schoolhouse in Cherokee County, North Carolina that was used as a “union” or
common worship space for services led by different denominations when itinerating
preachers or lay preachers would lead a service. This event is memorialized as the
“Shearer Schoolhouse Revival of 1896.” In this revival it is remembered that over 100
people received a “Baptism in the Holy Ghost” experience and spoke in tongues. This
event would be used by Charles Conn in his 1955 denominational history to date the
Church of God (Cleveland) as the earliest Pentecostal denomination adding tenure and
prestige to the movement.86
document of another Christian Union that Spurling founded in October 3, 1897 in Piney Grove, Tennessee.
“Piney Grove Church Minutes” unpublished ledger book of Church minutes. Used and accessed by
permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
86 Conn made this assertion by anachronistically applying the 1906 teachings and subsequent doctrinal
formulation of speaking in tongues as the “initial evidence” of Baptism in the Holy Spirit as a third spiritual
experience of God’s grace and thus the founding element or technology of Pentecostalism. Though there
has been debate over this being what defines Baptism in the Holy Ghost/Spirit, (e.g., the writings of Agnes
Ozman), it was the early application of this visible practice that embodied the human divine experience. The
connection of tongues to an additional experience allowed early Pentecostals to distinguish it from their
previous experience of sanctification as a second work of grace. Therefore they claim “three works of grace”
or three human divine interactions: salvation (conversion), sanctification (removal of the want to sin), and
baptism in the Holy Spirit (empowerment to spread Christianity). Conn’s attribution of people speaking in
tongues completely misses the historic reality that people of have spoke in unknown tongues through
religious history within and without Christianity. Historically it was not the religious innovation of speaking in
tongues but rather the creative connection of this physical practice to a new additional religious experience.
Adding further historical complication the term “baptism in the Holy Spirit” was used by the Holiness
movement, prior and continually after the advent of Pentecostalism, to indicate the second work of grace
(sanctification) by the same term “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Still another layer of complexity to historic
taxonomy is revealed too in the later Reformed theological simplification of Pentecostalism to two
experiences of grace: salvation (conversion) and baptism in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. This
was called the “finished work controversy” and began in 1907 under the leader of the Chicago pastor William
H. Durham. Reformed theology historically intertwines the divine acts of salvation and sanctification into one
experience of grace at conversion. Thus the religious technology developed out of the Wesleyan framework
of Holiness converged with the Reformed frameworks of sanctification and subsequent groups such as the
Assemblies of God and Foursquare Gospel Church would eliminate the term and experience of
“sanctification” completely leaving only two experiences. This has confounded outside historians and as
well as insider historians for years because there are Holiness denominations and congregations such as
the Salvation Army, Church of the Nazarene, Christian Missionary Alliance, Church of God (Anderson),
Reformed Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God and Foursquare Gospel Church, and
Holiness Pentecostal denominations such as the Church of God in Christ, Church of God (Cleveland),
Pentecostal Holiness Church and all of these groups claim and define the experience of the “Baptism of the
Next, as the denominational sources relay, there was a moment of “fanaticism” in
which diverse doctrines concerning subsequent baptisms took root and the group
forming from the 1896 revival began to fragment. Pentecostal historians Dan Woods,
Harold Hunter, Wade Phillips have subsequently identified that these ‘fanatics’ were
preaching an early iteration of Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit (third work of grace)
popularized by Benjamin H. Irwin.87 The influence and presence of Irwin’s teaching is
clearly recorded in the denominational historians reference not only to an experience of
“Baptism of Fire” but also that of “dynamite,” “oxidite,” and other explosive media.88
Holy Spirit” differently. In addition to this complication is additional technology of “Oneness” Pentecostals
who developed out of the Reformed Pentecostal groups to simplify the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to be
only Jesus, this being why they are often called “Jesus-only.” Oneness Pentecostals often use the triparte
experience terminology of “saved, sanctified, and baptized with the Holy Spirit” yet complicating further they
see them as happening in one experience of conversion. As there is one God there is one experience. This
one God is Jesus. This hyper Christology has been often mislabeled as “Unitarianism” which is the actual
opposite of Oneness Pentecostals, as Unitarians have historically denied the divinity of Jesus as the Son of
God and Oneness Pentecostals have carried the divinity of Jesus as Christ to the opposite extreme. See:
Agnes Ozman, “Where the Latter Rain First Fell The first One to Speak in Tongues” Latter Rain Evangel 1:4
(January 1909): 2; Dayton, The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism; Stephen L. Ware, Restorationism in
the Holiness Movement in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellon
Press, 2004); Keith Warrington, Pentecostal Theology: A Theology of Encounter (New York: T&T Clark,
2008); Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997); Talmadge L. French, Early Interracial Oneness Pentecostalism: G.T.
Haywood and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (1901-1931) (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014); Our
God is One: The Story of Oneness Pentecostals (Indianapolis, IN: Voice and Vision Publications, 1999);
David A. Reed, In Jesus Name: The History and Beliefs of Oneness Pentecostals (Sheffield, UK: Deo
87 Daniel G. Woods, “Daniel Awrey, The Fire-Baptized Movement, and the Origins of the Church of God:
Toward a Chronology of Confluence and Influence,” Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research 19
(2010): http://www.pctii.org/cyberj/cyberj19/woods.html; Hunter, Harold D. 1983. “Spirit-Baptism and the
1896 Revival in Cherokee County, North Carolina.” Pneuma 5 (1983): 1-17; Wade H. Phillips, “The
Significance of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Movement (1895-1900) in the Historical and Theological
Development of the Wesleyan-Pentecostal-Charismatic Metamorphosis,” Unpublished paper presented to
the 2nd Annual Meeting of the Historical Society of Church of God Movements, Cleveland, Tennessee May
88 The use of media more volatile than fire, which would stick with the third experience hallmark of
Pentecostalism, has often been used from the perspective of Protestant anti-materialist approaches to belief
as a clear sign of fanaticism. Yet upon closer inspection it actually indicates the very materialized nature of
Holiness and Pentecostal practiced beliefs. If one’s God could manifest practically in one’s being through
fire why not in the more volatile materials these Holiness folk confronted. In addition this materialist
approach also confronts the antimodern label that was placed upon them by historians. Instead this
materialized belief substantiates a hypermodern technology of religion that harnessed current innovations in
religious practices. For more on the biography, and religious practices of Irwin see: Vinson Synan and
Daniel Woods. Fire Baptized: The Many Lives and Works of Benjamin Hardin Irwin, A Biography and a
Reader (Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2017)
During this period of religious experimentation the revival group was expelled and locked
out of the Shearer Schoolhouse by the local religious leaders. A small plot of land was
donated by Richard “Dick” Kilpatrick, a man who had attended meetings of the revival, a
hundred yards across the road from the schoolhouse where a rough hewn log cabin was
built for services. According to denominational sources, those that held to the protoPentecostal vision held together and would form in 1902 into a independent Holiness
congregation known as the Holiness Church at Camp Creek. This church was
organized in the home of William F. Bryant Jr. an attendee of the 1896 revival and a
The formation of the 1902 independent congregation was precipitated by
suffering and persecution that began shortly after the 1896 revival event. Most notable
is the memory of the church dismantling. Despite continual harassment during services
in the log church such as shooting into and around the building with firearms while the
worship services were being conducted, worship services continued to be held.90 One
day as the Holiness worshippers arrived for a meeting they were greeted by the sight of
The connection between Irwin has become more apparent in the research of this project discovering the
property deed of a tract of land owned by B.H. Irwin in Bradley County, Tennessee on the edge of the town
limits of Cleveland. This tract of land could have been one of the primary meeting sites of the East
Tennessee Holiness Association out of which the Cleveland gathering of the Church of God drew many of
its members under A.J. Tomlinson’s later leadership beginning in 1905. Deed Cynthia Curry Lawson to B.H.
Irwin, Oliver Fluke and Sarah M. Payne as Trustees of the Fire Baptized Holiness Association of America,
October 19, 1899. Deed Book S (1899-1900) Bradley County, Tennessee, 130-132. Accessed and used by
permission of Cleveland Historical Society, Cleveland, Tennessee. See also: Mary Curry Henck, “Beniah
Bradley County, Tennessee” The Pentecostal Herald (March 15, 1899), 9.”
89 Phillips, “Richard Spurling and Our Baptist Heritage,” 1-3; Stephens and Harvey identify this church as a
Holiness Baptist movement. Randall J. Stephens, The Fire Spreads: Holiness and Pentecostalism in the
American South (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 156-57. Paul Harvey, Redeeming the
90 See Account of early persecutions retold by Homer Tomlinson and William F. Bryant Jr. 1922. “History of
Pentecost: The Outpouring of a Pentecostal Shower that Has Swept Round the World–Every Nation has
received the Pentecostal Shower in Some Measure, Speaking in Other Tongues, Just as on the Day of
Pentecost.” Faithful Standard 1:6 (1922) 5-6, 20-22.
their log church being deconstructed. First the roof was made into a pile of shingles,
then the logs unlinked and rolled into a pile. As the worshippers watched in horror the
group of local neighbors, religious leaders, and relatives then finished their assault by
burning the materials of the log church in front of the Holiness group.91 The persecution
of Holiness Christians was prevalent throughout the late nineteenth century and early
twentieth century in the Southeast United States as their gatherings promoted the
leadership of women and hosted interracial worship services. Even when the
congregations were majority, or completely, phenotypically white in attendance they
were controversial because they continued and proliferated embodied religious practices
that had been popularly associated with black Christians such as jumping, rolling on the
ground, dancing, and falling out in the Spirit.92
From this persecution and harassment the Holiness worshippers persisted in
their new religious practices and beliefs meeting secretly in brush arbors. Brush arbors
were makeshift shelters made of local timber and saplings.93 As the name implies, a
91 In an oral history conducted by the author with Loy Williamson a descendant of Dick Kilpatrick and family
history in continual connection with the Liberty Baptist church, an interesting detail was relayed. Williamson
said that local legend held that many of these men were devout Baptists and saw a need to rid the area of
false doctrine and strange worship practices. But it was troubling for them to burn a church. So as legend
has it they made piles of shingles, logs, etc. and then burned these instead of a church. Instead of martyr
like stoicism as is relayed in denominational histories, Williamson’s narrative retained a level of humor and
candor “they were ripping up shingles as fast as they could” he relayed to me with a smile. (Loy Williamson
92 Memory of the Klu Klux Klan, and hooded riders terrorizing worshipers at the revival are retained in the
oral histories of W.F. Bryant and at least one court record in which W.F. Bryant testified against the
disturbing of their holiness worship gathering. State v. Ambers Rogers before W.H. Hickey J.P., Shoal
Creek Township, Cherokee County, North Carolina, August 26, 1897. Court Record accessed and used by
permission of Zion Assembly Church of God Archives, Cleveland, Tennessee. Typed transcript of William F.
Bryant interview by H.L. Chesser March 7, 1954 (Cleveland, Tennessee) 5. Accessed and used by
permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
93 For more on brush arbors see: Daniel Pezzoni, “Brush Arbors in the American South.” Pioneer Amerca
Society Transactions 20 (1997): 25-34; Martin C. Perdue, “Hiding behind Trees and Building Shelter without
Walls: Stick and Foliate Structures in the Civil War Landscape” Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 9
(2003): 101-15. Brush Arbors also functioned as a material structure for the invaluable religious space of
“hush harbors” in early African American Christianity and were most likely developed through adaptation of
rectangular shelter constructed of logs hewed into posts with simple cross beams
holding only fresh cut sapling branches of local trees and ground brush. These
structures were not complete shelter from rain but did provide shade and often
camouflage in the wooded locations such as near W.F. Bryant’s log cabin near Camp
Creek in Cherokee County North Carolina. As winter approached the meetings were
moved into the home of Bryant. The group was organized in 1902 into a congregation
known as the Holiness Church at Camp Creek under the direction of Richard G.
Spurling. The name of this congregation further substantiates the group’s place within
the Holiness movement. During this same period Ambrose J. Tomlinson, a bible
salesman working to start an industrial school mission in small town on the Northeast
Georgia and Western North Carolina border, Culberson, came into contact with the
group. Tomlinson was an independent missionary working unofficially under the
endorsement of John B. Mitchell who was sanctioned under the American Home
Missions Board and from the home missions school at Oberlin College in Ohio.94
Native American arbors built for sacred dances such as the Cherokee Green Corn Dance. See: Patrick
Minges, “Beneath the Underdog: Race, Religion, and the Trail of Tears” American Indian Quarterly 25:3
(2001): 462; William E. Montgomery, Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree: The African-American Church in
the South 1865-1900 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), 34, 53, 94; John H.
Payne, D. S. Butrick, William L. Anderson, Jane L. Brown, and Anne F. Rogers. The Payne-Butrick Papers.
(Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press,  2010), 40-41; Raboteau. Slave Religion, 214-21.
94 In 1900 J.B. Mitchell is listed as “home missions preacher M.E.” indicating that he was licensed and or
affiliated enough to label himself with the Methodist Episcopal church. This is significant because Tomlinson
living next door to Mitchell lists as “home missions preacher” without affiliation. This likely indicates that
Mitchell self-idenified as a Methodist and Tomlinson did not. 1900 United States Census, Notla, Cherokee
County, North Carolina. Used and accessed online at March 19, 2019 via [www.ancestrylibrary.com]. A.J.
Tomlinson Diary, July 27, 1902. Published edition. Diary of A.J. Tomlinson 1901-1924. (Cleveland, TN:
White Wing Publishing House, 2012), 33. There is some dispute over the contents of this edited and
published diary, the physical diary deposited in the library of congress in Washington, DC by Homer, A.J.’s
son, and several small ledger books of Tomlinson that made up the original diary. Tomlinson’s use of
association with Mitchell is seen as late as October 22, 1908 when he wrote to J.M. Pike an editor of a
holiness (and burgeoning Pentecostal) periodical to report his personal experience of the third work Baptism
in the Holy Spirit and Fire with tongues. It is possible that Tomlinson used this letterhead to provide
legitimacy within larger Holiness circles. As an independent Holiness preacher it would have been
advantageous to be grouped with the Oberlin trained and endorsed Mitchell. A.J. Tomlinson to J.M. Pike,
According to denominational history, Tomlinson met the sons of Bryant while
selling bibles for the American Bible Society. After relaying that their father was a
preacher Tomlinson went with the boys to meet their father. The 1900 United Census in
Notla/Culberson, North Carolina reveals that Bryant’s sons Julius thirteen years old and
Luther eleven years old were children boarders in Tomlinson’s and Mitchell’s industrial
school.95 It is likely that Tomlinson met Bryant while trying to have Julius and Luther
signed over to him for legal custody.96 This was a common practice of Tomlinson and
other industrial schools similar to the boarding schools for Native Americans like the
Carlisle School.97 The assumptions being that the Bryant children were without a proper
October 22, 1908. Handwritten letter, unpublished. Used and Accessed by permission of Zion Assembly
Church of God Archives, Cleveland, Tennessee.
95 Luther and Julius Bryant are listed as “boarders” under the household of A.J. Tomlinson and their
occupation “at school” indicates that they were attending school there as well. 1900 United States Census,
Notla, Cherokee County, North Carolina accessed online March 19, 2019 via [www.ancestrylibrary.com].
96 Tomlinson along with Mitchell and Homer Burroughs established a mission school and orphanage under
the form of an industrial school. Tomlinson and Mitchell had noticeably ethnicized the people of Southern
Appalachia in their periodicals sent to Northern Protestants to raise funds. Mitchell took the approach of
valorizing the mountain whites as men of the “purest Anglo Saxon stock” in order to appeal for racial
sympathy and while Tomlinson decided to solicit help through a petition to help the poor “ignorant children”
of the region. Not knowing that post office leaders were reading his periodicals, Tomlinson’s
ethnocentricism was discovered, if not already visible in his patrionizing endeavors, and he was never
successful with harmonizing with the community leaders and families. J.B. Mitchell wrote “Brave and noble
boys there are on these mountain slopes, and in the many sheltered valleys of the Blue Ridge and Great
Smoky mountains. In their veins flows the blood of the heroic Scotch-Irish people who emigrated from
Ireland about 150 years ago, a people who can boast of as glorious deeds as any on the globe, firm for the
right when they see the right, loyal to their government, brave, hospitable, and tender hearted.” But also
alluded to lack of education and white mannerism by depicting the dialect of the local children in a Mark
Twain-esque technique “we’uns wan’ster go ter skule.” John B. Mitchell, “Work Among the Mountain Whites”
Evangelical Visitor (1900), 397-398. Tomlinson on the other hand wrote: “We found so large a number of
children growing up, in almost total ignorance.” A.J. Tomlinson, “Introduction” Samson’s Foxes 1:1 (January
97 The author was able to find two examples of Tomlinson’s legal adoption paperwork. “Surrender and Quit
Claim. by Parents or Guardian of child __. I the undersigned, resident of __ in the county of __ state of__
being unable to properly care for and support my minor children __ do hereby surrender and entrust __to the
“Mount Zion Mission Home at Culberson, N.C., and such person or persons as the management of said
home may select, the entire charge and control of the said children until they shall become __of age. I also
further agree that after the said home accepts the child to have no more communication except through the
General Manager, and I will not interfere with any arrangements that may be made by the said home for
their welfare. In consideration of the foregoing I agree not to ask for, nor bring suit to recover compensation
for the services of the children or for damage for any accident which may befall said children during the
continuance of this surrender and contract. In witness whereof I hereunto set my hand and seal this __ day
white Protestant Christian upbringing and that the missionary could provide both. But
full surrender and separation was needed for this acculturation to take effect. To
Tomlinson’s surprise, much like many Protestant missionaries to Appalachia, he
discovered in the Bryants people who shared his same faith and had also joined the
Tomlinson as an independent Holiness missionary from Indiana was excited to
find other Holiness practitioners and believers but was weary of their formation of an
organized church. Tomlinson would visit this group periodically during 1902 and 1903
and participate in worship. On June 13, 1903 Tomlinson after lengthy discussion with
Bryant the night before climbed the hill behind Bryant’s home to the top of a mountain
known as Burger Mountain. After prayer Tomlinson returned to the house and
exclaimed to Bryant and Spurling that God had revealed to him that their Holiness
Church at Camp Creek was the “Church of God of the Bible” and that he would finally
join as a member. That day Tomlinson joined and was ordained as a preacher of the
church. Conn’s account reveals this as the moment that Tomlinson joined the early
group that would be known as the Church of God, while Davidson’s and those who
descend from the Church of God of Prophecy denomination memorialize this as the
founding of the Church of God.98 Yet what denominational histories missed was that in
an irony of history, a Northern Missionary that sought to adopt Bryant’s children from
of __ 19__.” Signed forms for June 1903 adoption of Johnie Miles, Lucile, and Thomas Posey accessed and
used by permission of Zion Assembly Church of God Archives, Cleveland, Tennessee. For more on the
Carlisle School for Native Americans see: Hayes P. Mauro, The Art of Americanization at the Carlisle Indian
School (Albuquerque NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2011).
98 Tomlinson’s diary simply records “I was ordained a minister of the gospel of the Holiness Church at Camp
Creek, N. C.” on the day of June 13, 1907. Diary of A.J. Tomlinson, 35. There is no elaborate discussion of
restorationism which leads one to favor Conn’s account over Davidson’s and also see the creation of the
1903 narrative to reside in the post Tomlinson split era beginning in 1923. Conn, Like a Mighty Army (1955)
and Davidson, Upon This Rock.
what he had imagined to be primitive poverty was actually adopted into their existing
Church of God (Cleveland) historians memorialize the period of 1884 to 1902 as
the founding narrative of the earliest form of America Pentecostalism from the harsh and
rustic setting of Southern Appalachia: Appalachian roots before the institutional founding
in the town of Cleveland. Church of God of Prophecy leaders remember 1884 to 1902
as sincere searching for the true Church of God that had not yet been found until June
14, 1903. They remember Tomlinson’s epiphany as the “Arise and Shine” moment
pointing to Isaiah 60:6 a popular scripture quotation among Holiness practictioners who
sought to found their own independent churches. 99
Soon after Tomlinson joined the Holiness Church at Camp Creek, a local
Methodist preacher who was also schoolteacher M.S. Lemons was ordained into the
group. The denominational histories retain that Tomlinson, Bryant, Lemons, and Spurling
itinerated revival meetings in the mountainous region. During this itinerating, Tomlinson
moved to Cleveland, Tennessee in 1904. By 1906 the group of ministers had
accumulated several congregations and they invited delegates from these congregations
together to meet in a general Assembly, a practice that continued annually. During this
time period Tomlinson planted a church in Cleveland where he lived as well as
99 In 1973 Church of God of Prophecy historian Charles Davidson published the first of three volumes that
would re-write the Church of God history in written text for the Church of God of Prophecy in contrast to their
previously material and visual history. Davidson records that: “Despite the honesty and sincerity, and the
aims and purposes of the Christian Union the amalgamation never pledged it to be the actual continuation of
the Early Church designated by the Scriptures. But it was a definite move in the Biblical directives, and
whether or not it met the essential qualifications at the time, it pointed to the dawn of a new day in
Christendom. Though agreeing to sit together in council as the Church of God their decision for revolt and
reformation never made them the Church of God of the Bible.” Davidson, Upon This Rock. Vol. 1., 293.
Charles Conn preserved the event as the earliest founding of Pentecostalism in America Conn, Like a
Mighty Army, xvii, 5-12.
continuing to pastor the Holiness Church at Camp Creek by preaching once a month. At
the 1907 General Assembly the group decided to adopt the name “Church of God”
finding it in scripture narratives. In 1907 after hearing of the Pentecostal revivals in Los
Angeles, California, Tomlinson invited Gaston B. Cashwell, a Holiness minister from
Dunn, North Carolina who had attended and became a Pentecostal, to come and preach
at the 1908 general assembly. In 1908 Tomlinson received the Pentecostal experience
of Baptism of Holy Spirit at the general assembly. This experience of Tomlinson is
remembered by the denominational historians as the conversion of the Church of God
The aforementioned linear chronology in the first section of this chapter has been
the previous understanding and history of the Church of God movement. As illustrated
in reconstructing the lives of Clyde Cotton and Rebecca Barr in the previous chapter,
there are several problems with this denominational form of the history, not to mention
several historical inaccuracies. Notably there are basically no women or people of color
recorded. The form of denominational history writing that looked backwards in a straight
line for white male leadership, has led to the unsurprising discovery of white male
leadership. Of course the actions and leadership of Tomlinson, Bryant, and Lemons was
very significant and integral to the formation of the Church of God movement. Yet in
writing these histories there has been an assumed creation ex nihilo of the Church of
God: the true “church of God” of the Bible was restored “this side of the dark ages” 1500
years after Christianity had institutionalized. This assumption of origins is based in a
theology of restorationism that elides and belies the Church of God history as part of the
Holiness movement and the diverse peoples that were part of that movement.100
Ironically this very theology was inherited from the Holiness movement.101
Relying on later denominational histories that sought to establish a linear lineage
abbreviates complications has produced misleading historiography. Much like Sidney
Mead’s idealized nostalgia of European past of American denominations in which he
drew out the idea that fragmentation of denominations was an American trait of the
frontier, so too historians of the Church of God have imagined a unified past.102 In reality
instead of a simple timeline of one organization beginning in 1886 and continuing
forward despite splintering, i.e., the idea of a solid core congregation growing into
multiple fragmented denominations, historical observation of the primary sources reveals
overlapping and coalescing of several holiness bands that do not become what is
recognizable as the Church of God until 1917 at the first “split.” It is was not the legal
departure of members but rather the legal attempt to retain them and their property
institutionally that led to the formation of what is recognized today as the Church of God
by subsequent denominations.
100 For more on restorationism see: E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the
Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 391-305; The Primitive
Church in the Modern World, edited by Richard Hughes (Chicago,IL: University of Illinois Press, 1995);
George A. Turner, Churches of the Restoration: A Study of Origins (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press,
1994); Melvin Dieter, “Primitivism in the American Holiness Tradition” Wesleyan Theological Journal 30:1
(1995): 91; Edith L. Waldvogel, “The Overcoming Life: A Study in the Reformed Evangelical Origins of
Pentecostalism” Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachussetts, 1977.
101 One of the integral components of the Holiness movement was an effort to restore the felt and embodied
piety in early Methodism. In an analog to the “First Great Awakening” in the United States history in which
Anglicans, Presbyterians, Moravians, Lutherans, forged a felt crisis moment of salvation, the Holiness
movement is often seen as the by product of the “Second Great Awakening” campmeeting movement of the
nineteenth century. In his life and preaching John Wesley, one of the founders of Wesleyanism pointed to
an experience beyond salvation called sanctification or perfection. The Holiness movement innovated this
lifelong pursuit of Wesley into a crisis experience. See: Ware, Restorationism in the Holiness Movement in
the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, 2-15.
102 Sidney E. Mead, “The American People: Their Space, Time, and Religion” Journal of Religion 34:4
(October 1954): 244-55.
At one level it is easy to simply state that these previous historical memories and
texts of the early Church of God are anachronistic. Yet to simply make this assertion is
to miss the lived religion element of this history, notably that these histories are shaped
by and perpetuate restorationism through memory. As the current Church of God
denominations remember the history through this narrative they are actively
reinvigorating their restorationism. This understanding of a narrative or myth as a
rehearsal of the beginnings emulates what religion theorist Mircea Eliade called
“comsmogenesis.” In a similar way each time the history of the Church of God is
rehearsed with this unified punctilliar beginning ommitting its connections to the Holiness
movement, and particularly the Holiness groups that formed its early membership,
Church of God members and outside readers indirectly affirm and continue Church of
God restorationism. Ironically this historical restorationism omits the empowering
diversification of leadership that accompanied the lived reality of their restorationism as
Spirit filled bodies, namely women and people of color.103 Historians’ assumptions that
the early Holiness Pentecostal restorationism of the Church of God was essentially the
same as Protestant restorationism have avoided the form and site of this restorationism,
the human bodies of the adherents, and subsequently omitted the diverse origins of the
Church of God and privileged the writings and actions of white men.104
103 Eliade’s cosmogenesis understanding of myths was that they rehearsed primordial time and when they
were read or performed they reinstated the sacred time “illo tempore” of the primordial beginnings. Mircea
Eliade, The Sacred and Profane, 95-97, 151; Bryan Rennie, Reconstructing Eliade: Making Sense of
Religion (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996), 77-108.
104 Grant Wacker “Playing for Keeps: The Primitivist Impulse in Early Pentecostalism” in The American
Quest for the Primitive Church, edited by Richard T. Hughes (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988),
196-218;“Searching for Eden with a Satellite Dish: Primitivism, Pragmatism, and the Pentecostal Character,”
The Primitive Church in the Modern World, edited by Richard T. Hughes (Chicago, IL: University of Illinois
Press, 1995), 139-66. This disembodied approach specifically has led to a debate between Spurling or
Tomlinson originators of the movement: Dale M. Coulter “The Development of Ecclesiology in the Church of
God (Cleveland, TN),” 59-85; “Founding Vision or Visions? The Sources of Early Church of God
III. Early Church of God as Part of the Holiness Movement
The Holiness movement was a parachurch Christian religious awakening
coagulated through a religious practice and belief known as entire or full sanctification,
or commonly referred to in the 19th century as the idiom “baptism in the Holy
Spirit/Ghost.”105 This practice was seen as a divine encounter that provided supernatural
empowerment for multiple acts in the life of a Christian, most notably evangelizing or
converting souls and perfecting the imperfections of society through the work of God’s
grace experienced anew in sanctification. This doctrine was taught by John Wesley the
founder of Methodism but was made popular, accessible and practical by Phoebe
Palmer.106 The development of the Holiness Movement took the form of both reforming
the established Methodist denomination through the experience of sanctification in the
United States and also the promotion of this experience by other Christians who had
claimed this religious experience such as Quakers, Presbyterians, Baptists, and
Ecclesiology.” Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research 21 (2012):
[http://www.pctii.org/cyberj/cyberj21/Coulter.html]; Hunter, “A.J. Tomlinson’s Emerging Ecclesiology” 369-
105 For a more exhaustive history of the Holiness Movement see: Dieter, The Holiness Revival of the
Nineteenth Century; Charles E. Jones, Perfectionist Persuasion: The Holiness Movement and American
Methodism, 1867-1936 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press,  2002); Donald W. Dayton and Douglas M.
Strong, Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage: A Tradition and Trajectory of Integrating Piety and Justice
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014); William Kostlevy, Historical Dictionary of the Holiness Movement
(Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001), The A to Z of the Holiness Movement (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow
Press, 2010) and Holiness Manuscripts (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1994).
106For more on Wesley’s theology and teaching of sanctification see: John Wesley, A Plain Account of
Christian Perfection (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers,  2006); and William R. Cannon, The
Theology of John Wesley (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1946). “Palmer did for Americans what Wesley
had failed to achieve: define the Holiness doctrine in simple terms and offer it as something that could easily
be attained. Palmerism, with its emphasis on ‘altar sacrifice’ and subsequent integration of Fletcher’s ‘Holy
Spirit baptism’ became the standard model of theology for the Holiness movement in every region of
America after the Civil War… Her simple, rational approach to the doctrine of entire sanctification inspired
male and female evangelists alike to press believers to cast themselves on their altars, surrender their lives
to God, receive ‘the power of the Holy Spirit,’ and join fellow Protestants in an effort to establish a more
perfect world.” Brian K. Turley, A Wheel within a Wheel: Southern Methodism and the Georgia Holiness
Association (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1999), 58.
Mennonites. This sanctification, an evangelistic and social reform empowerment, was
weaponized for the collective work of converting society and thus functioned as a shared
religious practice in which the movement centered. This empowerment broke down
gender roles, and racial division establishing women such as Phoebe Palmer as the
authoritative voice on the experience of sanctification and promoting the preaching and
ministry of African American evangelist Amanda Berry Smith.107
Throughout the Holiness movement of the nineteenth century the movement
existed as an association in which members of associations had to be members of
established denominational churches. The purpose of this requirement was to assure
established denominations that the movement was to bolster and empower the existing
forms of Christianity rather than establish a new competing branch. Yet as the Holiness
associations continued to practice sanctification as an empowering and democraticizing
experience across races and genders, the established denominations began to move
toward a hierarchical institutions and centralized leadership. These church polity issues
internally were indicative of the larger social transitions nationally. Particularly in the
aftermath of the Civil War and during Federal Reconstruction, the Holiness movement
actively united Northern Protestant missionaries as well as freed blacks, and white
Republicans. In the wake of divided and materially decimated networks of religion in the
Southeast and Midwest States holiness associations led a felt revival that allowed for the
creation of new religious kinship in light of new exploration of the reconstructed nation.
107 Amanda Berry Smith, An Autobiography, Mrs. Amanda Smith the Colored Evangelist (Chicago, IL: The
Christian Witness Co., 1921). See also: Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women’s Autobiography of the
Nineteenth Century, edited by William L. Andrews (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986).
Daniels, “The Cultural Renewal of Slave Religion.”
But as Reconstruction and its progressive policies toward freed black citizenry
began to fade so too the Holiness movement began to exist as an outlier and outdated
form of Christian life and practice. Many denominations began to discourage and expel
members who participated and continued the Holiness movement. These expelled
holiness adherents along with Holiness associations that strove to institutionalize in
order to maintain the religious experience of sanctification began to form churches and
denominations of their own. This innovation became known as the “church controversy”
within holiness circles.108 And the Church of God became one of the many groups
across the Holiness movement to form an independent congregation of Holiness
members. This is clearly revealed in previous narrative of Church of God history when
one reads the name of the 1902 congregation: “Holiness Church at Camp Creek.”
Holiness members not only sought to live a life of “perfection” or “holiness”
through sanctification, they also sought to enact this socially through their integrated
worship and retention of embodied worship practices that were often associated with the
slave Christian worship of antebellum South such as shouting, dancing, jerking, and
rolling on the ground in the Spirit.109 Key also to the Holiness movement was the practice
108 This trend was also known as “come-outism.” The Church of God would have been informed of these
large controversies through the reading of popular holiness periodicals. The most popular group that began
this transition toward independent churches was the Southwest Holiness Association in Missouri. A.J.
Tomlinson and M.S. Lemons directed their readers to read their publications and the earliest publications of
Tomlinson’s mission work were printed from a printer, James Eads, in the Holiness circles of Missouri. John
P. Brooks’s writings from this group influenced the Church of God’s later ecclesiology. See: Vinson Synan,
The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, 36; Clarence E. Cowen. A History of the Church of God (Holiness)
(Overland Park, KS: Herald and Banner Press, 1949); John P. Brooks, The Divine Church (Columbia, MO:
Herald Publishing House, 1891); A.J. Tomlinson and M.S. Lemons, “A Notice to Our Readers,” The Way 2:9
(September 1905), 5; See James H. Eads, “Rogersville, MO” in Samson’s Foxes 1:8 (August 20, 1901): 4.
109 The retension of embodied practices of “slave religion” was a key aim of the ministry and life of Charles
H. Mason co founder of the Church of God in Christ a Holiness and then Holiness Pentecostal denomination
based out of Memphis, Tennessee and the Mississippi Delta region. See: David Daniels, “Charles Harrison
Mason” in Portraits of a Generation Early Pentecostal Leaders (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas
Press, 2002); “The Cultural Renewal of Slave Religion.” Clemmons, Bishop C.H. Mason and the Roots of
the Church of God in Christ; Butler, Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World; Craig
of divine healing in which prayers for the sick reported miraculous and instantaneous
healing of ailments. With women’s roles in healing being paramount their leadership and
influence was continued through effectiveness. This woman-centered practice of placing
the body at the center of religion rather than the head through abstract ideas took the
form of “healing homes” that mirrored the “settlement homes” of social progressives
such as Jane Addams but sought to employ the religious experience of sanctification as
a means of reform.110 As the nineteenth century came to a close, a religious movement
that was led by the embodied theology of a woman, Phoebe Palmer, empowered African
Americans as equals with whites, and sought social reform through miraculous healing
was no longer seen as progressive, but rather fanatical. In the South the Methodist
Episcopal Church sought to reform white womanhood through manuals of domesticity
and reestablish a male led episcopacy.111 White Baptist churches sought to reinforce
segregation and expunge the trappings of sanctification through doctrine of
“Landmarkism.” It was in this context of the Holiness movement that the Church of God
history came into being. In particular the Church of God arose out members from three
Scandrett-Leatherman, “African Roots and Multicultural Mission of Afropentecostalism: Bishop Mason’s
Desk of Roots” in With Signs Following: The Life and Ministry of Charles Harrison Mason, ed. Raynard
Smith (Danvers, MA: Christian Board of Publications, 2015), 29-42; Yvonne P. Chireau, Black Magic:
Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2003).
110 Heather D. Curtis, “A Sane Gospel: Radical Evangelicals, Psychology, and Pentecostal Revival in the
Early Twentieth Century” Religion and American Culture 21:2 (2011): 195-226; and Faith in the Great
Physician; Paul G. Chappelle, “The Divine Healing Movement in America” Ph.D. Dissertation Drew
University, Madison, New Jersey, 1983. Jane Addams, Twenty years at Hull-house, with Autobiographical
Notes (New York: Macmillan Co., 1932).
111 Palmer did for Americans what Wesley had failed to achieve: define the Holiness doctrine in simple terms
and offer it as something that could easily be attained. Palmerism, with its emphasis on ‘altar sacrifice’ and
subsequent integration of Fletcher’s ‘Holy Spirit baptism’ became the standard model of theology for the
Holiness movement in every region of America after the Civil War… Her simple, rational approach to the
doctrine of entire sanctification inspired male and female evangelists alike to press believers to cast
themselves on their altars, surrender their lives to God, receive ‘the power of the Holy Spirit,’ and join fellow
Protestants in an effort to establish a more perfect world.” Brian K. Turley. A Wheel within a Wheel, 58. See:
Phoebe Palmer, The Way of Holiness: With Notes by the Way Being a Narrative of Religious Experience
Resulting from a Determination to Be a Bible Christian (New York: Palmer & Hughes, 1867); Phoebe
Palmer. Sanctification Practical: A Book for the Times (New York: Foster and Palmer, 1866).
different holiness groups: R.G. Spurling’s Christian Union, Benjamin H. Irwin’s Fire
Baptized Holiness Association, and traveling Holiness missionaries such as A.J.
Tomlinson, Flora Bower, Clyde Cotton, and Rebecca Barr. When looking at these three
different sources or origins of the Church of God movement, then the history becomes
clearer for the present day reader.
Spurling’s Christian Union:
Social history of the 1884 to 1886 founding narrative reveals that R.G. Spurling’s
Christian Union in 1886 was not an isolated congregation but that Spurling had planted
at least three of these Christian Unions, in Coker Creek, Tennessee, Piney Grove,
Tennessee, and Camp Creek, North Carolina. This reorientation to the vague narrative
of the 1886 founding comes into focus when one realizes that the first Christian Union
was neither located in social isolation nor a random structure. The 1886 gathering in a
gristmill on Barney Creek placed the Christian Union at the confluence of several trade
roads on the Unicoi Turnpike in Coker Creek, Tennessee. The location of this first group
on the Unicoi Turnpike reveals that it was in the middle of one of the most historically
popular travel routes in the Southern Appalachian mountains. With the lack of railroad at
this point in history, the first Christian Union’s location would have been equivalent to a
modern day church beside an interstate highway. For centuries people had passed
through this location for trade and travel from the Carolinas into Tennessee and the
Cumberland plateau. Whites, Blacks and Cherokees had frequented this road and
passed near this gristmill for its entire existence.112
112 The route of the Unicoi turnpike was widened into a wagon road during trade interactions with the British
Colonies in the eighteenth century to route traders to Cherokee towns and through Hunting grouds. During
the 1838 forced removal the road was used to march Cherokee people to stockades in Tennessee. The toll
Yet not only the location of the Christian Union but its structure as well was not
inauspicious. Choosing to meet in a gristmill would have been strategic to place it in one
of the most prominent social locations in the region. Gristmills were used to grind corn
into flour and functioned as social gathering places as farmers would travel to the mill to
grind their corn.113 Being a millwright would have made Spurling more popular socially
than even his Holiness preaching. Choosing to locate the Christian Union in a mill does
not point to humble arrangements as later denominational historians claimed, but rather
to the prominence of the founder and the publicity of the event. Instead of being hidden
away in an obscure place and strange building, the Christian Union represented a local
Holiness association meeting in a prominent and central public location. Everyone
regardless of religious affiliation, race, or socio-economic status would have known of
Spurling’s mill and would have likely known of this Holiness meeting known as the
Christian Union. By owning large tracts of land that his family had purchased after the
forced removal of most of the Cherokee families, and having the stable trade of
and the topographic convienence of the Unicoi Gap near Coker Creek connected Spurling and Christian
Union members with several notable religious neighbors such as the African American churches of Zion Hill
Baptist Church in Texana, North Carolina and the Beth Salem Cumberland Presbyterian Church in what
would become Etowah, Tennessee. Lowell Kirk, “The Unicoi Turnpike” Online article accessed October 22,
2013 via [http://www.telliquah.com/unicoi.htm]; Barbara R. Duncan and Brett H. Riggs, Cherokee Heritage
Trails Guidebook (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Brett H. Riggs, “Like a
Distempered Dream: An Evaluation of Cherokee Deportation Routes through Monroe and McMinn Counties,
Tennessee” 36 page archeological report submitted to the National Park Service, National Trails
Intermountain Region, (Sante Fe, NM: 2014); Voices of Texana, Oral Histories from residents of Texana,
North Carolina (Raliegh, NC: North Carolina Humanities Council, 2006).
113 A gristmill is a small mill or grinding machine housed in a building built of local materials such as stone or
wood siding, framed in wood timbers. Grist mills as their name implies were used to grind dried corn into
flour, corn meal, corn grits or other useable and preservable forms of corn based food products. Most often
grist mills were powered through the use of local streams or rivers. By harnessing the movement of a
streams current through a water wheel and troughs or a damed stream focused into a carved wooden
turbine, a millwright was able to create enough force to turn at least two large “mill stones” and grind the
dried corn to the desirable consistency. Diane L. Barnes, “Building Communities out of Frontiers: The Grist
Mills of Harrison County, West Virginia, 1784-1860,” Journal of Appalachian Studies 7:2 (Fall 2001): 285-99;
Anonymous, “Cruising Down the River… In a Gristmill” Pioneer America 12:2 (May 1980): 113-16. Arthur G.
Peterson, “Flour and Grist Milling in Virginia: A Brief History” The Virginia Magazine of History and
Biography 43:2 (April 1935): 97-108.
millwright, Spurling represented a privileged member of the local society advocating for
Holiness.114 When he was asked to leave Holly Springs Baptist Church for his Holiness
practices and when the Ironsburg Methodist church sought to squelch the embodied
practices of sanctification, Spurling simply moved Holiness meetings to a more
prominent location of his gristmill.115
Though self-taught, Spurling was an abled preacher and had access to several
prominent books. His ideas on a blended Holiness and Landmark Baptist understanding
of ecclesiology is remembered by denominational historians as making him a prominent
leader in the Holiness movement that produced the Church of God. Yet the forgotten
consequences of Spurling’s social placement and privilege in the 1880s and 1890s in
the Unicoi region were likely more important. This would have made him a much more
well known advocate for the Holiness movement and likely made him well known to
many Holiness groups in the region. Spurling had found not only a theology of ideas to
114 R.G. Spurling’s sizeable land holdings were evidenced in his later selling parcels and mineral rights.
See: Deed book, Register’s Office Polk County, Tennessee October 2, 1907 R.G. Spurling to E. Pack. Deed
Book 6 page 576-77, January 23, 1905, R.G. Spurling and Wife to W.L. Taylor. Deed to Mineral Rights,
Deed Book 13 page 465-68, R.G. Spurling and wife to East Tennesee Gold Mining and Milling Company for
$20,000 captial stock October 3, 1913. Photocopies of handwritten deed books used and accessed by
permission of Zion Assembly Church of God Archives, Cleveland, Tennessee.
115 In an 1897 writing of Richard G. Spurling he recalls being homiletically active in Methodist, Presbyterian,
and Baptist churches in his region. This interdenominational work speaks to Spurling’s use and practice of
holiness Christianity. Spurling as a holiness preacher was invited to speak both at Methodist, Baptist,
Presbyterian congregations before the denominational exclusivisms of the 1880s and independent holiness
church formation of that period began. Notably Spurling was involved in the Coco, today called Ironsburg,
Methodist Church in Coker Creek, Tennessee. William Martin a Fire Baptized Holiness Association and
Methodist minister was connected to this congregation by family. The congregation’s historic connection as
Union sympathizers during the Civil maintained a conduit for the Holiness Methodist preachers from the
North to stay connected with the church. This connection would have been maintained during Spurling’s
involvement by itinerating students and professors from Ulysses Grant University in Chattanooga
Tennessee, a Methodist institution founded after the Civil War. The University is today a state owned
institution known as University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Mary Etta Hawk. ca. 1960. “History of the Ironsburg Methodist Church.” Unpublished typed manuscript. Four
pages. Used and Accessed by permission of Zion Assembly Church of God Archives, Cleveland,
Tennessee. Richard Green Spurling “1897 Manuscript” R.G. Spurling, The Lost Link (Turtletown, TN, 1920)
used and accessed by Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
reconcile local Baptists and Methodists with sanctification and the Holiness movement
but more importantly was able to provide a physical and prominent meeting location for
sanctification. Spurling’s success in Coker Creek at the Barney Creek gristmill
precipitated other holiness groups in Monroe, McMinn, and Polk County Tennessee and
Cherokee County, North Carolina continuing forward despite social rejection of Baptist
and Methodist congregations. Spurling’s Holiness association or “Christian Unions” were
one source and strand of origins for the Church of God.
Benjamin H. Irwin’s Fire Baptized Holiness Association:
In addition to already existing Christian Union, many of the original founders of
the Church of God were members of the Fire Baptized Holiness Association FBHA. The
FBHA was a national submovement within the Holiness movement that was led by a
former Methodist minister and member of the Iowa Holiness Association, Benjamin
Harding (B.H.) Irwin. Irwin furthered the technology of religious experiences beyond
sanctification, which was known as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit during the nineteenth
century, to include the Baptisms of fire, dynamite, lyditte, and other explosive materials.
Quickly the influence of the FBHA and Irwin had spread across the holiness associations
particularly in the Southeast United States in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia
and Tennessee. In Tennessee, the majority of the East Tennessee Holiness Association
joined Irwin’s movement. This Holiness association drew many of its members from the
Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church and various Baptist congregations
and associations and it is likely that Spurling had connections with this Holiness
association during his founding of the Christian Union.
Women figured prominent in the East Tennessee Holiness Association (ETHA)116
and were swept up into the FBHA. One such woman Dolly (or Dallie) Lawson, a single
schoolteacher and owner of a large tract of land in Bradley county donated her property
to the FBHA to found a missionary training school for the FBHA. Dolly Lawson’s property
in Bradley County Tennessee brought the national headquarters and epicenter of the
FBHA to the region. This farm land was renamed “Beniah.” In 1896 and 1897 preachers
such as Sarah Smith117 from this ETHA brought and preached the embodied
experiences of the FBHA to the surrounding mountainous areas. One such revival
meeting that they started was the 1896 Holiness revival at Camp Creek, North Carolina
in the Shearer Schoolhouse this revival was attended by many people and expanded the
FBHA into this region. This 1896 revival is the same revival that Church of God
historians record as the second event of their history. In reality this event was Holiness
revival meeting attended by local Baptists and Methodists and led by FBHA missionaries
from Bradley County at Dolly Lawson’s Beniah. Instead existing as a single worship
service or event it is seems apparent that 1896 revival was a long running revival
campaign that lasted for several weeks and was maintained by a local group of
attendees that were expelled from the Liberty Baptist Church due their practice of
sanctification. This group continued to meet for six years until the formation an
116The most extensive record of the East Tennessee Holiness Association is found in the published memoir
of one of its early leaders Frederick W. Henck. John S. Keen, Memoir of F.W. Henck with Notes and
Comments (Highway, KY: Bible Advocate Print, 1899). In the 1923 Depositions of A.J. Tomlinson and
Andrew J. Lawson there is further explication that leaders from the East Tennessee Holiness Association
residing in Chattanooga sold Tomlinson some of the property in Cleveland, Tennessee that he eventually
would build the first church house for the Holiness soon to be known as Church of God congregation.
Church of God v. A.J. Tomlinson, et. al. 1924.
117 Joseph E. Campbell, The Pentecostal Holiness Church 1898-1948: Its Background and History (Franklin
Springs, GA: Pentecostal Holiness Church Press, 1951), 199. Sarah Smith would eventually move to Egypt
to work as a missionary of an Oprhanage in Assouit and would be affiliated with the Church of God and
Assemblies of God after their formation. Sarah Smith, “Hungry People in Egypt” Evening Light and Church
of God Evangel 1:4 (April 15, 1910): 3 B.F. Lawrence, The Apostolic Faith Restored (St. Louis, MO: Gospel
Publishing House, 1916), 44-46.
independent Holiness congregation.118 The congregation built a log church across from
the Schoolhouse to continue these meetings of the FBHA.119
The racial integration and gender equality of the FBHA leadership brought about
immense social rejection and opposition throughout the Southeast United States.120 The
destruction of the FBHA log church in the 1890s by the hooded riders was an explicit act
to end the radical social consequences of the FBHA that attended their lived religion of
sanctification and baptism of fire. One of the families that attended the log church was
the Bryant family of Nettie, William and their adult daughter Ella. One of the FBHA
missionaries who preached at the FBHA, William Martin, was originally from Coker
Creek, Tennessee and would have been familiar with R.G. Spurling’s Christian Union,
which met in the gristmill near Coker Creek. Spurling’s Christian Union like the ETHA
was likely swept into the FBHA through local meetings such as the extended revival and
log church at Camp Creek, North Carolina.
In 1901 as the FBHA was growing rapidly in members and geography and Dolly
Lawson’s Beniah had become the epicenter for a new branch of Holiness, B.H. Irwin
was expelled from the movement. Being charged with womanizing and drunkenness,
Irwin’s rapid itinerancy and written voice had dictated the movement. His dismissal
118 Wade Phillips, Quest to Restore God’s House, 106-36.
1191900 Federal Census, Beniah, Bradley County Tennessee shows Dallie Lawson, George Curry, [Billy] William Martin living at Beniah with their families; census accessed online March 21, 2019 via
[www.ancestrylibrary.com] Woods,”Daniel Awrey, the Fire-Baptized Movement, and the Origins of the
Church of God: Toward a Chronology of Confluence and Influence,”
[http://www.pctii.org/cyberj/cyberj19/woods.html]; Hunter, “Spirit-Baptism and the 1896 Revival in Cheorkee
County, North Carolina,” Pnuema 5:2 (Fall 1983); “Beniah at the Apostolic Crossroads,”
120 For more on the FBHA and Benjamin H. Irwin see: Vinson Synan and Daniel Woods, Fire Baptized: The
Many Lives and Works of Benjamin Hardin Irwin: A Biography and a Reader (Lexington, KY: Emeth Press,
2017). Vinson Synan, Old Time Power: A Centennial History of the Pentecostal Holiness Church (Franklin
Springs GA: LifeSprings, 1998).
brought serious questions to a group that saw themselves living above sin and under a
new vision of empowered religious living through the Baptism of Fire. Many felt that they
had been deceived and others simply departed for other religious utopias such as
Alexander Dowie’s Zion City in Illinois.121 The other consequence was for the formation
of local holiness congregations. One such congregation was the log church at Camp
Creek, North Carolina the Bryants along with R.G. Spurling and other FBHA member
Methodist Frank Porter organized the group into the Holiness Church at Camp Creek in
1902.122 The Holiness Church at Camp Creek met in Bryant’s house and a brush
In Bradley County at Dolly Lawson’s Beniah many of those that had moved there
to join the movement migrated to the industrial town of Cleveland. It was from this group
of former FBHA and ETHA that Clyde Cotton and A.J. Tomlinson would found the
Holiness Church in Cleveland in 1905 that would become part of the Church of God.
121 In particular the FBHA evangelist Milton McNabb who led in the 1896 revival departed after the
dissolution of the FBHA for Illinois to join John Alexander Dowie and his Christian Catholic Church in the
founding of the Holiness and Healing city outside of Chicago Zion City. McNabb’s later descendants living in
Zion, Illinois today as well as census records confirm this connection of the Church of God history with Zion,
Illinois. H.C. McNabb 1910 Census Zion/Benton, Lake County, Illinois access online March 21, 2019 va
[www.ancestrylibrary.com]; and Handwritten correspondence Doris McNabb Gordon to Wade H. Phillips
October 11, 1993; October 27, 1993; November, 18, 1993. Accessed and used by permission of Zion
Assembly Church of God Archives.
For more on Dowie and his utopian city of Holiness and Healing see: Rolvix Harlan, John Alexander Dowie
and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion: [Published] Ph.D. Dissertation University of Chicago
(Evansville, WS: Press of R.M. Antes, 1906); Arthur Newcomb, Dowie: Annointed of the Lord (New York:
Century Co., 1930); Philip Cook, Zion City, Illinois; Grant Wacker, “Marching to Zion” Church History 54
(December 1985): 496-511.
122 M.S. Lemons remembered William Martin, Jo Tipton, and Frank Stephenson from the FBHA preaching
and bringing the new doctrines to the mountain gatherings of Holiness people. He also points to the
innovation of starting a separate church. “We didn’t know at first that it was the thing to organize a church.”
M.S. Lemons interviewed by H.L. Chesser 1954, typed script manuscript page 13. Used and accessed by
permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
123 “We built a brush harbor, and in the winter we had services in my house. I had a big house –four or five
rooms and I threw it open to them.” Typed transcript of William F. Bryant interview by H.L. Chesser March 7,
1954 (Cleveland, Tennessee) 5. Accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center,
The third origin strand of the Church of God resides in the Holiness missionaries
to the mountain whites. Whereas, R.G. Spurling, the Bryant family and members of the
Holiness Church at Camp Creek were local adherents of the Holiness movement,
Ambrose J. Tomlinson, John B. Mitchell, Nora and Fred Chambers, represented outside
Protestant missionaries from Holiness schools sent to convert the “mountain whites” of
Appalachia. Tomlinson and Mitchell moved into Cherokee County, North Carolina in the
1890s explicitly looking for conversion of the long lost Anglo Saxon and Scotch Irish that
were perishing in the hills. The racial myths that they brought to the region were shared
by many home missionaries of the Protestant denominations.124 Swept into the Holiness
movement of Indiana, Tomlinson a Quaker from Indiana had come to the mountains
seeking to convert the souls and culture of the young children by founding a boarding
school called “Mt. Zion” in Culberson, North Carolina. Tomlinson’s work at the industrial
school was in all practical terms an utter failure as the locals in the settlement of
Culberson rejected him as an outsider Northern missionary and his poor financial
management led to many of the children and workers almost starving to death.125
Tomlinson’s boarding of Luther and Julius Bryant from Camp Creek in his school led him
in 1903 to join and work with former FBHA congregation the Holiness Church at Camp
Creek. Tomlinson eventually moved from Culberson, North Carolina to Cleveland,
Tennessee in 1904. It is likely that this move was precipitated by former FBHA networks
124 Deborah V. McCauley, Appalachian Mountain Religion, 26-34. Henry D. Shapiro, Appalachia on Our
Mind: The Southern Mountains and Mountaineers in the American Consciousness, 1870-1920 (Chapel Hill,
NC: University of North Carolina, 1978), 42-44, 61; Allen W Batteau, The Invention of Appalachia. (Tuscon,
AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1990); Edward O. Guerrant, The Galax Gatherers: The Gospel among the
Highlanders (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press  2005);
125 Roger G. Robins, A.J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist, 136-63.
in Cleveland, Tennessee such as Dolly Lawson’s brother-in-law Andrew J. Lawson who
worked with Tomlinson from 1904 until the end of his life.
In addition to A.J. Tomlinson and J.B. Mitchell, Nora Ida Legg Chambers and her
husband Fred were also missionaries later who were sent to Culberson from the
Altamount Bible and Missionary Institute led by Nickels J. Holmes on Paris Mountain in
Northwest South Carolina.126 Nora had grown up in Texas, Illinois, and Arkansas as the
daughter of a schoolteacher. She attained a high school diploma and would serve as a
teacher first in primary public schools and then in Bible training institutes. Nora met
Clyde Cotton through her famed preaching and interactions with Nickels Holmes’
“Altamount Bible and Missionary Institute.” As a Holiness evangelist and teacher, Nora
had moved from Illinois to teach at the Institute located at Paris Mountain, South
Carolina and later Greenville, South Carolina. Nora’s teaching ability and leadership had
quickly earned her the promotion of matron of the South Carolina Institute and when
classes were not in session, she and Fred itinerated in Cherokee County, North Carolina
starting around 1909. During this period she and Fred met R.G. Spurling and likely
fellowshipped with the Holiness Church at Camp Creek also located in Cherokee
County, North Carolina. Nora’s missionary work of teaching was immensely important.
She trained several future Church of God preachers such as E.J. Boehmer at the
Altamount Bible and Missionary Institute and then later was the founding teacher of the
Bible Training Institute of the Church of God in 1918.127
126Phillips, Quest to Restore God’s House, 288; See also: Nickels J. Holmes and Elizabeth Simpson
Holmes, Life Sketches and Sermons, 93-97, 239-60.
127 Nora Chambers “Untitled” Church of God Evangel 15:9 (March 1, 1924), 4; “To Those Who Could Not
Attend the 27th Assembly” Church of God Evangel 23:34 (October 22, 1932): 1, 4; “Showers of Blessings are
Coming Our Way” Church of God Evangel 26:49 (February 15, 1936): 14; F.G. Chambers, “A Brief Sketch of
In addition to Nora Chambers, Flora E. Bower [Trim Rich] exemplified the
expansion of the Church of God into Florida. When A.J. Tomlinson along with Tom L.
McLain traveled to Tampa, Florida to preach at a Pentecostal gathering in 1909 they met
and worked alongside Flora E. Bower. Flora was a single woman who worked under the
auspice of the Union Missionary Association in St. Louis, Missouri. Flora was a
successful stenographer and single woman living in St. Louis when she attended a
Holiness revival received her sanctification experience and began working in a rescue
home for women called “Hephzibah Rescue Home” in the 1890s, becoming the assistant
matron by 1897.128 The Hephzibah Rescue Home in St. Louis was listed as a medical
facility revealing the comprehensive practice of divine healing as well as social
rehabilitation for abused women and single mothers. As assistant matron in a healing
home with 43 beds listed under the national medical directory, Flora would have
enveloped and propagated a Holiness sanctification that addressed the embodied needs
and ailments of other women.129 In particular she would have prayed for the divine
healing of ailments such as “hysteria” and she would have provided a space for safe
delivery of “illegitimate” children. Flora practiced these forms of holistic healing under the
Our Work in the Mountains of North Carolina and Georgia” in M.S. Lemons, History of the Church of God
(Cleveland 1938). Used and Accessed by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland,
128 “Flora E. Bower, 1319 St. Ange Avenue St. Louis, Missouri, Stenographer” in St. Louis City Directory,
1890. St. Louis, MO: Gould Directory Co., 1890. Accessed online March 8, 2019 [www.ancestrylibrary.com].
“Bower, Flora, steno. Zittlosen T.&A. Co. r. 2025 Pine” in U.S. City Directories (1893), 218. Accessed online
March 8, 2019 [www.ancestrylibrary.com]. “Bower Flora E. asst. matron Hepzibah Rescue Home. r. 3740
Marine av.” St. Louis, Missouri in Gould’s 1897 Directory, 243. Accessed online March 8, 2019
129 “St Louis—Hephzibah Rescue Home, 3614 Morgan. Est’d 1893. Capacity: 45 adults, 15 babies. Med
Staff. Mngr. Mrs. M E O Gott.” Missouri in Polk’s Medical Register of North America Thirteenth Revised
Edition (New York: R.L. Polk & Co. Publishers, 1914), 933. “Hephzibah Rescue Home, 3014 Morgan St. St.
Louis. Established 1893; 43 beds; Mrs. M.E. Gatt, president” in American Medical Directory Seventh Edition
1921 (Chicago: American Medical Association, 1921), 841; Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of
the Census, Special Reports “Benevolent Institutions 1904” (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office,
auspices of a Holiness organization, the Union Mission Association, that intentionally
treated white and black women. Healing, Holiness, and the lived reality of sanctification
would have been realized and affirmed daily in the bodies and lives of Flora and the
women she led at Hephzibah.130
In 1901 the mission sent her to Tampa, Florida to establish a Hephzibah Rescue
Home there and it was the Pentecostal conversion of Flora and women from her mission
that transformed Hephzibah into a base for the Holiness Pentecostal revivals that spread
from Tampa to Durant and eventually Cleveland. Flora received her Pentecostal
Baptism-in-the-Holy-Spirit experience in 1907 and published her testimony in a 1908
edition of the renowned Los Angeles, California periodical The Apostolic Faith, eleven
months before A.J. Tomlinson became Pentecostal. Flora would eventually move to
Cleveland and along with Nora Chambers, and A.J. Tomlinson compile and publish the
Church of God’s periodical in 1910, the Evening Light and Church of God Evangel. Flora
would continue in evangelism and leadership in the Church of God outliving two minister
husbands, dying in 1949 Flora E. Bower Trim Rich.
In addition to Bower, Chambers, Tomlinson, and Mitchell there are numerous
other connections that could be made to the founding and spread of the Church of God.
Yet the purpose in mentioning these four is that they characterize two types of
missionaries that affected the formation of the Church of God as a Holiness and then
Holiness Pentecostal movement. First home missionaries to Appalachia provided a
130 Wanda Thompson Leroy, “’I HAVE KNOWN WHAT IT WAS TO BE HUNGRY’: Flora E. Bower Trim Rich”
Church of God Evangel (October 2018): 38; Rosa B. Murphy, “A Life of Service” Church of God Evangel
31:43 (January 4, 1941): 5; For more on Hephzibah Rescue Home and Union Mission Association see:
Annual Report 1905 Union Mission Association (St. Louis, MO: Union Mission Association) and “Fourth
Annual Catalogue of the Union Mission Association Training School (St. Louis, MO: Evangelistic Report
Publishing Co., 1904) both booklets used and accessed by permission of The State Historical Society of
Missouri, St. Louis, Missouri.
connection to a historic stream of outside missionaries to the mountainous region of
Appalachia. Second single women evangelists and reformers such as Chambers and
Bower brought a new vision of sanctified life through their embodied empowerment of
sanctification and later Pentecostal Spirit Baptism that transformed the religious orders.
Both streams of missionaries were challenged to provide helpful service to the peoples
they worked with but also establish a cooperative collaboration. Tomlinson’s failed
attempts at Culberson were foiled by the success of Nora Chambers a decade later in
the same location bringing education yet not depicting the residents as “ignorant”
IV. Returning to Restorationism: the Space of Bodies in Place and Time
The purpose for outlining the three source groups for the founding of the Church
of God has been twofold, first to clarify the diversity of the founding and second to
highlight the role of restorationism as lived religion in the early Holiness and Holiness
Pentecostal identity and memory. The Church of God as they were called beginning in
1907131 and moving forward was in a clear line of continued Holiness restorationism
dating back to John Winebrenner in the eighteenth century. The 1910 periodical of the
Church of God was entitled the Evening Light and Church of God Evangel which
alongwith quotations from Daniel S. Warner’s Church of God in Anderson, Indiana in the
131 Flora E Trim [Flora E Trine] Buhl, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 1920 United States Federal Census. Accessed
online March 8, 2019 via [www.ancestrylibrary.com]. Flora E Bower Trim, “From the Beginning to Present”
Church of God Evangel 15:9 (March 1, 1924): 4; Bryant claimed that Flora’s husband H.L. Trim was the
person that brought forth the name Church of God at the second general assembly at the Union Grove
Meeting House. This meeting house was in the settlement called Union Grove in Bradley County and a
group of the holiness adherents were meeting there from that region. William F. Bryant Jr Interview by H.L.
opening article reveals the adoption of Warner’s restorationism.132 Warner’s theology
was developed and rooted in the Winnebrennerian Churches of God in North America
but broke away with the acceptance of adoption of sanctification and the Holiness
movement. The Church of God movement particularly under the pen of A.J. Tomlinson
would continue Warner’s Holiness Restorationism but depart from any formal
connections through their adoption of Pentecostal Baptism-in-the-Holy-Spirit with
tongues and their joining the Pentecostal movement. This literary and theological
influence of Warner along with Tomlinson’s continual work with the Southwest Holiness
Association as late as 1904 after not only reading and using materials but sending his
subscribers to that Holiness Association’s subscription list clearly draws a line of the
restorationist theology of the Church of God back to the writings of John P. Brooks in the
1870s. John P. Brooks’ book The Divine Church was the primary text that influenced
groups such as the Holiness groups led by Clyde Cotton, R.G. Spurling, the Bryants,
and Tomlinson to found independent Holiness congregations and subsequently
In short the restorationist name and theology of the Church of God movement
that this dissertation is studying were not new in content. Clearly the name and theology
was inherited and can be clearly mapped out genealogically (see chart A). Yet the
creative innovation of the Church of God was the form in which this restoration took
132 Steven L. Ware, “Restoring the New Testament Church: Varieties of Restorationism in the Radical
Holiness Movement of the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries Pneuma 21:2 (1999): 243-248.
Barry Callen, It’s God’s Church: Life and Legacy of Daniel Sidney Warner (Anderson, IN: Warner Press,
1995); John W. Smith, The Quest for Holiness and Unity A Centennial History of the Church of God
Anderson, Indiana (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 1980); A.J. Tomlinson, “Apology for Above Title” Evening
Light and Church of God Evangel 1:1 (March 1, 1910): 1. Daniel S. Warner, “The Evening Light,” Gospel
Trumpet 25 (October 1895), 1; Bible Proofs of the Second Work of Grace (Gospel Trumpet Company,
place. As lived religion the Pentecostal restorationism of the Church of God took place
in the space of their Spirit filled bodies. When Nora Chambers spoke in tongues or
prayed for the sick to be divinely healed, her body was the site in which God as Holy
Spirit was present and working and in which the narratives/myths of the early church
found in the Christian New Testament resided in the grammatical form of bodies. As she
prayed and quaked, shook, shouted, jumped, spoke in tongues and laid her hands on
people that were seeking her same experiences she was a bodily restoration of the
Church of God. The theology, as idea of the church being truly restored as an
immaterial concept of true community that was embedded in restorationism, took on
material form in human flesh.
The Pentecostal restorationism of the Church of God was realized every time
Church of God founders such as Flora Bower prayed for a woman that had been
diagnosed as “hysterical” after losing a child to stillbirth, being raped by her husband, or
simply seeking to live outside the boundaries of domesticity. As Flora prayed the power
emoted from her body brought healing, restoration, Holiness, and the Church of God in a
felt form of her Spirit-filled-body. The “early church” or the “restored Church of God this
side of the dark ages” was not an abstract principle to be adhered to in a propositional
creed, it was the hand of a former stenographer, turned Holiness Pentecostal preacher
and healing home matron touching the body of a battered woman.133 It was the power
demonstrated in the life of a single white woman to live outside the boundaries
133 Bower lived at 1319 St. Ange Avenue St. Louis, Missouri in 1890 and was listed as a Stenographer in St.
Louis City Directory, 1890. St. Louis, MO: Gould Directory Co., 1890. Accessed online March 8, 2019
[www.ancestrylibrary.com]. Flora Bower lived at 2025 Pine Street St. Louis, Missouri in 1893 and is listed as
a stenographer in U.S. City Directories 1893 “Bower, Flora, steno. Zittlosen T.&A. Co. r. 2025 Pine” U.S.
City Directories (1893), 218. Accessed online March 8, 2019 [www.ancestrylibrary.com]. 1910 United States
Federal Census, Cleveland Ward 3, Bradley Tennessee. Accessed online March 8, 2019 via
matrimony, to travel, to lead, organize and administer a medically recognized facility. It
was the way in which she was not encumbered by the boundaries of what she was not
supposed to be socially. As a Spirit filled body she provided care, love, and hope to
people in St. Louis and Tampa that were black, white, and Latino, male and female.
These hurting bodies were not a demonstration of a prescriptive theological idea, they
were the very form of her restorationist theology as lived religion.
As Clyde Cotton sang in tongues and led a tent revival meeting in Cleveland,
Tennessee in 1908, it was not the preaching of Tomlinson, or G.B. Cashwell but rather
the embodied acts of Cotton that converted Flavius J. Lee to Holiness Pentecostalism.
Lee was a leader in a local Baptist congregation where women were not allowed to lead
males past the age of puberty and Cotton’s leadership may have at first provided
concern for this devout Christian man. Yet as a musician himself and choir leader at his
church he was struck at how Clyde Cotton was moved on by the Holy Spirit, physically
got up and went to the portable pump organ and began to play powerfully and sing in a
language that was unknown to him. As Lee watched entranced at this bodily
manifestation of a new religious experience known as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Lee
reported that he felt electricity enter his hand and arms. Like lightning, the embodied text
of Cotton’s body struck him with a new understanding of Christianity and replaced his
understandings of gender hierarchy in leadership. Gaston B. Cashwell was a man
preaching in the revival who had been to the famous Los Angeles, California gathering,
he provided a theological connection to these new ideas and doctrines, but Clyde Cotton
embodied Holiness Pentecostalism and in doing so brought the Church of God to life in
her very body. Cotton convinced Lee and he joined the Church of God eventually
becoming a general overseer.134
Recovering the history of the Church of God using the primary sources of
periodicals, census records, marriage records, property deeds and court records has
provided an interesting contrast to some of the theological claims of the group. What at
first seemed to be simple anachronism has in-turn revealed a robust tradition of
embodied restorationism. Reflecting on the allusion to the historian Sidney Mead’s
description of American religious history and the frontier space of North America a
striking observation can be made. From Mead’s perspective the ideological theology of
restorationism used in the expansion of Protestantism in the burgeoning United States
transformed space, place, and time. People of European ancestry imagined a unified
ethnic form of Christianity in the past and sought to create a fragmented yet established
denominational American Protestantism. Instead of the space of time, years across a
timeline, like the older branches of Christianity in Europe retained, the American
Protestants would claim the conversion of an immense geography. They may not have
occupied the chronological space of linear history but they did occupy the North
American continent. Time was replaced by the space of the continent and thus the
place of American Protestantism dignified it beyond, or at least equivalent to, the limited
geographical scope or European Protestantism. But in the late nineteenth century
Southern Appalachia provided a problem for this imagined space, place, time
transformation of American Protestantism. Protestants had began formulating solutions
for the “Negro Problem” and the “Mormon Question” but were not able to reconcile the
134 Both F.J. Lee and T.L. McClain linked their Spirit Baptism experiences to the embodied demonstration of
Clyde Cotton. Charles Conn, Like a Mighty Army (1955), 88; T.L. McClain, “The Latter Rain” Evening Light
and Church of God Evangel 1:1 (March 1, 1910): 5.
reality of white people who lived in generational poverty and practiced a religion that was
not recognizable as white or Protestant.135 Missionaries were sent to help convert and
civilize these “long lost ancestors” and sure up the soul of American Protestantism. Yet
much like the history of Tomlinson’s industrial school, many of them failed miserably.
The Church of God movement on the other hand has revealed a historical
example of how restorationism forged by Appalachians and those who continued and
proliferated their practice might look like. Despite being led by many women and men
who hailed from other geographies, the embodied practices of the Church of God have
continually been identified as vernacularly Appalachian. This identification of Holiness
Pentecostal groups such as the Church of God as “regional religion” reveals more of the
biases of a latent Protestant restorationism with its racial biases than a historical
reality.136 Instead of Mead’s Protestant restorationism, what is found in the early history
and restorationism of the Church of God is an embodied restorationism of lived religion
that replaced the space of lengthy time, that is the almost two thousand years of “fallen
Christianity,” in the space and place of the Spirit filled body. And the place of the church
was wherever these Spirit bodies were in action. The Church of God was restored where
their Spirit filled bodies were in action. Instead of race, gender, and propositional
135 Nathaniel Deutsch, Inventing America’s Worst Family; Sarah B. Gordon, The Mormon Question:
Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North
Carolina Press, 2002); Max P. Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (Chapel Hill, NC:
University of North Carolina Press, 2017); Paul W. Reeve, Religion of a Different Color.
136 The critique of Mark Huddle of Deborah McCauley in his introduction to Galax Gatherers brings this
regional essentialism to light in her work: Mark Huddle “Edward O. Guerrant and the ‘Discovery’ of
Appalachia” in Guerrant, The Galax Gatherers (2005), xi-xl. See: McCauley, Appalachian Mountain Religion
and Catherine L. Albanese, America: Religions and Religion. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2007), 222-242. A
clear example of this Protestant racial bias is visible in the writings of Frederick Morgan Davenport who
essentialized the white religious population of Appalachia as “primitive” and akin to people of African
descent in their “inferiority” and “feebleness of mind” Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals: A Study in Mental
and Social Evolution (New York: Macmillan Co., 1905), 9, 45-46.
theology the Church of God members forged a life within their restorationism through
Spirit filled bodies that enacted a reorientation of time. History for the Church of God was
an act of lived religion in which they inherited ideas and practices from the Holiness
movement and restorationist theologies but transformed them in the very form of their
restorationism namely their human bodies.
Writing Protestantism with a White Identity: The written histories of the Church of God
In 1954 William Cannon the dean of the divinity school at Emory University
penned a letter of commendation that would soon be situated as the foreword to Charles
Conn’s history of the Pentecostal denomination Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee).
In three paragraphs tucked at the beginning of a denomination history text, Cannon’s
words represented a social and religious transformation of a former fringe religious
group into a member of American Protestant Christianity:
For some time now we have needed a definitive history of the denomination called the Church of
God. It is a legitimate branch of Protestantism, and, therefore, has its rightful place in the general
economy of grace. It is a movement, though originating in the United States and expressing certain
sociological tendencies in American life of world interest, with influence and strength far beyond its
I find this study a competent one. The author has employed the best methods and techniques of
historical research. Whether we agree with the peculiar doctrine he embraces or not, we must
admit that he deserves our recognition and our respect as an authentic historian. Consequently, his
work must take its place among the good denominational histories of our time.
This book, under the general title Like a Mighty Army, should find its place on the shelves of all the
great libraries of the nation, especially university libraries and those of theological schools. No
student of American denominationalism in the future can neglect this work. I commend it to the
serious attention of students and scholars in American Church History.137
In this brief foreword the reader is presented with a stamp of inclusion and a verification
of a “legitimate branch of Protestantism.” The Church of God had made the
transformation and found themselves at the table of American Protestantism. Albeit a
qualified commendation, Cannon’s words indicate a massive social transformation of the
137 Foreword by William R. Cannon in Charles W. Conn, Like a Mighty Army (Cleveland, TN: Church of God
Publishing House, 1955), vii.
small band of Holiness Appalachians that had joined the Pentecostal movement. Instead
of a lost people in need of Protestant missionization, in 1954 the reader finds that the
Church of God represented a marginal piece of Protestantism. But how did this
happen? How did a group that sought to dismantle and disregard the social norms of
race and Protestantism suddenly become one of its parts? And, why? This chapter will
address these questions by focusing on the role of historical memory and use of racial
mythology in which the Church of God (Cleveland) constructed a religious identity by
employing a Protestant racial narrative to their origins.
This chapter begins the second section of this dissertation by examining the
written histories produced within the Church of God concerning their founding and early
history during the period of 1884 to 1923, the time period explored in part one of the
dissertation. Building off chapter one’s focus on the identity of Spirit filled bodies and
chapter two’s focus on the role of restorationism in the history of the Church of God
movement in the first section, section two will explore the ways in which this early history
was studied, used, and reinterpreted through the writing of denominational history in
chapter three, chapter four through the continued marginalization through the academic
moniker of “primitive,” and the visual chapter which will explore the alternate visual and
material history built by the Church of God of Prophecy.
Focusing on history writing as a practice of lived religion within the Church of
God, this chapter will explore explicitly one history in light of the others: Charles Conn’s
1955 Like a Mighty Army.
138 As will become clear below, Conn’s text reveals the role of
138 Charles W. Conn, Like a Mighty Army: Moves the Church of God 1886-1955 (Cleveland, TN: Church of
God Publishing House, 1955). There are four subsequent editions of Conn’s book published and referenced
in this dissertation but this chapter will focus primarily on the 1955 first edition.
myth and myth-making in Pentecostalism. The uniqueness of this text within the Church
of God movement and its stark difference to those written before it and later by other
denominations in the movement draw attention to the constructive nature of Conn’s
project. Conn’s history provided a unique identity and denominational character that
allowed for the Church of God (Cleveland) to segregate itself from the other
denominations that emerged from the Church of God movement, particularly from the
Church of God of Prophecy.
In order to mine fully the content and significance of Conn’s historical depiction of
the early Church of God this chapter will begin with an overview of the legal and
denominational developments that precipitated Conn’s text. Second the chapter will
explore the written histories of the Church of God movement prior to Conn’s 1955
publication. Third the chapter will introduce Conn, his book and its contrast with the
earlier texts such as the 1913 The Last Great Conflict written by A.J. Tomlinson.139
Specifically this contrast will focus on the earlier histories’ rejection of Protestantism and
Conn’s later negotiations into the American Protestant canon. Fourth, this chapter will
highlight how Conn’s history employs a different myth of race than was proclaimed by
the earlier Church of God specifically and Pentecostalism generally. This analysis will
build on the theoretical approaches to Spirit filled bodies discussed in chapter one
concerning the Church of God constructively as Pentecostalism a religion that
remythologized both the body and world of adherents.
139 Tomlinson, The Last Great Conflict.
I. Legal and Denomination developments
In order to better understand the significance of Conn’s history it is important to
know where and why it came to be. Conn’s history was written in 1953 after the
conclusion of a series of legal battles between two rival groups. The largest group which
was legally victorious came to be officially and legally known as the Church of God
(Cleveland, TN) and the second group, the unsuccessful defendants, finally were legally
mandated the name Church of God of Prophecy. The genesis of this rivalry began in the
same period that chapter two concluded with: 1921. At the same time period that the
Church of God was segregating and developing an institutional identity that resembled a
Protestant form of religion that would be legally recognizeable, financial, theological, and
personal divisions became heated. What follows below is a summation of the social,
institutional, and legal happenings of the Church of God movement as taken from the
author’s reading of 4,732 pages of typed depositions from the 1924 case along with the
rulings and opinions of subsequent cases until the 1952 Tennessee Supreme Court
ruling.140 This dissertation is the first history of the Church of God movement that has
consulted the entirety of this legal history.
In 1914 following a moment of human-divine interaction in which at least two
unnamed congregants at the annual assembly of the Churches of God spoke a message
in an unknown tongue, there was an interpretation that declared “My beloved, you can’t
do better than what you have. Hold on to what you’ve got.” And then another message
given in tongues was interpreted “He has been so faithful, as he was led by Me and has
140 “Church of God Court Records, Cleveland, TN Court Records, 1891 – 1953” housed in Tennessee State
Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee and processed by Dixon Pentecostal Research Center and
Archives of Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, Tennessee.
governed and led the little flock. So follow him as he follows Me.”141 At this moment, A.J.
Tomlinson the elected moderator of the annual meeting became divinely appointed to
his post. This event moved Tomlinson from an important leader to the central
figurehead of the movement. Despite his early leadership since 1903, prior to this
Tomlinson had been only one of the primary leaders among several such as Clyde
Cotton, R.G. Spurling, M.S. Lemons, Nora Chambers, and Flora Bower Trim. But at this
moment he became the central personality for many members of the movement until his
death in 1948. The Holy Spirit had elected him and no other could question his authority.
According to his contemporaries in Cleveland, Tomlinson was never a person to
be good with finances and as his biographer has highlighted how his practice of “living
on faith” was often a harrowing experience.142 Yet when Tomlinson took the helm of the
Church of God movement with the backing of his divine appointment his creative
approach to leadership began to crumble. Whereas in the past it had been Tomlinson
and his family that had suffered the perils of lack under the recourse of faith, in 1914
Tomlinson began to accrue debts in the name of the larger movement. His bad financial
planning and dreaming beyond his budget led to the construction of a large auditorium in
Cleveland for the annual meetings and a three-story printing plant with annex for the
publication with a mortgage close to $40,000 in 1920. Tomlinson’s “faith-led” financial
approach alongside the ambitious business schemes of a used-car salesman and
141 Echoes from the Tenth Annual Assembly of the Churches of God held at Cleveland, Tennessee,
November 2-8, 1914, 23-24. This published 47 page pamphlet of the assembly minutes was an edited
compilation based off the notes of clerks: “E.J. Boehmer, Nora Chambers, Flora E. [Bower] Trim and Ella
Hilsabeck” referenced in “prefatory notes.” Accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal
Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
142 Robins, A.J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist, 157-67.; Walter E. Rodgers deposition from Church of God
v. A.J. Tomlinson 1924.
preacher J.S. Lewellyn143 led to a growing attempt to incorporate and monetize the
collective holdings of the Church of God congregations across the United States.
Through a series of financial schemes that varied from selling stock, and to eternity
bonds, the Church of God movement came under question by many of its local
leaders.144 In particular after instituting a tithing or ten percent giving of every member as
a mandated doctrine of the movement, J.L. Scott a pastor from Chattanooga, Tennessee
led a withdrawal of several congregations into a group self-identified as the “Original
Church of God.”
When Scott and the congregations departed, J.S. Lewellyn encouraged
Tomlinson to assert his authority and upon Lewellyn’s urging there were two legal suits
filed in 1917 in Hamilton County, Tennessee and in Northeast, Georgia to retain the
property of local Church of God congregations if the people sought to start a different
movement. Both suits were lost for the Church of God movement upon the judgement
that the “restored” Church of God was not legally viable without a recognizable religious
identity. It turned out that having only the Bible for their charter and beliefs was not a
legal proof of identity in the eyes of the Chancery Courts. These cases led to the
institutionalization of the Church of God movement through a “constitutional
143 In his 1924 deposition J.S. Lewellyn through questioning outlined his business in selling used cars. In
two instances Lewellyn intermingled this business in church affairs. First, buying and selling a truck to the
Church of God to be used for his personal ministry as a “gospel truck.” Second, trading a used car to
someone who had been sold stock in the Church of God’s Evangel Loan and Indemnity Fund as
compensation for their failed stock in order to avoid fraud charges. Complainants Proof Volume 5 deposition
of J.S. Lewellyn. Church of God v. A.J. Tomlinson, 1924.
144 “Exchange and Indemnity Department of the Church of God Evangel, Instituted 1920, 2524 Gaut St.
Cleveland, Tennessee” Eight page pamphlet explaining the opportunity for loans, stock, real estate, and
insurance. During the period of 1920 to 1923 around 500 loans were given ranging from five dollars to 500
dollars with a four percent interest return if not cashed before six months. Pamphlet and correspondence
concerning the Evangel Loan Fund and Exchange and Indemnity Department of the Church of God Evangel
accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
government.” According to J.S. Lewellyn, the presiding judge in the Chancery Court of
Hamilton County, Tennessee that decided against Lewellyn and Tomlinson had advised
him to form such a polity and proof of the organization. In short unless they wanted to
lose any future cases that followed this pattern they would need to create a constitutional
or incorporated identity. J.L. Scott had incorporated his Original Church of God in 1917
and legally took the properties and members with him.
As financial tensions began to rise the annual assembly under the direction of
Tomlinson’s advice adopted a unified “financial plan” and sought to institute a
communistic fiscal existence. The idea was approved by the ministers and delegates at
the 1920 annual assembly that there would be a sliding pay scale for local ministers.145
Some congregations with larger and more prosperous budgets would be able to make
up for the lack of funding in smaller congregations. With all the funds sent to Cleveland,
145 “We recommend the following scale as a basis of distribution:
“$300.00 and up 40%
250.00 to 300.00 45%
200.00 to 250.00 50%
175.00 to 200.00 55%
150.00 to 175.00 60%
125.00 to 150.00 65%
100.00 to 125.00 75%
75.00 to 100.00 80%
50.00 to 75.00 85%
1.00 to 50.00 90%
“We further recommend that the difference in the above percent and the 100% be set aside as a surplus to
make up deficiencies and to compensate other ministers for service rendered and general expenses of
operation the financial system.” “Sliding Finance Plan” on an undated memo typescript on Church of God
Evangel letterhead paper. ca. 1920. Used accessed by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center,
the office of divinely appointed General Overseer, A.J. Tomlinson, would send out a
modified equal pay to every minister. If there were extra monies left over after every
local pastor was paid these monies could be applied to expenses of the general
movement such as orphanages and international missionaries. In addition to the sliding
pay scale, there was a document distributed called the “Manifesto” that sought to legally
establish that the Church of God was represented by the leaders in Cleveland. In a
dubious manner the “Manifesto” also legally signed rights and control of the local
property and institution to the leaders in Cleveland.146
During 1919 and 1920 thousands of dollars began to cross the desk of
Tomlinson who made financial decision based off his religious discernment despite the
advice of his bookkeeper and advisors, and often without any oversight. Inevitably,
despite good intentions, monies were misused. The whole amount of the
misappropriated funds is still not completely known but what was later discovered was
that Tomlinson had drawn from this “tithe fund” or “financial plan” of the ministers to pay
146 During an era were many if not most local congregants were illiterate the manifesto was not read out loud
to the congregation but instead a letter of introduction was read. Following this presentation the local church
clerk had members sign or have the clerk themselves write the individual members’ names on the
document. In this way many of the members only heard that the document was like a census of the
organization providing name, gender, nationality of members. As presented many did not read that their
names were adhered to the following contractual agreement of the “Manifesto”: “Whereas, the officers and
members of the Church of God at __, County of __, State of __, do compose a part of the General Assembly
of the Churches of God with business headquarters at Cleveland, Tennessee, U.S.A., and which have been
a part of said General Assembly ever since our organization was on the __ day of __, 19__, and Whereas,
this local church has been subject to the government, teaching, principles and practices as promulgated
from time to time by the said General Assembly of the Churches of God, and Whereas, the said General
Assembly which convened at Cleveland, Tenn., Nov. 3-9, 1920, did unanimously adopt a certain declaration
which appears on Page 50 of the Minutes of the General Assembly, which we heartily endorse, approve and
in which we concur….” These signees had unknowingly agreed to the following from the Assembly minutes
“We, therefore, do not recognize the right of any local church to withdraw from the General Assembly…”
“Manifesto” 3 page handbill with lines for members to sign accompanied by typed letter; and Minutes of the
Fifteenth General Assembly of the Churches of God, 1920, (Cleveland, TN: Church of God Publishing Co,
1920), 50. Both accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland,
on the large mortgages for the new Church of God Auditorium and Publishing Plant in
Cleveland. Tomlinson had never opened separate banking accounts for the Church of
God throughout his tenure of leadership and never routinely drew a salary during this
period either. Instead he would occasionally take monies for personal needs as well. It
is likely that he never received equivalent to what his annual-assembly-approved-salary
was. What is known is that the Church of God movement that had affirmed Tomlinson’s
divine appointment for life in 1914 was questioning his ability to lead in 1922. The year
prior the assembly had finally approved a constitution and now Tomlinson’s charismatic
leadership seemed woefully lacking.
At the 1922 annual assembly the controversy exploded as Tomlinson addressed
the delegates in highly emotional yet patronizing apology. He admitted that he had used
some money to pay debts for the church but that it would be recouped in the next year if
everyone would be patient and trust him. Then he remarked that “not one of you knows
what it is like to be the general overseer.” Many attendees wanted Tomlinson to step
down, most wanted their back-pay from the previous year while others were simply in
hopes of moving forward with the growth of the organization. Like the previous annual
assemblies, the business and worship were blended as women and men exercised
spiritual gifts such as prophecy and speaking in tongues within the business sessions. In
the session in which Tomlinson apologized for his mismanagement an attendee Jesse
P. Hughes stood and said that he felt divinely led to forgive Tomlinson. This led to an
emotional demonstration in which hundreds in attendance consoled the weeping
Tomlinson with hugs and handshakes. This infuriated those who adamantly wanted
Tomlinson out of leadership. In order to avoid other such outbursts, many of the
ministers held a separate session called the “committee on better government” and
“official assembly” in the church house of a local Cleveland congregation while the
assembly proper met in the auditorium. They used the constitutional bylaws to call such
a meeting and disallowed women and un-ordained men to attend these sessions. This
separate meeting moved to have an outside accountant do an audit of the Church of
God accounts that Tomlinson managed following the assembly. While in the assembly
Tomlinson in grand pageantry resigned and then in an inversion of public humility
reluctantly took back his office after the public forgiveness ceremony. The assembly
closed with a compromise decision of creating an “executive committee” in which
Tomlinson would serve with two other leaders that were to take care of the business
affairs of the church and Tomlinson would serve as a figurehead leader traveling,
preaching, and encouraging local ministries across the movement.
The compromise did not work. Tomlinson, and many of the Church of God
movement, believed he was divinely appointed to lead and should not have been
questioned. A question of Tomlinson’s leadership was a questioning of the Holy Spirit’s
ability to speak through Spirit filled bodies for these adherents. So in 1923, following the
1922 assembly, Tomlinson refused to cooperate with the accountant hired to audit the
books he also began to denounce the authority of those that had been appointed to the
“executive committee.” Eventually he denounced this committee and the constitutional
government as heresy and in an act of creative restorationism declared that he would
leave to restore the Church of God. Tomlinson’s split in actuality happened after he had
been officially removed from office by a quorum of ministers called together for an
emergency meeting in June of 1923. By the end of 1923 there were two Church of God
groups and Tomlinson had been expelled from the larger group. The larger group
retained the Auditorium and Printing Plant property and claimed to be a continuation of
the original group.
The lived reality of this split took on two different forms as the national and
international members of the Church of God movement received warlike notifications
from both sides. Local congregations from as near as South Cleveland, Tennessee to as
far as Nassau, Bahamas split over allegiance or departure from Tomlinson’s leadership.
Tomlinson began a new publication and named it the “White Wing Messenger.” This was
often a secondary term for the Church of God’s continued periodical the “Church of God
Evangel” and many that received it confused the first few editions for the original paper.
The Church of God outside of Cleveland struggled to choose sides and discern which
side was truly the Church of God. Back in Cleveland the publishing plant, which also
housed Tomlinson’s previous office, was located at 2524 Gaut Street and his home was
at 2525 Gaut Street. The two factions forged onward less than one hundred feet away
from each other separated only by a gravel road.147 By 1924 Tomlinson had retained
close to 30 percent of the national members but claimed larger numbers in his
periodical. The audit of Tomlinson’s books had been incomplete but the leaders of the
Church of God that retained the constitution, the auditorium, the publishing plant and the
debt that Tomlinson had accrued took Tomlinson to court to sue for the remaining
39,000-dollar debt and propriety of the name Church of God. The resulting lawsuit was
not settled until 1927 and after several appeals lasting past the lifetime of A.J. Tomlinson
the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals upheld the ruling that finally had been articulated by
147 Church of God v. A.J. Tomlinson case 1891 Chancery Court, Cleveland, Tennessee (1924) Volume 5
Complainants Proof, Deposition of J.S. Lewellyn answer to question 126, “How far was the publishing house
from Tomlinson’s personal residence?” “Just across the street, I suppose it is 60 or 75 feet something like
the Tennessee Supreme court in 1952. In 1952 the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) now
existed and the followers of Tomlinson, then led by his son Milton A. Tomlinson, were
legally forced to change their name to the Church of God of Prophecy. Signs that read
Church of God World Headquarters in neon lights were removed from buildings under
direction and supervision of law enforcement, the biblical name Church of God outlawed
from Tomlinson’s followers’ public identity.
In 1953 both groups circulated memos created by their legal counsels to the
adherents of the Church of God (Cleveland) and Church of God of Prophecy.148 The
separation was complete a denomination was formed out of the former and the latter
sought to retain its restorationist outlook in its new name. Legal narratives were spread
but there was a lack of understandable narrative or “testimony” as Pentecostals might
say of who really was the Church of God (Cleveland). The denomination was new but
the history was now starting to mature. The executive committee, the same polity board
that orchestrated Tomlinson’s expulsion in 1923, recruited one of their denomination’s
rising minister’s who had noted journalistic talents to write a new denominational history.
Charles W. Conn was given one year to write a history and return with a text to be
approved and published.
II. Prior Histories of the Church of God
Charles William Conn was not the first author of a written history about the
Church of God movement. But he was the first denominational historian within the
148“Final Decree” tract distributed in 1953 by Church of God Cleveland; Memorandum to Church of God of
Prophecy 5/5/52 By Daniel Duke, Attorney,” two page memo describing the legal reality and requirement of
the final legal proceedings. Accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center,
movement. And as this chapter argues it was largely in part to his history that the
Church of God (Cleveland) became known as a form of white Protestantism. Prior to
Conn the earliest extant history of the movement is found in a 1897 manuscript written
by R.G. Spurling. Spurling the Baptist minister and founder of the Christian Union
referenced his founding of a Christian Union in this document. Outside of these 22
pages of ledger paper with handwritten discourse, there remained mixed oral histories
until 1913 when A.J. Tomlinson published his book The Last Great Conflict. Tomlinson’s
narrative, based off an oral interview of R.G. Spurling and W.F. Bryant, mentioned in two
short chapters the 1886 Christian Union, the 1896 Shearer School house revival, the
1902 founding of the Holiness Church at Camp Creek, and the annual assemblies
beginning in 1906.
Tomlinson’s history provides the reader with a foil of form and identity to Conn’s
1955 history. Tomlinson’s history was a restorationist narrative it did not begin with the
founding of a denomination but rather raptured the reader into the swift current of broken
time. Tomlinson’s current as a restorationist was also an end, he immersed the reader,
as his title indicated, into The Last Great Conflict. The world was turning and the earth
was near its end, Jesus was quick to return and the true Christian, according to
Tomlinson was waging a war in the final dispensation of truth. As the “cylinder” of time
revolved so the beginning of God’s church had now been reinstated and the Church of
God must come into its own.149 It was in this breaking of time that the church was
149 Tomlinson, The Last Great Conflict, 114.
reconstituted and all people were transformed beyond their race, class, and gender
through Spirit-filled bodies to “advance with the full equipment of Pentecost.”150
Tomlinson’s short book, printed on Walter Rodgers’ local newspaper press in
1913 in Cleveland, Tennessee, was a historical transfiguration, not a denominational
history. He did not see himself as the leader of a fledging Pentecostal remnant that
would soon be known as one of the largest classical North American forms of
Pentecostalism. Tomlinson took nineteen of his 22 chapters and 183 pages of
restorationism before he narrated a “Brief History of the Church That is Now Recognized
as the Church of God.” Tomlinson’s effort to foreground the short history of diverse
movements, revivals, churches and leaders during a period of 27 years was more than
pragmatic, it was creative.151 Looking empathtetically one can see this creative act was
a religious reorientation of time itself to fit the momentous occasion of what chronology
only held as less than three decades. It is important to note in this transformation of time,
Tomlinson was aware of chronological predecessors of Pentecostal, Holiness,
Wesleyan, and Lutheran Reformations even some writings of the Ante-Nicene fathers.
But his work was not an attempt at Protestant approval but rather a rejection of
Protestantism as fallen. In an act of “cosmization” Tomlinson built a world by
remembering to forget the order in which it was given to him chronologically and in turn
150 Ibid., 15.
151 Deborah V. McCauley also concurs on this idea of cooperative and mix of multiple independent holiness
groups and rightfully illustrates that Spurling never moves to Cleveland and his family never joins the
movement. McCauley, Appalachian Mountain Religion, 277. See also Author’s oral History (October 2010)
Marie Spurling Crook. This is also further substantiated by the recent recovery of the minutes of another
Christian Union in Piney Grove, Tennessee that were held by the Original Church of God, a group that
departed from Tomlinson in 1914 with Sam C. Perry in Chattanooga and Florida and was also accompanied
by R.G. Spurling. See: Phillips, Quest to Restore God’s House, 427-37.
constructing a new world and time.152 Tomlinson’s text is important because it allows the
reader to see that the placement of Pentecostals outside of Protestantism was not
merely an external action of the social religious elites in the United States, but also a
creative act internal to Pentecostalism’s restorationist practices.
After the 1923 Tomlinson split, M.S. Lemons, another prominent male minister
ordained with Tomlinson in 1903 at the Holiness Church at Camp Creek, produced a
history. Lemons’ history was co-written with W.F. Bryant around 1937 and exists as an
unedited and unpublished typescript document. Lemons’ provided a theological view of
the church that rooted its beginning in the 1902 founding of the Holiness Church at
Camp Creek by R.G. Spurling and Frank Porter in the home of W.F. and Nettie
Bryant.153 It is likely that this typed document was compiled by Lemons as a resource for
Ernest L. (E.L.) Simmons.154
In 1938 E.L. Simmons published a hardcopy book History of the Church of God
with 156 pages that provided a pictorial arrangement and description of the ministries
and auxiliaries in fledgling organization. Simmons called the Church of God a
152 Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York: Anchor
Books, 1990), 27. Think here also of Mircea Eliade’s cosmogenesis and illo tempore and how it plays out in
American religious historian Jan Shipps’ history of Mormonism. Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane; and
Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press,
1985). The Last Great Conflict, 103-105 Tomlinson mentions Luther, Wesley, Finney, and Seymour as
participating in the same culminating Church of God that he sees leading the last great conflict of the ages.
Also key to this analysis is a discussion along the lines of collective memory and historic past-making See:
Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston, MA: Beacon Press,
1995); Yael Zerubavel, Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition
(Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1995); and Beth S. Wenger, History Lessons: The Creation of
American Jewish Heritage (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).
153 Lemons, History of the Church of God, 4-5
154 W.F. Bryant likely did not compose a history because he was semi-literate late in life and would not have
been able to compose one on his own. He mentioned his illiteracy in an oral history with H.L. Chesser. H.L.
Chesser interview of W.F. Bryant.
“denomination” and rooted the history in 1886 narrative that Tomlinson had provided in
his 1913 Last Great Conflict. His early history of 1886 to 1906 is almost verbatim from
Tomlinson’s text. Despite Lemons’ and Bryant’s history text in 1937, Simmons decided
to side with the text of Tomlinson. Simmons had joined the Church of God movement in
1913 in Tampa, Florida and had firsthand witnessed the Tomlinson split his history
provided the first glimpse at institutional identity after Tomlinson’s expulsion. Simmons’s
history appears as an attempt at denominational history but primarily in the form of a
yearbook-like pictorial history of the diverse departments of the organization. There is
no preference given to chronology, nor restorationist theology in the outline and structure
of the book. In 1938 when these books were sold large portions of the denomination
were still illiterate or semi literate and the books became treasured pictorial histories and
descriptions of the movement. Many copies exist today as heirlooms of generational
Church of God families.155
III. Charles Conn and his Like a Mighty Army
In October 21, 1939 Simmons, the author of the 1938 history, was appointed
editor of Church of God publishing. In 1939 he invited a young student at the Church of
God (BTS) Bible Training Institute to write a column for the weekly periodical entitled
“BTS Echoes.” The nineteen-year-old “student reporter” named Charles Conn caught
the attention of readers with his colorful exposes of the spiritual life and enthusiasm at
BTS from December 1939 to April 1940. Conn edited the column as the “BTS reporter”
and wrote most of the weekly reports. The diction, prose, and journalistic voice of Conn
155 In the research for this dissertation, one informant impressed with the author’s work literally willed his
copy of Simmons’ 1938 text to him in his last will and testament. Interview of George Voorhis by Andrew
Hudson, July 2013 Charlotte, North Carolina.
made his column stand out and even today is noticeably different in register than the
other articles in the Church of God Evangel. Conn’s articles took the form of journalism
while the previous authors, and his contemporaries, in the Church of God Evangel had
primarily provided writing in the genre sermons and field reports. Conn’s writing blurred
fiction and basic facts to provide an entertaining glimpse at life lived on the Sevierville,
Tennessee BTS campus that made Holiness Pentecostal life sound fun. Conn revealed
that the students might join in a “harmless sport, such as sleighing, hiking, or hunting”
but whatever would be done was done “in reverence to Christ…”
156 Here even in Conn’s
first published piece one can read the beginnings of altering the rigid and insulated lives
of Holiness Pentecostals in the Church of God. First generation Church of God leaders
would have prohibited participation in sports as sinful but Conn was able to paint them
as sincere and reverent to God. It was this creative writing that allowed Conn to begin to
bridge the Church of God into the broader world. Conn’s column ended abruptly like his
education, as he left BTS after one year without a certificate beginning pastorates in
Missouri in 1941. But Conn’s writing abilities were remembered by leaders in Cleveland
and in 1946 he joined the editing staff in Cleveland and in 1948 Charles Conn became
the editor of the Church of God Cleveland’s youth magazine “The Lighted Pathway.”157
Conn’s visibility in the Church of God was rapid as he joined the movement in
1939, began BTS that same year while getting married to Edna Louise Minor a BTS
student from Alabama and then launched into local church ministry in Missouri in 1941.
Conn’s writing style and abilities exhibited in the minds of Church of God readers an
156 Charles Conn, “Bible School Echoes” Church of God Evangel 30:42 (December 23, 1939): 11.
157 “Editorial Staff” Church of God Evangel 36:44 (January 12, 1946): 4. See also short biography by Conn’s
son and grandson: “Charles W. Conn: A Life” in Like a Mighty Army Tribute Edition (Cleveland, TN: Pathway
Press, 2010), xviii-xxix.
aesthetic of middle class educated clergy.158 In reality Conn, who would later be
remembered as Dr. Charles Conn, was never formally educated beyond a sophomore
year in high school and less than a full year at BTS. Conn was an avid reader and was
a self-taught writer. By Conn’s testament his family was not religious during his
upbringing. His father Albert was an electrician and machinist for the railroad and his
mother Rosa Belle was a housewife raising six children. Neither of Conn’s parents had
the opportunity for more than a second grade education but both were literate. His father
had steady employment but they did not own their home. Growing up in the rural town of
Riverside in Fulton County, Georgia near Atlanta, Conn’s family setting of a working
class white family situated him slightly above average to his peers in the Church of God.
Conn was self taught in many ways but had the benefit of two years of high school.159
Born in 1920, Conn was nineteen when he joined the Church of God in 1939. The
Church of God was predominately a poor and working class movement when Conn
joined but his visions for the movement were great. His talents to write and lead were
promoted quickly. In an era when the Church of God was becoming literate, the role that
Charles Conn’s written voice held cannot be underestimated.
The Church of God that Conn joined in 1939 was very much a different entity
than the Church of God movement that Rebecca Barr and Clyde Cotton had led with
A.J. Tomlinson in 1909. Whereas these early leaders had embodied a restorationism in
Spirit filled bodies that disregarded social norms for race, gender, and class, the Church
that Conn joined was rebuilding after their legal success. The Church of God (Cleveland)
158 Conn and Conn, “Charles W. Conn: A Life,” xviii.
159 United States Census 1930, Georgia, Fulton County, Collins “Charles W. Conn;” United States Census
1940, Georgia, Fulton County, Chattahoochee-Bolton “Riverside” sheet 32b “Charles Conn” Census records
accessed online March 25, 2019 via [www.ancestrylibrary.com].
successfully retained property and congregations but they were looking for a collective
identity that resided beyond the voice, writing, and person of A.J. Tomlinson.
Tomlinson’s writings in the Church of God Evangel and his editing of its content had
created a prolific maintenance of the movement’s identity. With Tomlinson removed,
there was a void that required more than a new general overseer. The Church of God
was searching for a new identity. Conn’s knowledge of the early movement and the 1923
split was completely second-hand and the Church of God (Cleveland) that he entered
was a Holiness Pentecostal band in transition to a nascent denomination.
In 1938 E.L. Simmons had written a history as one of the younger first generation
leaders who had participated in the 1923 expulsion of Tomlinson. His text provided a
material book and narrative that first generation Church of God members and their
children could point to as a history. But to outsiders and new members such as Conn
the text and the institution it indicated was lacking in direction and identity. So in 1949
when E.L. Simmons set to write a second edition of his history, Church leaders who read
the galley proofs decided not to publish it and table the history book project. But in 1952
as the Church of God (Cleveland) finally had proved themselves as the legal and “bone
fide” Church of God the need for a history led the new denomination’s leadership to
solicit Charles Conn, then the editor of the publishing house to write a new history.
Like a Mighty Army Moves the Church of God
Charles Conn’s 1955 history of the Church of God, Like a Mighty Army Moves
the Church of God fulfilled the need for a denominational history but more than that it
provided the Church of God (Cleveland) a new identity. Conn’s history presented the
Church of God as a branch of white Protestantism. The text gave an outward
presentation of the new denomination not as new but as chronologically mature with a
beginning in 1886. Conn’s ability to use word pictures and colorful prose, just like in his
1939 BTS column, blurred fiction and reality and forged forward with a mythic identity of
the Church of God. William Cannon’s foreword, which opened up this chapter, solidified
the accomplishment of Conn’s history as a new narrative of identity. Previously E.L.
Simmons had written a foreword for the book so as to let the Church of God faithful
realize that Conn’s work was in line with his 1938 history, but instead Conn solicited
Cannon’s commendation and then lobbied to have it replace Simmons’ foreword. The
function of the history was accomplished in many ways before the reader had finished
the foreword. Instead of a Spirit filled body fulfilling the restoration theology of the
Church of God in transformative acts that were socially marginalized like speaking in
tongues, Conn provided a chronological narrative that situated the Church of God at the
leading edge of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestantism. Church of God readers
did not know who William Cannon was. As a Methodist professor and dean of a
seminary he embodied much of what first generation Church of God leaders sought to
counter: professionalized ministry and socially established Protestantism. But for Conn,
Cannon’s words were historical proof that the tide had changed for the Church of God.160
Conn’s colorful prose had entertained the Protestant ears of Cannon and changed the
160 As late as 1986 Conn was still alluding to Cannon’s foreword to provide an anchor and direction for the
Church of God’s identity. “The Dimensions in Leadership” Audio recording of Charles W. Conn (1986)
accessed March 29, 2019 online via [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKFz4UOj0FY]. It is likely that
William Cannon had empathy on the young 34 year old author as Conn’s position was similar to the one
Cannon had occupied earlier in life. Cannon’s first book on John Wesley was the book form of a PhD
dissertation that he wrote at Yale. When Cannon studied at Yale he was told that Methodism was without
theologian and he had to advocate for writing of Wesley and Methodism as a proper American Protestant
body in the eyes of the Yale faculty. Cannon’s scholarship, ecumenism, and episcopacy in Methodism likely
wrought empathy toward the young Conn and the Church of God he presented to Cannon in his 1954 book
draft. For more on Cannon see his autobiography: William R. Cannon, A Magnificent Obsession (Nashville,
TN: Abingdon Press, 1999). Conn, nor Like a Mighty Army is mentioned in the book.
form and historical identity of the Church of God into something that Cannon was able
to, with slight reservations, call a “legitimate branch of Protestantism.”161
Cannon’s commendation of the text alludes also to the question of form. Just as
earlier focus of this dissertation has focused on the form of Pentecostal theology as
Spirit filled bodies that changed the form of identity and practiced religious beliefs, so too
this analysis of Conn’s history will pay attention to form. Notably the literary form of
Conn’s history and the mythic form of the early Church of God founders. Conn’s history
was explicitly modeled off the consensus histories of Allan Nevins.162 Prior to Conn’s
history Simmons’ 1938 history and its revision had been approved easily for publication
due its yearbook-like format that was structured in sections of different departments or
ministries of the Church of God. The reader could simply go to the table of contents in
the book find their favored segment of the movement e.g., “auxiliaries” or “Colored
Work.” Once arriving to their chapter they found ample photographs and discussion of
their individual segment’s history. Simmons did provide a brief overview of the Church of
God beginnings but copied basically verbatim the earlier text from A.J. Tomlinson’s 1913
The Last Great Conflict.
Conn’s consensus history was a form that sought to place the Church of God not
within a restorationist disruption of time in which Spirit filled bodies broke into a new
161 Cannon, “Foreword” in Like a Mighty Army. Cannon qualified his commendation by saying “Whether we
agree with the peculiar doctrine he embraces or not, we must admit that he deserves our recognition” One
can imagine that Cannon likely saw his statement as an act of radical ecumenism that sought to broaden
Protestantism or a reluctant endorsement of historical accommodation of Protestant norms and identity.
Originally E.L. Simmons had written a foreword for Conn’s history but with Conn lobbied to have Cannon’s
commendation used. See: E.L. Simmons “Foreword.” Handwritten manuscript with edits and annotations
accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
162 In the first footnote of the book Conn cites Allan Nevins’ Introduction to The World of History (New York:
Society of American Historians, Inc., 1954), vii. This is an introductory essay on the topic of history from a
popular home library paperback series.
identity. Instead, Conn’s history placed the denomination into the chronological timeline
of Protestantism and was structured in the same way. The departmental or yearbook
style of Simmons’ text had allowed Church of God members to pick and choose without
paying attention to larger context of the history. This was similar to the ways in which
semi-literate and illiterate Pentecostals embodied the text in the practice of testimony in
which their bodily enactment of texts such as the Acts 2 Pentecost narrative.163 In this
way of reading Church of God members did not indulge in the first century timeline in
which the Acts narrative was set chronologically but instead enacted these texts in their
lived religion of Spirit filled bodies. Conn’s historiography was a complete departure
from this hermeneutic and form of history. Conn was convinced that what the new
denomination needed following the 1952 court case was not just a longer version of the
1938 history but instead a whole a new identity and this required a new form of history.
But in making this decision Conn had to justify his decision. This form of history was
outwardly focused in its composition and needed to be explained to the denominational
leaders. Whereas Conn saw himself providing a proper history in line with Alan Nevins’
proscription for footnotes and references, Church of God leaders were confused by a
“jigsaw puzzle” of words at the bottom of the page.164 Even Conn’s title was a departure.
For Conn the content made self evident that it was a history of the Church of God and
legally the Church of God (Cleveland) had won the name what they needed was a story.
163 This type of biblical interpretation has been criticized by Protestant biblical studies as “proof texting” or
pulling texts out of their narrative and historical context. What has been flattened in these criticisms is the
embodied lived religion of Spirit filled bodies that enacted the text in their embodied experience of everyday
life. See: Fee, “Why Pentecostals Read Their Bibles Poorly and Some Suggested Cures,” 7. C.f., Cheryl B.
Johns, Pentecostal Formation: A Pedagogy among the Oppressed, 86; Roger Stronstad, “Pentecostal
Hermeneutics,” Pneuma 15:2 (Fall 1993): 215-22.
164 H.L. Chesser wrote to Conn after reading the text that he supposed “the jig saw puzzle of foot notes”
were important but secondary to text being “alive” and readable. H.L. Chesser to Charles W. Conn, February
8, 1955. Typed correspondence accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center,
Like a Mighty Army was chosen by Conn, the words to the second verse of the classic
Protestant hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
On December 28, 1954 with submission of the galley proofs of his history Conn
wrote to his denominational superiors:
After nearly two years I have finally finished writing the history of the Church of God—titled Like a
Mighty Army. I still have to write the introduction and preface. Even this probably will be finished by
the first of the year.
You will be please to know that Dr. William R. Cannon, Dean of Emory University School of
Religion, Professor of Church History, author of the Theology of John Wesley and The Redeemer,
the outstanding church historian among conservative circles, has agreed to write the foreword to
the book. This should give it wide acceptance as an authentic piece of church history.
…You will observe that the footnotes, with which the entire book is documented are placed on the
page where the reference is needed. Several college instructors have examined the manuscript
and have expressed their belief that the work is properly arranged for acceptance everywhere.
Perhaps a careful examination of the bibliography will reveal to you the vast amount of research
that has gone into the writing. With the exception of one or two encyclopedias, the works
mentioned in the bibliography have been thoroughly searched for what light they might cast on our
Conn’s history was published on time to be sold and promoted in Summer 1955
campmeeting and state convention season. After continued correspondence, Conn was
able to keep his footnotes and form of history by providing an exhaustive index with
names and ministries listed and a series of appendices that included the growth of
membership and number of churches. He was also able to keep his title but with the
addition of “moves the Church of God.” The book provided Conn the space to use his
colorful fictional style of prose to weave a mythic center to a story and move the Church
of God from the form of Spirit filled bodies to a denominational branch of white
165 Charles W. Conn type-written letter to E.M. Ellis. December 28, 1954. Charles Conn Collection Box 243,
Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
Protestantism. Conn’s narrative became not only the official history of the denomination
it became the measuring reed for any other historical narratives that would follow.166
Conn was careful to organize his book in a way that would appear “academic.”
His overt intentionality to call attention to this form of history is a latent call to its foil in
the earlier history texts concerning the Church of God. He used footnotes, followed a
chronological ordering of events (instead of departments, theological/doctrinal themes)
and made sure to explicitly apologize for this action to his internal Church of God
readers. This action of apology indicates the actual foreignness and novelty of Conn’s
work to the fledgling denomination he sought to guide into Protestantism. “Facts” would
guide the content of this work, Conn assured his readers. “Even the portions that might
at first glance appear to be nothing more than imaginative color or background are in
reality authenticated facts.”167 Following the impulse to provide footnotes quoting the
popular American consensus historian Allan Nevins’ advice and in response to the
critiques of the intermediary history written in 1938 by Ernest L. Simmons and his failed
attempt at being published again in 1948, Conn labeled his history as an academic
treatment of Church History. Conn’s text would use a linear chronology to present a
denomination rather than a pictorial guide to the different practices and works of the
group. By omitting any photographs from the book, Conn’s readers both inside and
outside the church are left to imagine the lived reality of the novel-like prose that Conn
166 In this way, Conn’s text ended a plentiful line of historical narratives written about the Church of God.
There would be other accounts written but all of the other texts would be either in reference to Conn’s
description of the Church of God or in contrast, by other denominations of the Church of God. In this way
Conn’s text set the “fictive.” See: Wolfgang Iser, The Fictive and Imaginary: Chartin Literary Anthropology
(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 1-21.
167 Conn, Like a Mighty Army, xi.
IV. New myth of identity:
In contrast to Tomlinson’s The Last Great Conflict, which earlier in 1913
creatively rejected Protestantism, Conn eagerly accepted the placement of the Church of
God within the norm of Protestant religion in order to demonstrate that it had moved
beyond their original placement of “sect.” In doing so Conn sought to show that the
Church of God was fulfilling an evangelical role of converting and growing Protestantism
while the intellectuals battled over Fundamentalism and Modernism. He saw the Church
of God as a reform to Protestantism but as his title “Like a Mighty Army,” the opening
lines to the second verse of the classic Protestant Christian hymn “Onward Christian
Soldiers” implied, merely the next verse in Protestant religion. Conn used linear
chronology to both accept and distance himself from the Protesant characterization of
the Church of God as a fringe sect.
Conn, unlike early Pentecostals did not seek to transform place, space, and time.
Instead his narrative sought to present Pentecostalism as a continuation of the
established historical arc of American Protestantism. Instead of placing all of Christian
religion into a spectral revolution around the conflict the Church of God instantiated as
Tomlinson had done, Conn looked to the Protestants to provide placement and origins
for the Church of God. As a denomination instead of a group of Spirit filled bodies
enacting restoration, the Church of God was for Conn part of the Protestant narrative not
a creative departure of Protestantism. In particular, Conn foregrounded his history of the
Church of God by using a quote and reference from Elmer T. Clark’s The Small Sects in
America168 as a way to foreground the Church of God not as the central restoration and
thus the center of Christianity as Tomlinson had done, but rather as the chronological
forbearer and thus founder of Pentecostalism. For Conn the linear chronological
spectrum of Clark’s work was the pay off for the utter disrespect and dehumanization
that Clark levels at Pentecostals like Conn. Clark saw “sect” as a neutral term but it is
hard today for the historian to see Clark’s description of Pentecostalism as “a familiar
psychological process [in which] the starved emotional natures of people less cultured
escape rational control and run to extremes” as neutral.169 Clark’s analysis reveals the
continued academic meaning of “primitive” that has been applied to the Church of God
and other Pentecostal groups. The historic application of primitive was not
restorationism but rather Protestantized social deprivation theory. This psychological
implementation of deprivation theory becomes even more important when the historian
realizes that Conn’s use of “primitive” to describe the early Church of God was not
quoting a restorationist theological text but a Protestant-ized psychological analysis. In
Clark’s analysis the Church of God had been “other” than the normative white Protestant
Christianity, something to be studied ethnographically rather than to be written about
historically. Conn dealt with this “primitive” sect characterization by situating it in the
168 See Conn’s rough draft and subsequent editions Like a Mighty Army, 7. “Rough draft of Like a Mighty
Army” handwritten manuscript accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal Research Center,
Cleveland, Tennessee; and Clark, The Small Sects in America.
169 Clark, The Small Sects of America, 85; He also qualifies his descriptions by relating that these are
predominately people from the “lower ranks of culture” showing that his understanding of class is both
economic and aesthetic (Clark, 94 note 38). On the broadening of class to include aesthetics and material
wealth in order think broader than just Marxism see: McCloud, Divine Hierarchies, 10. Conn diplomatically
relays “Although Clark is not always accurate on the Pentecostal movement and seems to be unsympathetic
toward it, his further remarks here are of interest.” Conn, Like a Mighty Army, 7 footnote 8. The double irony
of this historiography is that Clark’s source for his history of the Church of God is A.J. Tomlinson’s son and
the founder of another Church of God denomination as well as a later theocratic run for US presidency in
1964 and 1966, Homer Tomlinson. Clark, Small Sects, 102 footnote 51.
past. Instead of breaking time, Conn sought to use it chronologically to evolve the
Church of God.
In addition to the footnotes and chronological ordering of the Church of God
through consensus history, Conn also applied his colorful prose. Using his prose Conn
was able to weave into the narrative a new myth of origin for the Church of God. Notably
Conn inserted the racial myth of Appalachia as home to “isolated whites” the “long lost
Anglo Saxons” untouched by time. Instead of seeing this social location as an external
project and perception of the people of Appalachia as pathologically not-white and notProtestant, Conn was able to spin this Protestant narrative placement into an origin of a
white Protestant Pentecostal denomination. In this way the form of the Church of God
became a religious construction whereby Conn constructed not a new identity of Spirit
filled bodies but instead a normalized white Protestant denomination.
Thinking critically with Conn’s text one is able to observe the sacred mythic
construction of a new racial and religious identity for the Church of God. Whereas the
early Church of God had broken time with their restorationist identities of Spirit filled
bodies, Conn accepted time as a means to an end. That end being a “legitimate branch
of Protestantism.” In order to become Protestant Conn needed to foreground the
denomination racially as well. The speaking in tongues, divine healing, and embodied
lived religion that blurred racial, gender, and class lines were not only liturgically other to
the staid Protestant churches of America, they were challenges to their unspoken racial
normativity. In this way the Church of God had indirectly revealed race as a
phenomological reality that their phenotype could not alone constitute. Their lived
religion of Spirit filled bodies alongwith the aesthetic reality of their worship among poor
whites was not white. Understanding race as a practiced construction of social reality
helps with understanding the creative, and very un-pragmatic, acts of early Pentecostals
such as A.J. Tomlinson who not only disregarded Jim Crow laws for interracial worship
services but also remythed personhood through a praxis-substantiated and embodied
religion of Pentecostalism. Early Pentecostals reoriented their worlds not only through
the reordering of time as seen above in Tomlinson’s text but also reoriented the fabric of
social order through Spirit-filled bodies enacting Apostolic Christianity 2000 years
chronologically later yet spatially simultaneous through human-divine interaction.
American Protestant history provided Conn with a mythic loophole to this
previous location of the Church of God outside the bounds of whiteness. Protestants
had themselves sought to missionize and reidentify the poor whites of Appalachia and in
doing so had forged a myth of whiteness and pathology. The poor whites of Appalachia
had been phenotypically similar to white Protestants, but their lived reality created
problems for the latent ideas of white superiority through wealth, intellect, and staid
bodily religion. Protestants had rationalized their othering of these phenotypically white
people by identifying white Appalachians as primitive ancestors. Ignoring linear time by
seeing them as others, Appalachian whites like many of the early Church of God
adherents were viewed as long lost Anglo Saxon ancestors. Conn’s history tapped into
this racial mythology in order to change the lived-myth or lived religion identity of the
Church of God. Instead of beginning with the restoration of space, place, and time
through Spirit filled bodies, Conn’s narrative began with the myth of Appalachian
Life in this remote region was rugged and toilsome during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Along the mountainous slopes and narrow, twisting valleys farmers eked a frugal living from the
soil…coarse but durable apparel worn by these plain folk of the hills, with the exception of a rare
‘Sunday dress’ or suit, was homespun from the wool of sheep that grazed along the rocky
hillsides…. The country was sparsely settled, and the communities were scattered, yet the
inhabitants were happy in their rustic lives because they were of hardy stock. Of all regions of the
land, this seemed most inauspicious and least likely to produce men or incidents of moment; yet, it
was here that the Church of God was born.170
What at first may appear to the reader of Conn’s history as paperback fiction prose,
placed into the context of the project of creating a new identity for the Church of God
reveals a myth of Appalachian whiteness. Henry Shapiro an Appalachia studies theorist
has written extensively on this supposed isolation that Conn highlighted. Shapiro
pointed out clearly that the idea of “isolated whites” created the perfect scenario of
distance that suspended time. By living in a remote mountainous location one might be
able to see contemporary white people of Appalachia as their long lost ancestors.171
Instead of dysfunctional, inappropriate, and aesthetically culturally other than white
Protestants, they became the chronologically suspended proto- or primitive whites.
Protestant missionaries of the 19th century would level these primitive whites as in need
of redemption and outside the fold of Protestantism. But they also tiered them slightly
above the visions of primitivism they mapped upon the black bodies of southern freed
So as Conn slid in what at first seems to be local color writing about Appalachia,
he also preferred a new myth of race for the Church of God. Discarding the spirit-filledbody lived-myth or lived religion of the early Church of God that transgressed the social
constructions of race in the United States, Conn rooted his history, and the Church of
God’s historical identity, in the hearty myth of white isolation. By placing the Church of
170 Conn, Like a Mighty Army, 4-5.
171 Shapiro, Appalachia on Our Mind, 61, 77, 80.
God in this imagined isolation Conn was not only misrepresenting the historic reality of
social location of the first congregation in 1886 and the early Holiness networks, he also
placed them outside the reaches of Pentecostal experimentation. Instead of a lived
religion of Spirit filled bodies radically challenging Protestant norms of religion Conn
presented the early Church of God as humble, isolated, and safely Protestant and even
historically familiar to the ancestors of Protestants. In Conn’s origin narrative of the
Church of God one can see the groundwork for Max Weber’s institutionalization and
eventually by the mid-20th century a protestant comrade. At work in this narrative was
not only social respectability but a complete transformation of identity. In 1952 the
Tennessee Supreme Court had awarded Church of God (Cleveland) propriety of the
name Church of God not because of their “spiritual” restorationism but because of their
Protestant “institutional” structures and in 1955 Conn’s history gave this new
denomination a white Protestant myth to match their legally recognized white Protestant
Intricately woven within this construction of Protestant identity in Conn’s history is
a construction of whiteness. An assumed race without name, a place of prominence
without explanation, these were to be gained if Conn could paint the picture just right.
Judith Weisenfeld’s concept of “religioracial communities” gives a comparative
framework for tracking Conn’s race-constructing. Understanding the power of
classification and the external forces of definition that were placed upon them by
172 In his opinion Chief Justice Neil identified the Church of God as prior to the case an “unincorporated
religious society” in the eyes of the law. When Church of God (Cleveland) won the case in 1952 Neil judged
them to be “the true and original Church of God, and as such is exclusively entitled to the name and
properties of said church and is entitled to the aid of the courts in procuring and protecting the same” C.J.
Neil Opinion in 29 Beeler 583 Supreme Court of Tennessee. CHURCH OF GOD et al. v. TOMLINSON
CHURCH OF GOD et al. March 7, 1952.
evaluations of their skin color, these religioracial communities constructed new
embodied beliefs in the forms of diverse classification. In short they created new myths
of race and altered the social trajectory of the individuals and group that had been
predetermined socially and historically in the United States under the construct and
consequences of the labels of race such as “negro.”
Conn’s protagonists are labeled as isolated white and therefore do not draw
attention to the Protestant reader as having color, much less race. Yet it is in this elision
that Conn’s construction parallels most closely Weisenfeld’s religioracial communities.173
Conn’s choice for a different racial myth, choosing the long lost Anglo Saxon over the
poor whites worshiping under and with black Holiness Christians, completely alters his
historical narrative and opens the door to whiteness and subsequently Protestantism.
Tongue-speaking, holy-rolling, and shouting, but white, lily white this was the origin
narrative that Conn gave his reader. If one looks closely at how Conn switched the
mythic identity narrative of early Pentecostals that reclassified humans not in races but
in spirit filled bodies for a clearly defined primitive white racial narrative in order to
become Protestant a larger claim can be made. Notably that in this particular historical
case whiteness as a social construction of race takes form in a religious sensibility:
Conn’s construction of a Pentecostal denominational identity rooted in a racial
myth of white Appalachia allowed him to construct a place for the Church of God as a
“legitimate branch of Protestantism” and outlined the constellation of religious practices
and necessity of being white in order to be Protestant in mid-20th century America.
173 Judith Weisenfeld, New World A-Coming, 5.
Namely, Conn’s choice of new racial myth, the erasure of women’s role as leaders in
authority over men, and his removal of visual history allowed him to engage in the
propositional act of denominational history writing. In the terms of Judith Weisenfeld,
Conn’s history writing act allowed Conn to ascribe to the “religioracial identity” of
whiteness for the Church of God and indirectly revealed American Protestantism as a
religioracial community that required an assimilation into the racial constructs of
whiteness in order to be a “legitimate” member.
In an act that spoke to the felt tensions in 1955 between Church of God
(Cleveland) and Church of God of Prophecy after the final court case, Conn decided to
distance the denomination from their step-sister organization through periodization.
Conn used Protestant linear chronology not only to create a narrative located in 1886 but
also sought to create an imaginary period of the “Tomlinson era” in which religious
practices deemed fanatical such as handling snakes or fire, or interracial worship and
leadership. When Conn referenced the “primitive” or strange beginnings of the sect
back in the mountains he could bracket those elements of the history as under the
misleadership of Tomlinson. By choosing to begin in 1886 he could predate Tomlinson’s
involvement in the group by seventeen years and reinterpret the 1896 Shearer
Schoolhouse Revival as a single incident that allowed the Church of God to predate
other Pentecostal groups. Conn was able to follow the trend of other white Pentecostal
historians during this era, such as Joseph Campbell of the Pentecostal Holiness Church
and Carl Brumback of the Assemblies of God,174 that decentered the African American
origins of the Pentecostal movement at the 1906 Los Angeles Azusa Street Revival. In a
simple footnote, Conn completely indirectly disregarded that Pentecostalism was an
African American initiated religion.175 Conn depicted the 1896 revival in a vague and
malleable Appalachian isolation. In this manner the Church of God went from a Holiness
group that joined the Pentecostal movement through the activity of Clyde Cotton, Flora
Bower, and A.J. Tomlinson in 1907-1908, to the founder of Pentecostalism ten years
prior to Azusa Street. More striking for this dissertation is that more than trying to
achieve the position of “first” and “founders of Pentecostalism” globally, Conn
perpetuated a myth of white Protestant founding for Pentecostals found in the Church of
Conn assuaged his readers that what they were witnessing in the history of the
Church of God was a white Protestant denomination. And lest one might critique that
these were people practicing an embodied identity of Spirit filled bodies inherited from a
“Negro congregation,” Conn creatively used linear time and reinterpreted the 1896
Shearer School House revival as precedent to Azusa Street.176 In this way Conn’s
174 Campbell, The Pentecostal Holiness Church 1898 to 1948; and Carl Brumback, Suddenly… From
Heaven: A History of the Assemblies of God (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1961).
175 Conn wrote “it should be noted that this [revival] happened in 1896—ten years before the outpouring of
the Holy Ghost in California in 1906, which is popularly regarded as the beginning of the modern
Pentecostal movement.” In the footnote on the same page he acknowledged “At the Azusa Street Mission in
Los Angeles, a former Methodist mission used by a Negro congregation, under the leadership of W.J.
Seymour. Numerous Pentecostal leaders, including some who became Church of God ministers and
missionaries, received their baptism in the revival at this mission.” Conn, Like a Mighty Army, 12.
176 Conn sought to use the 1886 to 1913 history narrative found in the 1922 edited volume of Church of
General Assembly Minutes to claim that people spoke in tongues at the 1896 event and therefore
constituted Pentecostalism. This disembodied identification of the act of speaking in tongues without the
social consequences that were instituted via Spirit filled bodies in Pentecostalism as initiated from the
interracial work of Azusa Street is a continual battle over white supremacy in Pentecostal historiography that
continues to code itself in doctrinal and historical theology as well as social history. Conn, Like a Mighty
Army, 5. For more on doctrine, disembodiment and white supremacy in Pentecostal historiography see:
readers with views like those of George P. Jackson, the ethnomusicologist discussed in
chapter one, would be able to discretely place any so-called “fanaticism” of
Pentecostalism in 1955 on the aberrant or contagion-like presence of the later 1906
Azusa Street Pentecostalism. In two sentences and a discrete footnote, Conn was able
to segregate in any black influence on the founding narrative of the Church of God. In
this way Conn absolved the racist contagion concerns of George P. Jackson, the
academic ethnomusicologist discussed in chapter one, who had seen the Church of God
as perverted by the black man playing a tambourine in a moment of lived religion. Like
Jackson’s attempt to distill the “true” white origins of Spirituals, and thus proving it to be
an organically American musical genre in its whiteness, Conn was able to identify the
Church of God as isolated, untouched and white in their founding. Jackson and the
nineteenth century Protestant missionaries that had sought out the conversion of
Appalachian “mountain whites,” were looking for historically ancient white
contemporaries, primitive ancestors who shared their skin but had been absolved from
the evolution of time, living time-capsules. Conn’s history of the early Church of God not
only employed these myths of whiteness in his description of the 1886 to 1906 founding
era, they also fulfilled them in linear progression of his 1955 denomination.
Whereas Protestant critics might have called the socially transgressive lived
religion of Spirit filled bodies in the early Church of God racially and religious tainted,
Conn was able to depict them as “primitive.” By using Elmer T. Clark’s Protestant
designation of the Church of God as “primitive,” Conn’s history was able to strategically
Leslie D. Callahan, “Redeemed or Destroyed: Re-Evaluating the Social Dimensions of Bodily Destiny in the
Thought of Charles Parham” Pneuma 28:2 (2006): 203-27; MacRobert, The Black Roots and White Racism
of Early Pentecostalism in the USA. C.f. James R. Goff, Fields White Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and
the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1988); and
Wacker, Heaven Below.
engage in a longer narrative of white identity. Yes, the early Church of God would not be
seen as white or Protestant in the day of Conn’s writing, but that was ok because they
were proto-white with Protestant ancestry. In Conn’s depiction the early Church of God
was not a lived religion of Spirit filled bodies where women, African American, and
Latinos would lead and build a burgeoning international religious movement. Instead in
Conn’s history of the early Church of God one finds “primitive” whites, long lost
ancestors who through a Protestant work ethic, and evolution beyond the charismatic
leader of A.J. Tomlinson were able to become white Protestant contemporaries by the
mid twentieth century. In 1954, while white Protestants in the United States were
anxiously confronting racial integration with the Brown v. Board Supreme Court Case
Conn was able to discretely draw not on the Supreme Court Case of Plessy v. Ferguson
from 1896 but instead an Appalachian school house revival of the same year to
chronologically firm up a white heritage and Protestant ancestry for the Church of God
denomination and identity that his Like a Mighty Army presented.
Focusing on 1903 to 1923 Conn’s history was able to outline a Tomlinson era
and thus show a prior Church of God and then a charismatic leader and then the Church
of God again.177 In this way Conn could bracket the activities of Spirit filled bodies that
177 This is most visible with activities such as Snake handling, handling fire, and drinking poison. These
were practices that were prescribed in Mark 16:17-18 in the New Testament along with speaking in tongues
as “signs that follow them that believe.” Conn labeled these practices as “rampant fanaticism” and claimed
that F.J. Lee and the leadership following Tomlinson “tactfully handled the matter” of these acts of “morbid
digression.” Conn, Like a Mighty Army, 191. In researching denominational archives the author of this
dissertation found that Conn had moved correspondence of F.J. Lee during his tenure as general overseer
that endorsed these as occasional acts of worship within the Church of God. Instead of being placed in
collections pertaining to F.J. Lee they were in an unlabeled folder in Conn’s personal papers. It is appears
that Conn hid these to maintain a historiography that matched the white Protestant image his narrative
sought to produce. The author of this dissertation kindly filed them in F.J. Lee Collection. Correspondence:
“You ask me some questions concerning our teaching…. Do your people handle snakes and fire? I will say
that this has been done very frequently and successfully. We have known of the most poisonous snakes
biting Spirit filled members without the least harm… We consider that handling serpents is one of the signs
mentioned. These things are occasionally manifested in the Church of God” in F.J. Lee to Rev. B.A. Hall,
Oklahoma City, OK July 2, 1926; and F.J. Lee to Jennie Crawford Box 55, Crestview, FL December 30,
substantiated the verification of the Pentecostal movement internally and externally proof
that Pentecostals were neither white nor Protestant. Through periodization Conn was
able to assure his outside readers that these abnormalities were a “primitive” season of
“morbid digression” and the Church of God much like Max Weber’s ideas of
“routinization” had developed beyond a charismatic leader to an institution.178 Conn’s
history looked backwards in 1955 for the white male successors of his contemporary
white male leadership. The denomination Conn painted was historically founded by
white men with some women such as Clyde Cotton only later in the history showing up
in a footnote. By doing this he used Tomlinson as a momentary digression and created
more distance from social abnormalities that Protestants had attached to
Pentecostalism. He also was able to internally direct Church of God (Cleveland) to see
themselves as essentially different in identity from the Church of God of Prophecy whom
they had legally overcome and segregated from themselves.
Much of this segregation from Tomlinson’s Church of God of Prophecy also took
place in the form of the history. While Conn was writing his denominational history, the
Church of God of Prophecy had been developing a robust visual and material history.
As Church of God (Cleveland) continued to defeat the Church of God of Prophecy
legally in propriety of the name and properties, the Church of God of Prophecy began to
buy mountain properties where the early history had happened. In addition to these
properties in Cherokee County, North Carolina, the Church of God of Prophecy began a
“Visual Department” to create motion pictures depicting their history and identity. This
1926. Typescript carbon copies of correspondence accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal
Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
178 Conn, Like a Mighty Army, 191. Weber, The Sociology of Religion, 2-4.
visual and material history will be explored more in the visual chapter of this dissertation.
But for the sake of this chapter it is important because it provided a foil for Conn’s
denominational history book. Envisioning the competing visual and material history of
the Church of God of Prophecy as at best inaccurate and at worst embarrassingly
fanatical, Conn and his peers sought to present the Church of God history in a different
form recognizeable to Protestants as factual. In particular in contrast to the earlier 1938
Simmons’ history and the Church of God of Prophecy Visual Department, Conn’s Like a
Mighty Army has no photographs. The only images that the reader is presented are
found on the title page an interpretative sketch of a pioneer like white male figure
depicting R.G. Spurling coming out of the silhouette of mountains with footprints moving
toward a picture of a world map. This vague picture much like Conn’s malleable history
of the early Church of God facilitated an interpretation of the Church of God as white
Protestants with an isolated white ancestry.
When one contrasts this image with the pictorial evidence of women leading the
Church of God prominently, such Maria de los Angeles Rivera Atkinson, who had
founded the Church of God in Mexico in 1932. Or with the image of five women
evangelists and W.F. Bryant preaching a tent revival circa 1910. The omission of these
images in Conn’s history was intentional, as indicated by the author’s discovery of these
dated photos in Conn’s materials for writing of Like a Mighty Army.
179 The form of Conn’s
history was important because it changed the form and identity of the Church of God.
Conn’s history not only changed the form to strictly written text, but also the form of a
179 See attached Appendix “Chapter 3 Photos.”
movement from Spirit filled bodies not bound by race, gender, or class to a discrete, yet
successful branch of white Protestantism.
Primitive Historiography: Pentecostals in American Religious History
“I do not want to be misunderstood… I refer to these denominations (i.e., Congregationalists, Baptists,
Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians) as ‘mainstream’ not to suggest that other Protestants are
inherently bizarre. Instead, the word refers specifically the efforts of these Protestants to create a
homogenous religious center that fostered cooperation and mutual sympathy for common endeavor and that
implicitly marginalized those reluctant or refusing to join.”
“If we choose out in a this way things which have altered little in a long course of centuries, we may draw a
picture where there shall be scarce a hand’s breadth difference between an English ploughman and a negro
of Central Africa.”
Edward B. Tylor180
At the heart of this chapter’s argument is that Pentecostals, and more specifically
white Pentecostals, were/are a problem for the project of American religious history and
required hiding, marginalizing, or ignoring at best and at worst a remedying as a
pathologized distortion of religion. When white Pentecostals such as the Church of God
founders performed their religion they were also performing race and class and in doing
so performing a pathological embodiment that had been identified as essentially black.
When church historians, social scientists, American historians, and then American
religious historians were confronted with white Pentecostals, they were thrown into a
larger confrontation with latent performances of American identity that presupposed the
aesthetics, performance, belief-structure, and immaterial metaphysics of Protestant
Christianity and whiteness. Yet finding or “discovering” phenotypically white people
performing race and class outside of this normative center of American Protestantism,
180 Darrel G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers,
2002), xxxii; Edward B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, Volume 1 “The Origins of Culture” (New York: Harper and
Row, 1958 ), 7.
academics did not see a religion but rather a problem. In turn, as this chapter highlights,
the approaches of these scholars reified the assumed race-class-matrix of performed
identities in religion and the writing of religious histories. In short seeing white women
and men act, worship, move their bodies, speak in what appeared to be jibberish, and
elevate women to leadership over men was not something that was a part of the
narrative of American religion but instead a challenge to both those conceptual
monikers: American and religion. Noting how race is something that is done in
performance in chapter four as Charles Conn employed white mythologies, this chapter
also acknowledges that race is something that is done to individuals and groups by
larger and outside entities. In particular the Church of God was raced as essentially
other and described in idioms reserved for people of color and historically placed upon
black religious institutions.
This chapter focuses on the placement of the Church of God and Pentecostalism
within the narrative of American religious history with a focus on the incorporation of
Holiness movement history and the roots of deprivation theory in Grant Wacker’s lens of
primitive/pragmatic. This chapter will look comparatively at the word “primitive” through
anthropology/history of religion and its use within American religious history to connote
social-class and racial characteristics to Pentecostals.
Pentecostals as Objects of Academic Research:
Throughout the twentieth century beginning with the watershed event of the
“Azusa Street Revival” in 1906 and moving forward until today Pentecostals, Pentecostal
churches, Pentecostalism, and more currently pentecostalisms have garnered academic
attention and study. In contrast to other Christians and Christian denominations,
particularly Protestants and Evangelical Protestants, to whom the Church of God
(Cleveland, TN) and other classical Pentecostal denominations have sought to be coidentified with, the study of Pentecostals and Pentecostalism began primarily as a topic
of psychological and sociological abnormality. Only in the last quarter of the twentieth
century did groups like the Church of God began to be studied as a form of Evangelical
Protestantism. In light of this historical trajectory of study an interdisciplinary approach is
needed in order to interpret the prior studies and reveal the strata of academic discourse
embedded in the seemingly benign, though backwards, portrayal of Pentecostals as
“primitive” and “pragmatic” by Grant Wacker and subsequent historians of American
religion in the twenty-first-century. In chronological precedent I will sample first the social
scientific study of Pentecostalism, second influential histories, and finally I will make
explicit the embedded and continual consequences of the objectification of Pentecostals
with reference to their racial import. This chapter is in no way exhaustive but instead
intended to highlight the most explicit and enduring texts that unveil the scaffolding of
this dialectic lens “primitive” and “pragmatic.”
The Church of God movement represents an early form of Pentecostalism in the
United States and therefore it is important to survey the historiography of Pentecostalism
generally in order to better understand the broader context of that particular group. The
historiography of Pentecostalism, like many religious histories, began both as selfmemorializing and external historians depicting the movement. Any brief research into
primary sources and recent academic histories relays the necessity to take serious, yet
critically contextualize, the denominational histories to reconstruct a social history of
these movements. As Laurie Maffly-Kipp has adamantly reminded historians church
history should not be disregarded as a key voice because when this particular form of
institutional history with its focus on the role of the divine is disregarded other variations
of it are indirectly affirmed.181
The history of Pentecostalism is continually debated and being rewritten.182 As a
restorationist movement this religion in its many proliferations has a vested self-interest
in continually approaching its history as a topic of sacred identity and theological
discourse. Yet as one of the fastest growing, and now largest, religious movements in
the world Pentecostal history has received abundant academic attention as well. These
two camps of historians are not completely separated by walls of churches and
universities as in the last 40 years a large number of Pentecostal historians have
obtained doctorates in Church History, Missiology, Theology and some in the secular
disciplines of US-American History, Religious Studies. This addition of Pentecostal
scholars has also created a blending of theologically driven church histories and
American history approaches that are invested in the application of social theories. In
light of these approaches many Pentecostals have published theologically driven
181 “If we believe that we can free ourselves of the constraints of institutional churches we may become less
attentive to the organizations that continue to exert control over our behaviors and even our patterns of
thought—as scholars and as human beings.” Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, “The Burdens of Church History” Church
History 82:2 (2013): 361; Setting Down the Sacred Past: African-American Race Histories (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2010).
182 This debate and struggle of Pentecostal scholars and scholars of Pentecostalism can be seen clearly in
Cornelis Van der Laan’s instructions to Pentecostal historians: “…Pentecostal historians must adapt to
academic standards if they want to communicate on that level. All writers must have their audiences in mind.
Writing a popular history for a Pentecostal periodical is quite different from writing a research article for a
scholarly journal. These are different worlds with different rules for communication. In scholarly writings the
researcher must maintain a critical distance from his subject and therefore should be very reluctant to
attribute activities directly to God. This is not so much a matter of objectivity versus subjectivity but rather
the use of different categories. Secular historiography simply does not have the appropriate tools to include
God.” Cornelis Van der Laan, “Historical Approaches.” in Studying Global Pentecostalism: Theories and
Methods, eds. Michael Bergunder, A. F. Droogers, Cornelis van der Laan, Cecil M. Robeck and Allan
Anderson (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010), 208. C.f., Orsi, Between Heaven and Earth.
For more on historiographical debates of Pentecostal histories see: Augustus Cerillo, “The Beginning of
American Pentecostalism: A Historiographical Overview.” in Pentecostal Currents in American
Protestantism, eds. Edith Blumhofer, Russell P. Spittler and Grant Wacker (Chicago, IL: University of Illinois
Press, 1999), 229-59; William Kay “Three Generations On: The Methodology of Pentecostal History.”
European Pentecostal Theological Association Bulletin 11:2 (1992): 58-70.
approaches to history that many academics have dismissed as merely theological
discourse while academic social and cultural historians of American religion have
produced many academic monographs that Pentecostals often elide as missing the
point. Of course it is into this argument that any person studying Pentecostalism must
emerge themselves in order to provide a competent understanding of the movement,
scholarship pertaining to the religious movement and how one must proceed in crafting
their own scholarship on Pentecostalism.
“Primitive” as a moniker for Pentecostals in American religion is not a purely
theological insider claim but a layered insertion of social deprivation in the labeling,
study, and marginalization of this religious movement and the people that made up this
movement. Instead of merely giving a literary review of the use of social deprivation
which has been done by others,183 this section will move in reverse historical order to
show the evolution of this idea and its continuation.
This chapter is seeking to make explicit that ironically and most notably the
continued use of social deprivation theory to marginalize and pathologize the religion of
Pentecostals is evident in one of the more recent social historical accounts of
Pentecostals: the work of Grant Wacker. Grant Wacker is possibly the most influential
and important voice in the history of American Pentecostalism due primarily to the
reception, dissemination, and authority that has been given his work. Much of the
renown of Wacker’s work is without denial as he has been prolific, detailed, and
183 Stephen J. Hunt, “Deprivation and Western Pentecostalism Revisited: The Case of ‘Classical’
Pentecostalism.” PentecoStudies 1:1 (2002): 1-32; “Deprivation and Western Pentecostalism Revisited:
Neo-Pentecostalism” PentecoStudies 1:2 (2002): 1-29.
empathetic to the religious movement. Wacker’s training at Harvard along with his
professorship at Duke allowed for him not only to be heard but also to continue his ideas
in the training of his graduate students.184 Throughout Wacker’s work on Pentecostals
specifically, and particularly their role and placement within American religion, has been
a way of reconciling the ways in which Pentecostals both did not fit into the mainstream
religion of twentieth-century religion while at the same time seemed to be the fastest
growing and at times most technologically innovative. In short, how could they seem so
backward in their beliefs while at times also seem so forward thinking in their actions? In
his capstone history of American Pentecostals, Heaven Below (2001), Wacker was able
to succinctly state in his introduction a dialectical lens for interpreting Pentecostals that
for the better part of his career he had worked out in nuanced ways.
It is into the paradox in which Wacker saw early Pentecostals as “ahistorical” in
their restorationist theology, unrefined in their emotive and embodied worship, and “antiintellectual” in their beliefs while at the same time willing to innovate solutions in the
situation of low fiscal income and little to no institutional structures for their religion that
Wacker’s dialectic emerged: “My main argument can be stated in a single sentence: The
genius of the pentecostal movement lay in its ability to hold two seemingly incompatible
impulses in productive tension. I call the two impulses the primitive and the
184 Wacker’s basic lens of primitive/pragmatic can be seen in the monographs of his students such as Daniel
Ramirez, Kate Bowler, Angela Tarango, Roger Robins and many others… Daniel Ramirez, Migrating Faith:
Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill, NC: University of
North Carolina Press, 2015); Kate Bowler, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2013); Angela Tarango, Choosing the Jesus Way: American Indian Pentecostals
and the Fight for the Indigenous Principle (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014);
Roger Robins, A.J. Tomlinson.
185 Wacker, Heaven Below, 10
In using the term “primitive” and “primitivist” Wacker apologized by saying “that
term seems most precisely to resgister the impulse’s exact texture. Primitivism
suggests, in accord with its Latin root primus, a determination to return to first things,
original things, fundamental things. It denotes believers’ yearning to be guided solely by
God’s Spirit in every aspect of their lives, however great or small. With this term I hope
to connote not so much an upward reach for transcendence as a downward or even
backward quest for the infinitely pure and powerful fount of being itself.” Speaking of
“pragmatism” Wacker said “at the end of the day pentecostals proved remarkably willing
to work within the social and cultural expectations of the age…the ability to figure the
odds and react appropriately, made them pragmatists to the bone” He continues, “we
might think of the two impulses as alternating voices in a dialogue, or as contrasting
threads in a tapestry or as complementary plots in a story.”186
Wacker describes Pentecostal religion lived in the world both of Pentecostal
churches but also twentieth-century America as a the struggle to “capture lightning in a
bottle.” How would one be able to be given divine power through immediate contact with
their God yet still live in poverty? How might a group of people employ the most modern
of technologies such as radio broadcasting while at the same time refuse modern
medical treatment? These questions as well as this lens fit neatly into the philosophical
tool of dialectic that Protestant theologians had used throughout much of the twentieth
century.187 Wacker’s use of dialectic is one more example of the enduring legacy of this
186 Wacker, Heaven Below, 12-14.
187 See e.g., Paul Tillich The Courage to Be (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1952); The Socialist
Decision, trans. Franklin Sherman (New York: Harper & Row,  1977); Karl Barth, Evangelical
Theology: An Introduction (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1963); Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature
and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941).
Protestant-informed interpretation of life and history and is indicative of the larger
thumbprint of Protestantism on the normative understanding of religion.
Deeper within Wacker’s analysis of Pentecostals is a question that most people
outside of Pentecostalism or theology circles have found blaringly obvious. Notably that
Wacker uses “primitive” as one of the poles of his dialectic is clearly indicative of a
continued pathologization of Pentecostals. If an anthropologist were to use the term
“primitive” to describe the beliefs, practices, or even culture of a community of people in
2001 they would likely not be published under peer-review, much less under the
auspices of Harvard University Press. So why would a renowned and empathetic scholar
continue the use of this term? This question alone begs a developed answer and points
to the academic devolution of Pentecostalism in America. Wacker’s history provides a
recent tip of the iceberg for the investigation into this devolution. This is where religious
studies theory is very helpful notably in the assumed topic of Wacker’s history:
Pentecostal religion. Religious studies asks what is religion itself. In this approach, one
is able to think about the form not only the content of Pentecostalism as a historic
example of American religion. What does it mean when one calls a religion primitive?
Wacker’s depiction and self-defense relies on the occasional use of the term
“primitive” by Pentecostals, Holiness Christians, and other restorationist movements to
refer to the “early church” or the earliest formations of Christianity as described in the
Christian New Testament book Acts. Restorationism provides many challenges for
historians including the author of this dissertation as it does not allow for a thorough
historical investigation without asking the deeper question of what is history and time
itself? Once again the question of form arises again. What is the form of history of
restorationism? What is the form of time that restorationists use? Both of these
questions peel back to the former question above “what is religion” or more specifically
what is the form of the religion Pentecostalism? These “form” questions require a
reorientation to the study of the “content” itself. If one assumes a definition of religion in
the United States in the twentieth century to be the normative lens in which to research,
describe, and record Pentecostals and this religion counters in its form the very form of
the assumed religion it becomes easy to see how Pentecostals became known not only
as not Protestant but also not a religion at all.
Instead Pentecostalism as a topic of study began its academic debut outside of
the specific study of religion but rather within the realm of social sciences as a
pathological disorder to the ordered understanding of social norms generally and a
problem to be addressed rather than a religion to be studied historically. This move
echoed the pronouncements of social anthropologists like Claude Levi-Strauss that
some people were to be studied historically while others were to be just that: studied as
others through ethnography.
188 Most notably these others were often seen as the
“primitive” peoples of the world. There has been much stated on the connotations of the
moniker “primitive”189 but for this current dissertation it is important to make explicit that it
is a negative and ethnocentric description that devalues the culture, intelligence, religion,
and people of Pentecostalism. As an academic chooses the emic use of terms and
rhetoric it is their job to understand the historic study and connotation of these words
both within and outside; first-order and second-order categorizations. A Pentecostal or
188 Claude Levi-Strauss, Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture (New York: Schocken Books,
 1995); Race and History (Paris, France: UNESCO, 1952); “Structural Study of Myth.” in The
Continental Philosophy Reader, edited by Richard Kearney and Mara Rainwater (New York: Routledge,
189 For further discourse on the implications, history, and use of the term primitive see: Wendy Djinn
Geniusz, Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive: Decolonizing Botanical Anishinaabe Teachings. 1st ed.
Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2009.
Holiness Christian in 1909, such as A.J. Tomlinson or Nora Chambers, might use the
term “primitive” to talk about the restoration of time in which they were presently, in their
day, living anew the epoch and supernatural life of the early church. This meant that
they were able to enact and interact within the types of supernatural presence of the
divine mentioned in the narrative of the book of Acts. Notably that someone could be
miraculously healed of diseases, that someone could speak a foreign language unknown
to them through divine intervention on/through their bodily faculties.
In this way by doing something “primitive” in the eyes of a Pentecostal they were
living anew things of old. This is particularly important in light of the prevailing Protestant
view through the lens of Calvinism known as cessation, the belief that the miraculous,
supernatural, and otherworldly aspects of the Christian New Testament narratives like
those found in the book of Acts had ceased. This cessation allowed for a modern
approach to the Christian texts that “demythologized” the sacred narrative through a
modern reading.190 Pentecostals saw themselves as explicitly living into an oppositional
Christianity other than the “modern” theological perspective of mainline Protestants in
Yet Pentecostals used other labels and self-description titles to speak of their
religious habitus191 of restorationism. Most notably was the term “full gospel” that
implied they were open to living and applying all of the narratives and mandates of the
190 These modernistic approaches to the Christian texts was later made famous in the commentary work of
German theologian Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann also brought fame to the idea and term of “demythologizing
the text.” Rudolf Bultmann,Theology of the New Testament (New York: Scribner 1951).
191 Pierre Bourdieu uses the term habitus to describe a posturing and positionality of individual in a sociocultural context and reality. Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, , 78-79.
Christian New Testament.192 This designation provided a badge of merit to themselves
and an implicit critique of the rest of the established Protestant churches in the United
States who critically contextualized and removed the relevancy of supernatural
narratives of the New Testament. There was also the adapted quotation from Mark
16:17 in which Pentecostals self-described as “signs following” churches or believers,
indicating that they endorsed and practiced the list of “signs” that followed “them that
believe” according to the King James translation.193
The self-terming of “Spirit Baptized” might have been the most controversial of
the labels used by Pentecostals. Notably because Pentecostalism was a Christian
religion that developed out of the Wesleyan tradition’s focus on spiritual experiences and
conversion. And Pentecostalism advanced and expanded the Holiness tradition that
Wesleyan Christianity in the Methodist then interdenominational parachurch holiness
movement and finally independent Holiness churches that precipitated Pentecostalism
by audaciously coopting the terminology of Spirit Baptism. As with all religions that seek
to restore the original there was a special value to the latest or last restoration of spiritual
encounters. In the case of Pentecostalism, the terminology Spirit Baptism—Baptism in
the Spirit, Baptism in the Holy Ghost, Spirit Baptized—were terms pulled from the
Christian New Testament that had been used to distinguish sanctification as a second
work of grace for Wesleyan groups. This theological distinction was more than just mere
192 Of course as with any self-declaration of absolutes there were exceptions to this “full” gospel. E.g.,
Pentecostals most often did not sell all their possessions and gather together in community with all things in
common. Yet some did like those in Zion City, Illinois. Philip L. Cook, Zion City, Illinois: Twentieth-Century
Utopia (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996).
193 Kimberly E. Alexander and John C. Thomas. “And the Signs Are Following: Mark 16:9-20 a Journey into
Pentecostal Hermeneutics” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 11:2 (2003): 147-70; John C. Thomas “A
Reconsideration of the Ending of Mark.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26, no. 4 (1982):
words it was a clear identification for a Holiness and or Wesleyan Christian to distinguish
and demarcate themselves and others. Those that were Spirit Baptized or Baptized in
the Holy Spirit were not only converted to Christianity194 understood as an act of God’s
grace, but also had experienced a second work of grace: sanctification. Pentecostals
took this technological advancement of religion further by adding a third work of grace
indicated by speaking in tongues, or as speaking a foreign languages through divine
intervention. In addition to the audacious second work of grace that confronted the
theological understanding of divine grace from the Protestant reformation, Pentecostals
went further and claimed a third work of God’s grace in this new religious technology.
But what at first appears to the historian as construal of words is actually another
implicit sociological distinction and huge challenge to core religious beliefs and
experiences. When Pentecostals called themselves Spirit Baptized and labeled their
new(ly restored) religious technology or experiences as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit,
they were indirectly telling Holiness Christians that their experiences were incomplete or
inauthentic. To preach, claim, or propagate this Baptism in the Holy Spirit was to create
a fracture in the fastest movement of religion in America at the turn of the twentieth
century dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.195 Pentecostals internally understood
194 Lincoln Mullen has recently claimed that conversion became a choice during the nineteenth-century
American religious landscape in which people had to choose their religion. Holiness Christianity actually
points to a crucial nuanced contradiction to this claim in that there were many people who were born into the
religion of their parents without clear conversion narratives (like those of eighteenth-century American
Protestants e.g., Sarah Osborne), but touted developed narratives of second work of grace sanctification
experiences. In this way they continued an assumed Christian religion but with the new technology of Spirit
Baptism. See: Lincoln A. Mullen, The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 2017); and Catherine A. Brekus, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of
Evangelical Christianity in Early America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013).
195 Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
1989), David Hempton, Methodism: Empire of the Spirit (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005);
John Wigger, American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (New York: Oxford University Press,
this fracture as a critique of Wesleyan movements to be incomplete in their practice of
Christianity along with the other established Protestant forms of Christianity in
America.196 Externally this fracture was an embarrassment and excommunication of
many Holiness and Wesleyan Christians from the fold as they had brought “strange fire”
into the camp.
Historicizing the Primitive:
The religious studies approach and the social history approach to the study of
Pentecostalism generally and the Church of God specifically requires an interdisciplinary
breadth to look at sociology, psychology, as well as history, theology, and ritual/myth
theories. This disciplinary hopscotch provides a way of looking at the implicit
categorization of Pentecostals and Pentecostalism within the lenses of academics during
the twentieth-century. It is important as anthropologists in their early biases remind us
that some peoples are granted to the right of history while others are studied primarily as
cultural oddities, social disorders, social movements, and fringe radicals. Though most
historians of religion in the United States today would rarely claim that there is a specific
form of religion generally for the United States, historically historians have done so
without abandon and either ignored those that did not fit into this paradigm or labeled
them as abnormal, fanatical, and possibly not a religion at all. In this way historians
196 Pentecostals despite their striking similarities to Mormons were explicitly Protestant in their rejection of
Mormonism as outside Christianity for many reasons such as the social stigma of polygamy and the
theological disagreement of the expansion of the Christian canon to include the Mormon revelations such as
the Book of Mormon. There has however been recent theological ecumenism between Mormons and
Pentecostals due likely to their shared political and social values in Conservative America. For more on this
theological conversation see: John C. Thomas, A Pentecostal Reads the Book of Mormon: A Literary and
Theological Introduction (Cleveland, TN: Center for Pentecostal Theology, 2016).
have maintained a spoken and sometimes unspoken normalcy for Protestant Christianity
as the center of American Religion.
When one begins to connect the dots between the lenses and focus that was
placed on Pentecostalism and indirectly the focus that historians placed on religious
group as proper, normal, and assumed, the latent biases toward Pentecostals and
Pentecostalism begins to take form. The evolution of the disciplinary subgroup of “new
religious movements” provides an unearthing and continuation of the marginalization
and the social “outsiders.” White Pentecostals, or those that appeared white in skin
color, provided a special conundrum for historians of American religion. Whereas black
Americans could be racially demarcated as other, and ethnic immigrants could be
viewed as enclaves of outside cultures, languages, and beliefs, white Pentecostals
spoke English, had lived in North America for centuries and had biological ties to white
Anglo Saxon protestant Christians, yet they did not fit. They were not economically
stable, their social mobility was stagnant or downward, and their religion seemed
everything but white Anglo Saxon and Protestant. Historically this difference created a
need for Protestants to missionize, evangelize, and convert these other white Christians.
Convert to what is where the role of race and class become apparent in the religion and
religious history of Protestants.
In the wake of the Civil War and the attempt of Reconstruction of the
Southeastern United States, Protestant denominations were ready to apply their hand in
the creation of a newly reunited union. As mission organizations began to draw up plans
heavy on their agenda was the reform and constitution of the freed black population. Yet
during the exploration of the Southern states a “discovery” of sorts happened.
Missionaries found people that problematized their moral superiority and responsibility to
the freed black population: whites who reminded them of blacks in their cultural
aesthetics of daily life, poverty, but most alarmingly their religion. In an attempt to
categorize these phenotypically white people who did not act, speak, believe, or worship
as white Protestants, these missionaries employed similar actions that Protestant
missionaries had done for centuries when they encountered a group of people that they
sought to convert. Namely, they atemporalized their existence, imagined/created an
arbitrary geography for their existence as isolated, and finally disregarded the presence
of religions or discounted their veracity as actual religion and deemed them as in need of
replacement with proper religion: Protestant Christianity.197
The racial bias of the missionary enterprise and particularly the American “home”
missions based within the United States and its territories became visible as the
imperative to missionize the freed black population was put in second place to these notwhite whites. In order to create a plausible missionary enterprise and more importantly
to raise funds from Northeastern Protestant churches, members, and organizations it
was important to create an identification of who these people were. Calling them white
and members of Protestant churches would not classify as missions, so instead there
was a need to identify them as racially other yet appeal to the responsibility of white for
white care. It was in their rustic, unrefined, and un-white existence that they were able
to become “primitive” socially, religiously, and even temporally. These people became
identified as the “long lost” kin of the missionaries. And importantly their religion was
197 Webb Keane, Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter (Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press, 2007). Missionaries and their complicated relatives anthropologists created
problematic ways of creating an ethnos, other, to be studied or in the case of missionaries to be converted.
Johannes Fabian’s work on time and the other also allows for a constructive engagement of this
atemporalization. Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York:
Columbia University Press,  2014); and Yael Zerubavel, Recovered Roots.
used to race them pathogenically as not white and essentially equivalent to African
Essentially this chapter’s argument is pursuing the not-so-elusive subtext of a
historical terming of Pentecostals as primitive and pragmatic. Notably it must be made
explicit here that the use of the term primitive in Wacker’s text and the academic
precedents for its use in the study of religion is not descriptive, as Wacker may
apologetically rationalize, but rather evaluative. As Ann Taves has already correlated,
the history of early Pentecostalism coincided with and shaped the nascent field of
psychology of religion in the United States. Notably the writings of William James
provided an unpopular academic perspective that sought to look at supernatural
religious occurrences in religious contexts similar to Pentecostalism as not socially
detrimental but fecund with comparison for understanding the very nature of religion and
psychology. James’ functionalist theory, though clearly borrowing from the forms of
religious ideology that theorists Talal Asad have labeled as Protestant,198 sought to apply
a Darwinian evolutionary theory to religious experience that did not correlate the origins
with function of those experiences. The reliance of James’ theory on the development of
a secondary consciousness and the open door to metaphysical religious realities were
scorned and psychologists such as Frederick Morgan Davenport would continue the
analysis of revivalistic religions through a comparative framework like that of Emil
Durkheim that claimed a linear evolution of religions and religious experience based off a
Spencerian evolution framework. This linear framework of religious evolution in stages
not only countered the opened spontaneous evolutionary view of James, it also
198 Asad,”Anthropological Conceptions of Religion,” 237-59.
presented the earlier or “primitive” forms of religion and religious experience as
qualitatively less than the more advanced and socially acceptable forms of intellected
James’ idea of a metaphysical approach to the study of religion that compared
embodied religious experiences taken as real divine encounters by these religious
practitioners alongside other psychosocial dissociations and pathologies was considered
for him open ended and in service of better understanding of both psychology and
philosophy of religion. By not linking their origin with their function, James attempted an
agnostic approach to the value of these religious experiences and the religions that
cultivated them. Yet one of the large critiques of James’ work was that these embodied
and “primitive” religious experiences were left without judgment. Other psychologists
would continue to compare, specifically in the case of Pentecostals with
psychopathology, but essentially group them in function and origin. In short embodied
religions of human divine encounter like Pentecostalism were “primitive” and as such
were pathological disorders in need of treatment.
The more emotional and embodied, literally monitoring the movement of the body
as a metric, a religious experience was the more undeveloped or devolved it was
judged. As “primitive” a religious experience was identified as either indicative of an
underdeveloped intellect and cultural sophistication or a retention of a primitive trait from
ancient ancestors. In this way these psychologists such as Davenport, Edward Scribner
Ames, and George Coe provided a comparative lens to harkened back to the work of
199 Ann Taves, Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to
James. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999; Religious Experience Reconsidered: A BuildingBlock Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 2009; “Interior Disciplines and a Revitalized Phenomenology of Religion.” Spiritus 6, no. 1 (2006):
earlier Victorian anthropologists such Edward B. Tylor who in his two volume text
“Primitive Culture” presented the diverse peoples of the African continent as uniformly
undeveloped “lower races” that exhibited contemporary examples of the “primitive.”
Tylor’s comparative use of retained “primitive traits” and manifested or preserved
“primitive cultures” necessitated that he respond to the scientific race studies of his day
and declare that he did not see “hereditary varieties of races of man,” but rather that
humanity was “homogenous in nature” yet “placed in different grades of civilization.”200
Embedded in the historical use of the term “primitive” was an often explicit, yet
dependably consistent, assumption of linear evolutionary categorization of race. The
more primitive a culture or a religion the more it was racially attributed to people of
darker skin color. Comparatively it should be noted that continuation of the “primitive
traits” rooted in the lived realities in African peoples loomed large throughout
historiography, ethnography, and religious studies of African Americans in the twentieth
century. Most notably the argument of E. Franklin Frazier and Melville Herskovits as to
whether there were cultural and ancestral retentions from African civilizations in the
culture, religion, and thought of African Americans after the system of American slavery
can seem often aloof to contemporary historians. Especially when it appears to a
current reader, post-culture wars, that Herskovits a Jewish American anthropologist
200 Tylor like Durkheim was dependent not too ironically on the travel narratives of Christian missionaries for
their evaluation of so called “primitive” cultures and peoples. In response to the questionability of these
sources Tylor responded with the ultimate categorical cause of empiricism, repetition of results in separate
contexts. For example according to Tylor if a “Methodist minister in Guinea,” a “Jesuit in Brazil,” and a
“Wesleyan in the Fiji Islands” observed the same and describe the same rite or myth in those diverse
contexts “it becomes difficult or impossible to set down such correspondence to accident or willful fraud…
The possibility of intentional or unintentional mystification is often barred by such a state of things as that a
similar statement is made in two remote lands, by two witnesses, of who A lived a century before B, and B
appears never to have heard of A.” Tylor assured his readers that this supposedly detached and
reproduced observations in different contexts despite coming from untrained ethnographers, or just simply
people empathetic at all to other cultures than their own, was the way “the most important facts of
ethnography are vouched.” Tylor, Primitive Culture, 7, 10.
appeared to be preserving heritage and magnifying the rich historic identity of African
Americans during the tumultuous mid twentieth century race relations of the United
States. Placed into the larger “primitive” and “primitive retention” comparative framework
developed by ethnographers such as Tylor and of psychologist of religion like
Davenport, Frazier’s denial of the validity of Herskovits’ “African retentions” argument
reveals the deeper racial implications. To be associated, founded, or rooted in Africa for
Frazier was to be called primitive, to be called pathological, and in short to be deemed a
social disorder. For Frazier to root out African retentions, or origins, in African American
religious practices was essentially to connect the origin of primitive pathological Africa
with the function of African American religion. For intellectuals and middle class African
Americans the religious institutions and traditions of African Americans had served a
function of social mobility and cohesion. For Herskovits to root generally African
American religion categorically in retensions from Africa was to transform this function
from social mobility to pathology and social devolution. This debate continued
throughout African American religious history and was most notably reviewed in the
opening of the classic text Slave Religion by Al Raboteau, who a generation after Frazier
and the Civil Rights movement, was still having to apologize for claiming African heritage
while at the same time claiming historical and cultural significance for religion rooted in
African cultures and practices. As Curtis Evans has alluded primitive is perpetuated in
the continual use of generalized moniker “the Black Church.”201
Essentially, the religious revivalism and experiences that were analyzed by
psychologists were rooted in an assumed racialized form: notably the primitive bodies of
201 Curtis J. Evans, The Burden of Black Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). See also
Barbara D. Savage, Your Spirits Walk Beside Us the Politics of Black Religion (Cambridge, MA: Belknap
people from Africa or those that could be pathologically compared (read equated) to
them in others. In addition of these historical precedents for the tainted and evaluative
use of the term “primitive” it is key to note that the historiographical pedigree of Wacker’s
social history directly connects to this evaluative history and continues its violence
towards Pentecostals and maintenance of white Protestantism as the latent normative
for American religions historically and American identity generally within an academic
Social Darwinism and the Not-so-pragmatic Pentecostals:
Much has been said in Appalachian studies about the construction of an ancient
other or the discovery of long lost kin in the woods of Appalachia. Particularly Henry
Shapiro’s work still stands as a linchpin text for dispelling reoccurring narratives of racial
discovery in Appalachia. Yet there is still much to be said about the correlation between
the construction of Anglo-Saxon mythologies in Southern Appalachia and as it was
correlated, influenced and manifested in the racial politics of American imperialism in the
The historical irony of how an intellectual discourse of social Darwinism could
both create plans for the decimation of Appalachian whites through eugenics while also
seeking to hagiographically reinvent them as the lost link to racial purity is very much
important to the history of the Church of God as an originally phenotypically white
Appalachian Pentecostal religion. Though Pentecostals like many of their conservative
evangelical counterparts were adamantly opposed to Darwinism as it was equated with
atheism and counter to a literal interpretation of the creation narrative[s] in the book of
Genesis, they were not immune to the social dissemination of public theories into
societal discourse. Most notably the writings of Herbert Spencer proved to be some of
the most important in the nineteenth century for the American public in regards to
confronting and reconciling Darwinian evolution. In particular Spencer’s conservative
view toward intervention into to societal perils, believing that the “survival of the fittest,”
his term not Darwin’s, would eliminate the poor and weak whose demise was inevitable
can be seen in the dispensational theologies of Pentecostals. Particularly as late as
1913 when reading A.J. Tomlinson’s book The Last Great Conflict the pessimistic
dismissal of a fallen world reflects more than a distant Calvinism that some might
suppose but in reality apes a popular understanding of a perishing of weak and poor that
many such as Tomlinson would have remembered from their youth in the 1880s. In
dynamic contrast to proponents to the Social Gospel, Pentecostals as dispensationalists
did not trust societal reform because they were often the object of reform, but rather
promoted individual transformation and individual engagement of societal ills. This was
not merely a doctrinal dismissal of amillenial eschatology in the Social Gospel but a
theological transposition of the pessismism of Social Darwinism in the world that
Pentecostals saw as irredeemable and soon to be raptured by the second coming of
Alongside the nineteenth century spread of perfectionism and healing through
the transatlantic Holiness movement had also been the development and proliferation of
evolutionary theories. Though these two phenomena may seem at first unrelated when
they are analyzed comparatively there is a striking resemblance. In particular in some
circles of the holiness movement the role of perfectionism or total sanctification was
directly affected by the rise of Anglo-Saxonism and racial purity. Texts like Josiah
Strong’s Our Nation may seem estranged from Pentecostals and Holiness advocates
particularly when one takes into account the historical social activism of Holiness
missionaries. Yet when one encounters the writings of Alma White and early Pentecostal
Charles F. Parham’s writings, the Anglo-Saxon race specifically is the fulfillment of
In addition to these Holiness and Pentecostal examples is key to note here that
Richard Green Spurling in his 1897 manuscript and later again in his 1920 booklet
attributes his own restorationist formulations of the Christian Union on the writing of G.H.
Orchard. G.H. Orchard’s history of the Baptist was a treatise that placed apostolic
succession of Christianity within the English Anabaptist tradition. Not only did Orchard’s
narrative transform the historically persecuted and marginalized Anabaptist tradition to
the center of Christian orthodoxy and history, he did so by rooting the movement in an
English history. Orchard’s text was republished in the United States under the auspices
of the Landmarkism movement of Baptists in the 1870s to 1890s. It has been clear
previously that this was a way of creating exclusivity of restorationist theological identity
for Baptists but when placed into the racial and imperial context of United States history
it also reveals another level of Anglo-Saxonism. As true Baptist and therefore true
continuation of the restored Christian churches, J.R. Graves was also leading an
exemplification of the American ideal and doing so by rooting his Baptist movement in a
deeply Anglo-Saxon identity. This appears to be a strong reason for Graves to pull an
obscure history text out of print and circulate it as a key textbook of Landmarkism. And
though Spurling never writes explicitly about race in his writings the very use of this text
shows the overarching reach of Anglo Saxonism as a racial view of restored and
exclusive American fulfillment all the way to the local theologizing of this Baptist,
Holiness, soon-to-be Pentecostal preacher in Turtletown, Tennessee.
These seemingly contradictory examples of the indirect influence of Social
Darwinism on the formation of the Church of God specifically and US-American
Pentecostalism generally are important because they provide another counter to
Wacker’s employment to his second “impulse” “pragmatism.” Thinking constructively
about the roots of pragmatism and the writing of William James and the continued
residues of Spencerian rhetoric in Pentecostal dispensational views of society at large, I
am arguing that Pentecostals were philosophically and practically not pragmatic.
Philosophically the pragmatism of William James, John Dewey, and Charles Pierce
provided an open-ended possibility through human accomplishment that could break the
pessimistic fate of the poor and socially marginal in Spencer’s “survival of the fittest.”
Within the enacted theological cosmology of Pentecostalism there was philosophically a
displacement of potential power, change, and transformation that was not placed within
humanity but instead within the immediate responsive presence of the divine Holy Spirit.
To read early Pentecostals as pragmatic by impulse is in many ways to disregard their
claims for divine intervention as imagined as well as to project a belief of human
potential that their pessimistic dispensational view of the world did not allow. It was
precisely because the world was doomed and soon to end under its own devices that the
Holy Spirit had come to prepare and empower Pentecostals to convert as many as
possible before the second coming of Christ.
In addition to this philosophical misfit of pragmatism, the labeling of the actions of
Pentecostals as pragmatic flattens the creativity and the social transgression that the
movement employed in its central enacted-myth or lived religion of speaking in
tongues.202 As a Pentecostal spoke in tongues they were enacting a new identity as
Spirit-filled body that transcended the normal activities prescribed by race and gender.
This embodied myth of Pentecostal praxis-theology in itself, the center of the movement
was unpragmatic, dangerous, and often times illegal. To ordain a black woman
Rebecca Barr as the first foreign missionary of the Church of God in 1909, was not a
pragmatic move for A.J. Tomlinson, it was socially transformative and transgressive. To
send a black woman to missionize another land outside the nation of the United States
was to proclaim the Holy Spirit had reordered society and colonizing activities in the
urgency of the parousia.203
Evolution of Research/Marginalization of Pentecostals in American Religion:
As the research of Sean McCloud has illustrated through reviving the use of
social class to study American religions, Pentecostals have functioned as a creative
object of study for the development of outright to subtle descriptions of the social ill from
the perspective of Protestant America. Beginning with the work of Frederick Davenport
who equated white Pentecostals with African Americans as essentially a child-race, and
202 In regards to pragmatic Davenport relays that quick action is connected to the impulses of the primitive.
They are led to make decisions and jump into an activity through imagination and emotions not rational
thought or reflection. “…primitive man is led to action by impulse rather than by motives carefully reflected
upon. His opinions are chiefly beliefs, that is, they are products of imagination and emotion. And because
there is so much emotion in his opinions, it carries him quickly into action.” Davenport, Primitive Traits in
Religious Revivals, 21.
203 I am arguing this empowerment of women and particularly the African American Rebecca Barr, would
have been different from the missionary work of historic Black denominations such as African Methodist
Episcopal Church’s work in Liberia and South Africa. The difference being located in the identity
transformation through Spirit Baptism that sought to look beyond racial, ethnic, and gender notions of power
rather than creating honorary privilege to the foreigner because they vicariously shared the “civilization” of
the American government. Pentecostals in their dispensationalism were pessimistically dismissal of
governing structures of humanity and instead sought to bring evangelism for the purpose of ushering in and
including others in the “rapture” or premillennial second coming of Christ. For more on the missionary
endeavors of historic black denominations see e.g., James T. Campbell, Songs of Zion: The African
Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North
Carolina Press, 1998); Claude Clegg, The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia
(Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Andrew Zimmeran, Alabama in Africa: Booker
T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 2010).
a contagion of emotional frenzy that needed to be cured from society.204 Davenport, in
accord with the American Anthropological Association, countered Franz Boas’ decry of
essential racial hierarchy and instead applied the social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer to
declare these contemporary primitives to be the social propagators of social degeneracy
and religious devolution. Like the material skeletal remains used to create scientific
racism, the work of Davenport flowed forth as the undergirding assumption and
principles for the study of Pentecostals.205 In particular this is evidenced in the reliance of
Robert Mapes Anderson on Davenport. Despite the social scientific rebuttal of
Davenport and his work by Virginia Hine and Luther P. Gerlach prior to Anderson’s
doctoral dissertation and its later book form in 1979, Vision of the Disinherited, Anderson
still pivoted his argument on Davenport’s analysis. Anderson’s work remained the
guiding text of social history on Pentecostal histories in America until Wacker’s book
Heaven Below in 2001. Which as argued above embedded and continued the
evaluative work of Davenport through his lens of primitive and pragmatic.
Concluding, The Race of American Religious History:
Recent studies on the role of religion and class have been of great help to this
project, notably Sean McCloud’s work has given a nuanced inflection of class as a topic
of religious history and driver of historiography of religion. Yet what this particular
chapter, and dissertation generally, add to this discussion is the integration of class as
204 Davenport, Primitive Traits in Revival Religion, 45, 1, 15.
205 For more on the skeletal and cranial material history of race science see: Samuel J. Redman, Bone
Rooms: From Scientific Racism to Human Prehistory in Museums (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2016); Janet M. Monge, Jason E. Lewis, David DeGusta, Marc R. Meyer, Alan E. Mann, and Ralph L.
Halloway. “The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould Versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and
Bias.” PLoS Biology 9, no. 6 (2011): e1001071. doi:10.1371/ journal.pbio.71; Stephen J. Gould, The
Mismeasure of Man (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996). C.f.: Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein
The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press);
dynamic shaper of the construction race as a religious myth. The Church of God
movement in its early history and internal cosmology, through the embodied-myth or
lived religion of Spirit-filled-bodies, alongside its later construction of a White Protestant
identity, provide a crucial micro history for this illustration. This is of particular
importance in this chapter from this project’s perspective because there is often a lack of
reflexivity in the production of American religious histories and particularly from within
religious studies and history disciplinary contexts. Looking at the ways in which
Pentecostals and specifically white Pentecostals in Appalachia like the Church of God
were written about by academics in the twentieth century, informs one not only about
these Pentecostals, the object of inquiry, but more importantly about the academics that
were objectifying these Pentecostals for the purposes of their study.
If “cacogenic religions,” or religions that promoted the wrong social control,
reform, and identity were to be absolved, cured, and eradicated, what were the assumed
eugenic ideals? If black religions and religious bodies were pathologized essentially as
“animals of religion” in a peculiar way as a template and description of the diseased
religions that had infected the “Anglo Saxon stock” of the Appalachia white Pentecostals,
then what was the idealized racial essence of true religion to be recorded historically as
American? How was being White and Protestant embedded into the implicit social
reform efforts of describing poor white trash Pentecosals as pathologized primitives in
need of psychological balancing and racial purification? These are some of the
questions this chapter has sought to address indirectly by illustrating the strata of biases
indicated in the seemingly innocuous lens of interpretation employed by Grant Wacker
and subsequently social historians of Pentecostalism in America: “primitive and
When American religious historians have continued to maintain an assumed
center of “mainline” “mainstream” or “traditional” Protestant narrative of American
religion despite the diminished presence, numbers, and activity of these groups into the
twenty-first-century, one is left to ask if these historical myths are “provincial” such as the
very myth of secularization itself as Dipesh Chakrabarty asked generally of the myth of
the “West”?206 This project and chapter specifically has sought to respond in the
affirmative not only illustrating the use of the term “primitive” within the study of
Pentecostals but also the evaluative manner of this depiction. To call Pentecostals
primitive was, and is, a way of maintaining the pathologization of a racially ambigious
religion of embodied Spirit-filled bodies of Pentecostalism as cacogenic. As such
Pentecostals and religions that challenged the established racial categories in their
practices, beliefs, and claimed identities have continued to be the objects of theoretical,
social, and academic eugenics, or what called the Germans called “New Evangelism.”207
206 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000).
207 Similar to the manner in which the Carlisle school photographically revealed Protestant conversion in the
aesthetics of clean suits, gender-specific embodiments of posture and attire, clean haircuts, so too the
mental adjustment of Pentecostals in Appalachia would move them from the “primitive and emotional” to the
“civilized and the spiritual.” For more on the Carlisle school see: Jacqueline Fear-Segal and Susan D. Rose.
Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Indigenous Histories, Memories, and Reclamations (Lincoln, NE: University
of Nebraska Press, 2016).
Seeing and Feeling the Church of God: “Script” for Visual Chapter
On November 26, 1939, A.J. Tomlinson, S.O. Gillaspie, E.H. Griffith, and FF.
Johnson drove from Cleveland, Tennessee to Camp Creek, North Carolina. In reality
there was not a village, town, or community at that location. All that remained was the
cabin site or “homeplace” of W.F. Bryant. It was there 30 years prior, A.J. Tomlinson
had joined the Holiness Church at Camp Creek that met in Bryant’s cabin. Much had
happened since 1903. Around 1909 Bryant moved permanently with his family to
Cleveland, Tennessee. Most of the mountains had been deforested and replanted by the
national forest service. Virgin poplars, hemlocks, and chestnut trees that had stood 200
feet tall were gone and a new planned forestry emerged. Where Bryant’s cabin once
stood, the site of the Holiness Church at Camp Creek in 1903, there were now only
briars and undergrowth. With the help of a local Jim Bryant, the group was able to find
the rubble that remained from the toppled chimney and affirm that they were standing in
the same location as the 1903 church. The rocks were the only physical remains of the
building, Bryant’s home.208 Yet it was here on June 13, 1903 that Tomlinson joined the
Appalachian Holiness group that would eventually be known as the Church of God. In
1939 with Tomlinson deeply entrenched in ongoing legal proceedings since 1924 over
ownership and rights to the Church of God, origins became extremely important.
208 Much like the log cabin that had been built after expulsion from the Shearer School house in the 1890s,
Bryant’s cabin had fallen to arson years prior. But instead of out of religious opposition, this cabin had fallen
to neglect and being forgotten. Charles T. Davidson, America’s Unusual Spot (Cleveland, TN: White Wing
Publishing House & Press, 1954), 37-43.
By 1939 it was becoming apparent that Tomlinson’s group, then legally known as
“Tomlinson Church of God” would likely loose legal rights to the name and any
properties. They had lost now on numerous fronts legally. Still they persisted forward
not seeing themselves as a new group but instead the true continuation, the true
restoration of the Church of God in the Bible. They refused the title “Tomlinson Church of
God” and battled injunctions for transgressing a chancery court mandate that they not
use Church of God publically in their “secular” and business proceedings. Yet what was
at stake in the lived religion of Tomlinson’s group was much more than a private
religious belief and public secular business identity, they were claiming their divinely
instituted restoration. In their view they were the Church of God as the true continuation
of the biblical text that they reconstituted in their lived religious practice of being the
Church of God. The United States was the divinely appointed location for this restoration
and the Constitution of the United States should uphold their right to legally proclaim
what they saw themselves as embodying, namely the Church of God. Yet in the court
proceedings the opposite of that goal continued to be affirmed.
Also at the heart of this argument was also money, property, reputation, and
ownership of true revelation. Church of God (Cleveland), as they would become known,
who had expelled Tomlinson was moving toward an institutional identity that allowed
polity to mitigate the individual claims of a Pentecostal’s human divine interactions.
Someone might speak in tongues, someone might prophesy, but under the new 1920
“constitution” of the annual assembly, there was a chronological accumulation and
record of consistent practice. The theological rationale was that God, as Holy Spirit,
would move and direct in ways that were consistent with the previous teachings. Under
this constitution Tomlinson had been brought up under charges for a financial crisis in
which he was not willing to cooperate with an auditor. Tomlinson misappropriated funds,
but likely would have been able to not only remain in the Church of God but also
maintain his position of leadership if he would have abided by the new terms. Using the
1920 constitution, the 1922 annual assembly created an “executive committee” in which
the general overseer, the position Tomlinson held, would be relieved of financial
management, publishing duties and management of the bible training school. Under this
arrangement Tomlinson would still have oversight and involvement in those areas but
would primarily be responsible for traveling to the different states and countries to
encourage, preach, train, and organize the growing movement. Tomlinson was obliged
to follow the new arrangement because of the constitution he had lobbied hard for two
years prior set this judgment into practice. The constitution had removed women and
un-ordained males from the voting floor. Prior assemblies had worked under unanimous
consent, in principle. Yet in critique many complained that Tomlinson used his influence
and the weight of his divine appointment to sway others in his way and squash any
complaints. Under the constitution the “official assembly” would make decisions and this
group was made up of ordained males mostly local pastors who lived outside Cleveland.
In addition, they were pastors who had sent their entire tithes and offerings to Cleveland
for two years only to be mailed a few dollars a month. Tomlinson being in charge of
these finances was not a favored figure in the eyes of many of these men. So despite
his protest, Tomlinson was forced to work collaboratively as part of the new executive
committee with J.S. Lewellyn and F.J. Lee. Tomlinson had admitted to using monies
from the local pastors’ salary to pay for indebtedness. Now new polity had sought to
adjust the administrative responsibilities so as to avoid a recurrence of the same
mistake. The adjustment was tenuous but appeared to possibly be a positive solution.
Yet any idea that the tensions might resolve after the assembly almost
immediately vanished as first hand observation of Tomlinson’s loose financial work was
brought under check. Tomlinson sought to continue his individual judgment and action
of leadership and J.S. Lewellyn refused to ignore his responsibilities as the new leader
of the publishing arm of the Church of God. Tomlinson had actively sought to use “faith”
in his finances, a noble enactment of his theology but from the fiduciary perspective of a
businessman-preacher Lewellyn this was wreckless. And with hundreds of ministers
across the Church of God clamoring for financial reform, Lewellyn enlisted an outside
accountant to conduct an audit in order to bring the financial books into working order.
The reality was despite bookkeepers and stacks of ledger books, Tomlinson made
financial decisions based off his religious discernment and often would be willing to
sacrifice personal comfort for the advancement of his ministry. This had resulted in
disaster at his industrial school in Culberson, North Carolina prior to his work with the
Church of God and now was having the same effect with growing Church of God
movement. It turned out that money, or better yet the “faith-led” disbursement of money
without records was enough to bring Tomlinson’s divinely appointed status into question
A financial audit was the breaking point for Tomlinson and the Church of God
movement. Tomlinson saw himself as divinely appointed to the position of general
overseer since the 1914 assembly and he had declared that no one but him knew how to
be general overseer. One could assume with Tomlinson’s track record that his
intentions with the moving of monies to pay debts were with good intention. But Lewellyn
and other Church of God ministers painted Tomlinson not only as a bad financier but
also as a crook and a thief. With his pride hurt, embarrassed to have his failures brought
to light, and with the majority of the Church of God ministers seeking to curtail his
authority, Tomlinson did what any good restorationist would do. He restored the Church
of God again.
In the Church of God records and procedures Tomlinson was expelled from
leadership after not complying with the auditor, not reporting for sessions to address
charges of financial mismanagement, and then conspiring to overturn the leadership
structure that had limited his power, the constitution. In Tomlinson’s perspective he was
forced to continue the Church of God because the other group had fallen prey to the
fallacy of inserting the constitution as equal with the Bible the “only rule of faith and
government” in the Church of God. Simultaneous to the expulsion of Tomlinson in 1923,
Tomlinson wrote and published a “declaration” that theologically justified his continuing
of the Church of God outside those that sought to continue with the constitution.209
Within a month Tomlinson had called a national gathering in nearby Chattanooga,
Tennessee, created a “bureau of information” that started publishing another periodical
the “White Winged Messenger” a prominent nickname for the Church of God Evangel,
and by November 1923 held his own annual assembly.
The theological justification and institutional leap may seem vast and quick, but
Tomlinson’s physical move was short from 2524 to 2525 Gaut Street. He moved his
office into his home located less than a hundred feet from the Church of God publishing
house and the group that had expelled him. It was in this context that the legal disputes
between Tomlinson and the Church of God (Cleveland) began. But is also where the
historical identity began to take form. This dissertation argues that the denominational
209 “NOW THEREFORE, we declare that we stand for the Church of God as originally organized as set out
in the New Testament…” “A Declaration” Three page pamphlet published by the “Bureau of Information A.J.
Tomlinson and A.J. Lawson” June 27, 1923. Accessed and used by permission of Dixon Pentecostal
Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.
and historical identity of these movements took form in the crucible of the heated
ongoing legal cases between the Church of God and Tomlinson from 1924 to 1954.
During the 1924 legal depositions Tomlinson and his followers quickly began to argue
that Tomlinson had restored the Church of God with his joining the Holiness Church at
Camp Creek on June 13, 1903. Bryant claimed that the group began in 1901 at his
house and still others used Tomlinson’s own history written in 1913 to point back to R.G.
Spurling’s work in 1886 as the beginning of the group. The most conclusive observation
that can be made by the author of this dissertation after reading these copious
depositions is that very little thought had been given to affirming an exact beginning
chronologically prior to the court proceedings. This lack of concern with origins is more
evidence to the lived religion of these Pentecostals who saw themselves breaking time
in their Spirit-filled-bodies. As restorationists the past was less important than the lived
religion that blended past, present and future in human divine interactions such as
speaking in tongues and divine healing.
As seen in chapter three, the Church of God (Cleveland) would eventually forge
a history and identity through the form of a white Protestant denomination and
denominational history. Tomlinson and his followers would seek another form for their
history. In what Tomlinson’s biographer termed his “mountain theology” and later history
would downplay, Tomlinson sought to build a material and visual history.210 The sheer
difference to recognizable religious history has brought the label of bizarre, strange, and
embarrassing to many within the Church of God of Prophecy and eventually would lead
to another split and the formation of the Church of God Jerusalem Acres. This chapter
210 Roger Robins only devoted two and one half pages to this “prophetic” creativity of Tomlinson’s later life.
Robins, A.J. Tomlinson, 227-29.
seeks to illustrate and display this visual and material form as alternate form of history
that sought to continue restorationist practices of Spirit filled bodies.
Notably the Church of God of Prophecy developed the C.P.M.A. (the Church
Prophecy Marker Association) to materially mark and build the history and identity of the
Church of God. The Church of God (Cleveland) may have legally won the right to the
denominational identity and history of the Chruch of God but Tomlinson, starting with his
1939 visit to Bryant’s homeplace began to buy the material places where the early
events of the movement took place. As Tomlinson died in 1943, the CPMA accelerated
and the construction of material history eventually incorporated a motion picture wing in
1948. The films would be able to visually record and share the material history of the
Church of God to all of its members.
In 1948, K.W. Bancroft began and led the Visual Department of the Church of
God of Prophecy under the CPMA. In 1941 Bancroft filmed, edited and distributed a
motion picture of the Church of God of Prophecy’s annual assembly.211 This film,
recorded, cut, edited, and distributed with his own money, convinced A.J. Tomlinson and
subsequently M.A. Tomlinson that film played an important role in restorationism and
end times prophecy. This visual chapter that follows is an exploration of one of these
films. The author has provided a hyperlink below for the film. In this “script” that follows
there will be time stamps or locations in each film, e.g. (00:30) indicating the moment the
written commentary applies to the film. In this manner the reader may pause the video
clip at stated time stamp and read before moving on or return to these marked moments
later and read commentary. For the sake of clarity the film’s audio narration has been
transcribed below in italics and the dissertation author’s comments will be placed below
211 “K.W. Bancroft Passes Away Nov. 14” White Wing Messenger 31:5 (November 21, 1953): 1, 4.
the coordinated narration and time stamps. This visual chapter is the first time any
author has sought to highlight the visual and material history of the Church of God
movement by engaging one of these films directly.
Film: White Wing Fleet ca. 1952
(00:00-00:16) “…Exactly like this the people witnessing, I wish that there was some way
that I could give an accurate estimate of this crowd. Everybody seems to be uh quite
innocent and eager and just looking forward to what’s going to be.”
The film opens up with a staged crowd of people. Bancroft, the videographer
and editor, has situated people in a two to three people deep line so that he can spread
the number of people out. By using a horizontal pan there is a visual illusion of a larger
number of people here. In reality this crowd is approximately two hundred people but by
staging them the cinematographer is able to create an illusion of a much larger crowd.
This film was created to be used in mass distribution to the Church of God of Prophecy
congregations around the United States and the Bahamas. The narration as well as the
staged crowd was intended to convey the significance of the ceremonial flight of the
White Wing Airplane Fleet. The site of the crowd also provided a sense of belonging to
a large movement for viewers in congregations that averaged less than 70 in
attendance. The films would be shown on projectors in local congregations as both
informative and “sanctified entertainment.” Instead of entering into the movie theaters
where moral conduct was blurred as the lights lowered and adolescents were
unsupervised, motion pictures like this sanctified film were screened inside the church
building were supervision was given. In addition the content of the film reflected the goal
of sanctified entertainment. The images are thrilling but constantly anchored in their
lived religion significance as scripture references were given as interpretation of different
actions, sites and flights.
Looking closely in this opening scene, if one pauses the video one can see that
at (00:14 – 00:16) there is a two second glimpse to approximately twenty black members
of the Church of God of Prophecy. The segregation of these members and their distinct
placement at the end of the line belies the tension of visual history. On one hand there
was intentionality to highlight in the choreographed and selected crowd black members
while on the other hand their presence is literally a blink within the film. Still from the
very beginning this chosen crowd that was filmed intentionally included black bodies and
faces. The Church of God of Prophecy is on display visually in this pan shot and they
have intentionally included black members in this visual testament. It is likely that the
segregated stance was justified both to ease potential white racist tensions as well as to
exaggerate the number of black members in attendance.
(00:17- 00:26) Brother Stubbs: “[Let me] introduce to you the commander in chief of the
White Angel Fleet M.A. Tomlinson”
Looking closely the viewer can observe that the White Angel Fleet is wearing
specially tailored uniforms. Each pilot not only wears a pilot hat but also military inspired
aviation credentials. M.A. Tomlinson’s jacket has four bars on the cuffs indicating his
prominence as the “commander in chief.” Grady Kent’s jacket has three bars indicating
his position as CPMA secretary. The remaining pilots have two bars on their jacket cuffs.
Those without this uniform were likely new to the group just as the plane from East
Texas (mentioned below) was also new and without the proper uniform paint job.
(00:27 – 00:47) M.A. Tomlinson:212 “Thank you Brother Stubbs and Brother Kent and
sister Wilson, I’m giving you this Word of God. We’d like to have it taken over the city of
Cleveland by the White Angel Fleet, by the cars, and by rail.”
(00:48 – 00:50) Grady Kent: “And that shall we do brother Tomlinson”
(00: 52 – 01:22) Brother Stubbs: “This Bible has been given to the general CPMA
secretary and commander [indiscernible word] brother Grady R. Kent and with sister
Willard Boyles our general VLB [victory leaders band] secretary who has already
supplied for this mission. The wings of prophecy and the victory leaders band are
working together in this way of getting the gospel more swiftly spread to the far ends of
(01:30 – 01:49) Brother Stubbs (unseen narrator): “Here goes brother Kent and Sister
Boyles to the car let see what they are doing now. The commander of the white wings of
prophecy the wings of prophecy fleet is giving his instructions to the men in the car to
notify the people of Cleveland of the arrival of the White Angel Fleet. He’s telling them to
go down to the streets and on the loud speakers in the car notify the town the fleet is
coming over and what they are going to do. This is the biblical wonder campaign. On the
side of the car it says ‘see it, hear it, and believe it.’ There goes the announcer now
down to the city of Cleveland. They’ve already been notified and they are expecting this
212 Milton Ambrose Tomlinson, the youngest of A.J. Tomlinson’s four children was chosen as the successor
to A.J. Tomlinson after his death in 1943. Prior to 1942 Milton had never served in ministerial or pastoral
leadership. Instead he was trained as a printer. Yet with the death of his father approaching and the
questions in the character and perspectives of Tomlinson’s oldest son Homer Tomlinson rumored, Milton
was placed into a pastorate in 1942 and then was appointed the next year at his father’s death to succeed
him as the general overseer of the Church of God of Prophecy. Davidson, Upon this Rock, Vol. 3, 69-78.
to be. There he goes. In just a few minutes Cleveland will hear what is going on out here
and they will be expecting the White Angel Fleet to come over. Alright now here we are
going to introduce all the officials and these pilots that are present.”
(02:30 – 03:37) Brother Stubbs (unseen narrator): “First of course as you see standing
there is brother M.A. Tomlinson the commander in chief of this program and he’s there
waiting as the others stand next is brother Grady R. Kent he’s pilot and commander of
the fleet. Flying with him as flight messenger sister Willard H. Boyles general VLB
secretary. Next we have brother Olan C. Fiveash, director of the program from South
Carolina; flying with him as flight messenger is Junior Smith. Next we have John A.
Crooms, fleet weatherman from Mississippi and flying with him flight messenger Lezel
Icks state secretary of Mississippi. Next we have Thomas Hazen Jr. pilot, state secretary
of East Texas; flying with him as flight messenger is Herb Harmon [of] Cleveland,
Tennessee. Next we have Alvia Kent pilot [of] Cleveland Tennessee.”
This pilot and flight messenger choreography and lineup is important because it
allows the historical viewer to see the male and female leadership in this endeavor.
Women such as the wife of Willard Boyles at once are presented in the domestic name
of their husband and at the same time present to actively fly and relay radio messages
from the flying plane. These women were trained for air traffic control correspondence
and the prophetic fulfillment of the last days through the airplane. Visual history records
their presence and leadership in materially and actively living the prophetic
restorationism of the Church of God of Prophecy. Lezel Icks and Mrs. Boyles were
brave to fly in these planes while many men watched in awe and fear.
(03:39 – 03:48) Brother Stubbs (unseen narrator): “We’re getting down now to the final
part of the program when the flight commander comes down to give instructions to his
pilots to get (Grady Kent walks into the frame in front of the gathered pilots to join M.A.
Tomlinson at the microphone stand where brother Stubbs’ hands can be seen holding
his script for the narration) them outlined for the way to fly out over the city of Cleveland.”
(03:50—04:48) Grady Kent: “Pilots and flight messengers we are instructed to take the
Word of God to Cleveland Tennessee in the printed form. We leave here in the plane
flying in two fleets three in front and four in the back. At an altitude of one thousand feet
directly over the city of Cleveland. And first brother Olan you go to your plane. Olan
Fiveash and his flight messenger. And the others shall take their places to their
respective planes that they’re going to fly. And remember to be careful fly with safety
1000 feet high 1000 feet apart 2000 feet behind one another and be careful when we
return to the airport that our trip shall be successful.”
Grady Kent steps into the frame to address the pilots and flight messengers in
formation in front of their planes and is redirected where to stand. Kent’s use of the
microphone provides two purposes, first it allows for a clear audio recording. Second,
the microphone conveys the spectacle of the moment implying a crowd of spectators
and a need for technological amplification. The fixed tripod provided a steady filming of
the scene but also necessitated a fixed placement for those involved in the event. This
visual frame along with the rigid cut-frame editing relays to the viewer that the event was
primarily to be viewed rather than physically attended.
It is important to note in this scene that Grady Kent distinguishes bibles as “the
written form” of the Word of God. As becomes more apparent later in the film, the
airplanes are a material form of the Word of God as enacted material forms of the Word
of God. The airplanes were living forms of matter that embodied prophecy. In the same
way in which Spirit filled bodies reoriented time through human divine interaction of lived
religion, the airplanes reordered time showing technological hastening of the last days
and ancient prophecy of scripture materialized presently.213 This materialized history
was more than just a “folk” history214 it was a robust visual articulation of a material
history allowed for a felt reading of theology and Church of God of Prophecy history.
People watching the film within their churches or simply encountering an airplane in the
sky or at an airfield were able to see, hear, and possibly touch a living record of the
Church of God movement. Tomlinson’s connection of the first motorized air flight in 1903
in North Carolina of the Wright brothers with the “discovery” of the Church of God
sanctified aeronautical technology. Airplanes were not seen as modern technology to
represent or signify prophetic ideas or internal beliefs. Theoretically one could identify
these planes as “sensational forms,”215 another materialized version of a Spirit filled
body. Alongside the human bodies enacting the lived religion of Spirit filled bodies, the
sheet metal, rivets, engines, and propellers enacted and reordered prophetic time. Just
as people speaking in tongues reordered time through a lived religion of restorationism,
airplanes roaring into the sky vibrantly lived as prophetic bodies: material forms of the
Word of God.
213 This negotiation of a lived material religion informs and builds off the “thing theory” of Bob Brown and
“matter vitality” of Jane Bennett. Bill Brown, “Thing Theory” Critical Inquiry 28:1 (2001): 1-22; Jane Bennett,
Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).
214 The Church of God of Prophecy’s material and visual history provide both evidence and counter to John
Hayes’ idea of poor interracial religion during the New South era. Hayes’ somehow made a glaring mistake
to omit Pentecostals such as the Church of God of Prophecy as part of the landscape of poor and interracial
religion in the Southeast during this era. This film materializes and remembers the earlier roots and robust
lexicon of what Hayes labeled “folk religion.” John Hayes, Hard Hard Religion.
215 Birgit Meyer, Aesthetic Formations, 1-30; and “Mediation and Immediacy.”
(The camera pans and follows as pilots and flight messengers walk towards their planes
then camera pans back to brother Stubbs)
(04:54—05:16) Brother Stubbs (unseen narrator) “Now after this final command the
pilots are moving off toward their planes getting ready for one of the greatest programs
in the fulfillment of prophecy of this present time described in Ezekiel 10:1-2.216 Wish you
were here to look too as these various pilots and flight messengers gather around their
planes going down the way some are already in and getting ready to prop them out and
send them over the city.”
(05:17—05:41) M.A. Tomlinson stands in front of microphone and prays: “Our father as
we come to this time as the planes are about to take off to take the gospel to the city of
Cleveland, we ask thy blessings upon each pilot, each one of the flight messengers,
each one has a part in the program. Give them a safe journey. Oh God help them to be
a blessing as they spread the gospel over the city of Cleveland. Bring them back safe in
Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Following M.A. Tomlinson’s prayer the viewer is confronted with a frame of just
an airplane. The plane takes center stage as a character in the film. More than just a
transporter of people, the plane is an active body and protagonist in the visual history
that was composed by the Visual Department of the Church of God of Prophecy.
216 Ezekiel 10:1-2 “1 Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims
there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. 2 And
he spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and
fill thine hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter them over the city. And he went in
in my sight.” (King James Version)
(05:44—06:04) Brother Stubbs unseen narrator: “Here comes the general overseer as
he goes in, as the scripture [Ezekiel 10:1-2] says “‘And He spake unto a man clothed
with a linen go in between the wheels’ and that’s just what they have done. ‘And fill thine
hand with coals of fire’ and that’s what they have… in the wheel. And then they are to
scatter them over the city. And then the last part of that scripture says: “And he went in
in my sight” and that’s just what we are about to do.”
(06:05—06:55) Brother Stubbs speaking from the microphone: “There’s Bill now
propping the plane. Here we go all seven planes cranked up here now revving up getting
ready for the take off. This is as far as we know the largest fleet of airplanes in the world
that’s dedicated exclusively to the promotion of the gospel. Hear the roar of those
motors? Isn’t that pretty? Glory be to God! My, my, look out Cleveland, look out world!
Here we come with the most modern invention that God has given us for the promotion
of the gospel. Hear that roar? My brethrens rev it up.” Loud sound of the propellers and
engines roaring. “This is a signal to the world!”
Camera zooms out and the viewer sees brother Stubbs and M.A. Tomlinson standing
near the microphone with the planes in the background. M.A. Tomlinson makes a hand
motion to the first plane.
(07:02—07:36) Brother Stubbs holding the microphone backs out of the camera’s view:
“Here we go first plane taxying off. Going on, following close but not too close.
Everybody’s doing their best to be careful. Here we go! Taxying, taxying, taxying
(07:43—07:52) Brother Stubbs unseen narrator: “This [airplane] just simply has ‘East
Texas.’ This plane has been recently acquired hadn’t had the time to paint it out but we’ll
give it that new coat Wednesday.”
(07:53—09:04) Unidentified narrator: “There they go one by one into the firmaments. It
seems as though the engines speak declaring that they are fulfilling God’s eternal
program according to Ezekiel 3:13 and 14: ‘I heard also the noise of the wings of the
living creatures that touched one another and the noise of the wheels over and against
them and the noise of great rushing. So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away and I
went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.’
This is a great day for the CPMA, Wings of Prophecy, and the VLB! Wings of Prophecy
presenting the Church of God as the Church of Prophecy. From the air, through the air,
on the air, and from the ground fulfilling Ecclesiastes 10:20: ‘For a bird of the air shall
carry the voice and that which have wings shall tell the matter.’ There they go Wings of
Prophecy carrying a voice which is the Church of God preacher telling the matter the
substance of that which is written and heard. ‘But they that wait upon the Lord shall
renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as of eagles. They shall run and
not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.’ Isaiah 40:31”
Listening closely the viewer of the film is able to detect a different narrator.
During this scene as the planes took off from the sod airfield, the voice of brother Stubbs
the onsite narrator was likely muffled or overpowered by the planes’ engines. The use of
postproduction audio narration by another narrator here further indicates that these
words are vital to the visual history recorded here. The Visual Department wanted to
make explicit in the visual action of planes taking flight that prophecy was being
declared. The intentional roaring sound of the engines was included as dialogue in the
spoken text of the film. Now the words that were spoken by these engines was explicitly
interpreted for the viewer by this outside narrator. Demonstrating a peripatetic
embodiment of texts that are contextualized in embodiment rather than written narrative
the film demonstrates a style of Pentecostal hermeneutics explored earlier in this
dissertation’s exploration of Spirit filled bodies. Criticized by Protestant biblical studies as
a Pentecostal “proof texting” of seemingly random connections of biblical quotations
such as the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Ecclesiastes, this visual history records and
demonstrates the embodied hermeneutics of Spirit filled bodies.217 The vibrant matter or
Spirit filled bodies of airplanes are here speaking and carrying the Word of God “the
substance of that which is written and heard.” In contrast to Conn’s written
denominational history that provided a chronological move away from a restorationist
lived religion past, the Church of God of Prophecy filmed a visual and material history
that continued to break time through an enacted lived religion.
(09:05—09:10) Brother Stubbs unseen narrator: “Already the loud speakers on the
street… and here come the airplanes. There they go!”
(09:18—09:28) Brother Stubbs unseen narrator: “And here we come down the runway.
It’s the yellow plane we just acquired yesterday from East Texas not been painted out
yet but here she goes! After this..”
217 C.f., Fee,”Why Pentecostals Read Their Bibles Poorly and Some Suggested Cures.”
These scenes record the take off of the seven airplanes in the fleet. The audio is
clipped only to include the sound of the planes’ engines as they pass by. Once again
the “voice” of the planes is intentionally highlighted.
(10:06—10:12) Unidentified narrator: “‘Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the
doves to their windows’ according to Isaiah 60:8”
Using again a postproduction narrator provided explicit translation of the sounds
and sights of the airplanes to the viewers of the visual history. (See annotation above for
Starting 10:11 to 10:39 the viewer is given an aerial view from the plane. Here
one can see how these films also provided an entertainment element to the viewers.
The members of the Church of God of Prophecy likely had never been in a plane and
this would have been very intriguing and interesting for them to see. This aerial view
would also bring to memory the film updates of World War II that many would have
viewed or discussed just several years prior. On a theoretical level this privileged view of
the city of Cleveland provides a glimpse at an outsiders look at their town. The town of
Cleveland was considered “the world capital and headquarters” of the Church of God
and many who watched this film through its church circulation were introduced to
Cleveland through this unique aerial perspective. This view was likely used to provide a
grander perspective to the town itself but ironically also shows the limited scope of the
small industrial town to the outsider watching today.
(10:40-11:04) Brother Stubbs unseen narrator: “We are standing here now on the lawn
in front of the capital of the world of the Church of God, Bible Place. And you see here
these people standing before their cars listening at the program over the radio. There on
the other corner there is another group of people, they look up you see them scanning
the skies. Well they’re looking for the White Wing Fleet. My, my, everybody’s out looking
(11:05—11:08) The viewer is given the opportunity to hear the radio broadcast that the
people are listening to from their car radios: “The Church of God over which M.A.
Tomlinson is the overseer…”
(11:09—11:36) [Brother Stubbs unseen narrator] This is an announcement coming over
the radio. We are coming into Tennessee now with this Wings of Prophecy program:
over the air by radio WBAC, and on the ground and from the air… Wings of Prophecy
coming over the radio [is] brother Kent.”
(11:37—11:39) [Grady Kent via the radio broadcast] “from the air, through the air, and on
(11:40—11:45) [radio announcer] “…this is a green thing coming our way our
weatherman… and look at the tracks!…”
(11:46—12:29) [Brother Stubbs unseen narrator] “As the scripture says ‘who is this that
fly as the clouds and as doves to the window?’ And here comes another one, here
comes another one coming over. A.J. Tomlinson said ‘these were Church of God men
and women flying as a cloud.’ Here he comes. Look at it. My, there he goes. (sound of
the plane engine roaring overhead of the camera and spectators). There fulfilling
prophecy. This is flying directly over the assembly tabernacle as we stand here on the
lawn of the capital building taking these pictures…. Here they come now. They’re
coming right over. My, this is a thrilling time. Here they come watching them, watching
them. Here they go, going over!”
The radio broadcast provides the historical viewer the opportunity to see
demonstration of the CPMA’s philosophy of evangelizing on the ground, through the air,
in the air, and on the air by showing cars, planes, spoken words, and radio messages.
In this way the film practiced this embodied teaching and proliferated it in its distribution
to local Church of God of Prophecy congregations. At the same time the words of the
broadcaster identifying the group as “the Church of God over which M.A. Tomlinson is
general overseer” reveals to the outsider the historic and continued placement of legal
disputes. The Chancery Courts had required by law that the Tomlinson group use a
prefix or suffix in addition to the name Church of God. This long title was their attempt
to creatively deemphasize the suffix. This would be the final act of the Tennessee
Supreme Court to ban the use of this name because it was not sufficiently explicit as to
differentiate them from the Church of God (Cleveland). The qualifier “over which M.A.
Tomlinson is general overseer” was always printed and displayed in a smaller subtext
and often never seen by those just glancing at letterhead, billboards, or the neon
marquee sign over the “world capital” headquarters building from which this scene was
In addition it becomes obvious here to the outside viewer watching today that the
staged event for this film was in reality not a city-wide event in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Even though the narrator expresses the global and historical enormity of these events as
he interprets them through biblical quotations traffic moves on throughout the town.
Business as usual can be seen as cars and trucks pass through the scene. They are
not looking up to the sky for the planes and likely they were not listening to the radio
broadcast. In a rare visual record, one is able to observe here historically the ways in
which Holiness Pentecostals such as Church of God of Prophecy members in this film
often lived in the “space” of a sanctified world where time was broken through Spirit filled
bodies while others drove right past them. Even in the world capital of the Church of
God this was a “practiced space” that was not shared by all occupied the place of
Cleveland, Tennessee. 218 In this way the practices of Spirit filled bodies created the
space in which they were at a world headquarters for the fulfillment of prophecy, while
other were simply driving through. To outsiders then and now this was just an ordinary
day in small southern industrial town. Yet to insiders this was a visual history of a
restorationist history where airplanes were proclaiming prophecy.
(12:45—12:49) [Brother Stubbs unseen narrator] “Here goes the tracks. My just settling
down and settling down”
It should be noted here that just as significant as the paper printed tracks that
were dropped from the planes was also their visual image. The camera angle from the
aerial videography is revealing in this manner. Particularly if one pays close attention to
the setting of the moment of track distribution you can see that the planes are not over
the houses. Instead they appear ironically to be located over the outskirts of town where
there are fewer homes. One of the purposes for this location was to highlight the
218 Here I am particularly employing Michel de Certeau’s idea of space as practiced place Michel de
Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984), 121.
number of paper tracks visually floating in the sky. Filming this drop above the houses
would obscure the visual record as the paper would have blended in with the image of
the houses below. This seemingly mundane detail once again shows that this event was
carefully created as a visual history and articulation of the Church of God of Prophecy
material history. Cleveland people would have been familiar with the Church of God of
Prophecy and their literature as a written tract would not necessarily be a successful
evangelism campaign. Yet the viewers watching this film from a projector in their local
congregations would be wowed by the image of thousands of pieces of paper falling
through sky. Just as the opening scene of the film choreographed people into a crowd,
this scene choreographs the location of falling paper tracts for the cultivation of a
collective sharing. Those Church of God of Prophecy members who watched the film in
their churches were inspired to see themselves as part of global church with “the largest
fleet of airplanes devoted to the proclamation of the gospel in the world.”
(12:54—13:07) [Brother Stubbs unseen narrator] “…Plane from East Texas we just got
is flying over. Bought it yesterday and today its doing work for the Church of God. Here
comes another one I don’t know what, which it is. But surely the air is filled with
messages of the Church of God today. My, my!”
(13:08—13:44) [Brother Stubbs unseen narrator] “The scripture says: ‘who are these that fly as a cloud and as doves to their windows?’
There goes one and here comes another one coming over. A.J. Tomlinson said these
were Church of God men and women flying as a cloud. Here he comes. Look at it! My,
there he goes! Here he goes! Yes, fulfilling prophecy this is flying directly over the large
assembly tabernacle as we stand here on the lawn of the capital building taking these
pictures and watching them go. People in their cars listening to the broadcast over the
(13:45—14:10) [Brother Stubbs unseen narrator] Car with loud speakers mounted to the roof of the car drives past
“Here they come now. Here goes the announcer car. There talking telling it on the
streets coming over the air, and from the air comes the airplanes. My what a wonderful
time this is. As this program spreads throughout the entire Church of God in the United
States and foreign countries. Here comes another coming right over us. My, this is a
thrilling time. Here they come. Watching them. Here they go!”
(14:11—14:24) [Brother Stubbs unseen narrator] “Awaiting the return of the White Angel
Fleet and here they come just finished their mission fulfillment of Ezekiel 10:2… ‘and he
went in my sight’ Here…”
As the plane lands the film comes to an abrupt end. The narrator reminds the
listener in one last moment of the prophetic interpretation of the airplanes. This
prophecy builds on the national and international intent of this visual history. The
Church of God of Prophecy is embodied in the flying airplanes and remembered in the
In addition to the fleet of airplanes that embodied the restorationism of the 1903
founding of Tomlinson’s Church of God, the group also built a biblical theme park. This
biblical theme park is named “Fields of the Wood” and is still in existence today. The
author is currently digitizing other films that directly address this park that were made by
the Visual Department of the Church of God of Prophecy. Of particular note in
correspondence with the visual analysis above is the formation of this park with aerial
views in mind. Fields of the Wood was built on the site that A.J. Tomlinson visited in
1940, the same location he joined the Church of God movement in 1903. One of the still
prominent features of this park is the giant concrete ten commandments that the Church
of God of Prophecy built into the mountainside. Considered the largest ten
commandments in the world when they were built in 1944 just after the death of A.J.
Tomlinson, they can be read from the sky by airplane passengers flying over the region
(See photo 1: Ten Commandments).219
In addition to the aerial perspective of the ten commandments, the monument
that was built to commemorate the founding of the Church of God was modeled after the
monument placed at the Kitty Hawk memorial. A.J. Tomlinson in 1939 also visited the
national monument in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina that commemorated the first motorized
flight of the Wright Brothers on December 17, 1903 (See photo 2: Arise and Shine
Marker). Fields of the Wood became a pilgrimage site that Church of God of Prophecy
members would travel from around the world to visit. Unlike Conn’s written
denominational history though this material and visual history that the Church of God of
Prophecy constructed did not help them move towards a white Protestant identity.
219 Photos of Fields of the Wood can be found in the Appendix: “Photos of Fields of the Wood.”
Instead the aesthetics of the park were viewed at best as folk art and at worst a
continued evidence of the pathological view of Appalachian Pentecostals as “primitive.”
Yet internally the Church of God of Prophecy was more concerned with breaking
time through the restorationism of the lived religion as Spirit filled bodies. Airplanes and
a theme park were not a pragmatic choice to create a respectable narrative of
Pentecostalism. The Church of God of Prophecy did not depart from the embodied
theological impulse of early Pentecostals when they created these articulations of their
material and visual history. They continued to creatively embody a religion of
restorationism that did not fit into the identity of white Protestantism. They poured
concrete, flew airplanes, and made films in an attempt to continue to break time as the
“true” Church of God even if the courts said they were not legally allowed to call
themselves this name. They would step beyond the internal Protestant beliefs and legal
social constructs and once again create a new identity through Spirit filled bodies, this
time including airplanes and a park as member bodies.
The goal of this dissertation has been to historically document the lived religion of
the early Church of God movement and the struggle to maintain or disregard this lived
religion. Specifically the Church of God movement’s identity of Spirit filled bodies in
which they lived a restoration of time has provided a critical and constructive example of
how early Pentecostals in the United States were able to construct alternate identities
outside of race, class, and gender constructs that were placed on them socially. Women
such as Clyde Cotton and Rebecca Barr were given leadership roles and empowered
identities that they lived out through a practiced theology where beliefs and practices
were blurred into the enactment of Spirit filled bodies. They reordered their world
through a restorationism that saw not only the re-founding of the Church of God but also
the warping of time in which they were able to live in the “last days” and share in the
miracles of the “early church” at the same time. This early history and enacted theology
has largely been left out of historical record by historians of Pentecostalism prior to this
project because the “text” or medium of their history has called into question the “form”
of histories of American religion itself. Explicitly, it was the human bodies of these early
Pentecostals that enacted their religion and was the active site of their religion’s
articulation. In this manner the restorationism not only broke time, it broke identity. This
approach to theology has necessitated both a social history, religious studies theory
framework, and ethnographic theory in order to highlight the everyday life of these early
Tempering the attempt to highlight an emic depiction of the world and identity
that early Church of God members created through their lived religion of restorationism
as Spirit filled bodies, this dissertation has also sought to contextualize the movement.
With claims of starting anew or “discovering” the Church of God from early members of
the movement it was important to highlight the counter reality. Emphasizing the historic
synergy and continuation of the Holiness movement was extremely important so as to
provide a clearer understanding of the formation of the Church of God movement as
initially part and form of the nineteenth century religious reform movement. As
theological claims and technological advancements of embodied beliefs sought to
expand the meaning of “Spirit baptism” many of the shared and continued practices
were buried, forgotten or dismissed. The name Church of God along with the presence
of peoples from multiple groups such as local Holiness associations of Camp Creek and
the Christian Union, Holiness missionaries such as Flora Bower and A.J. Tomlinson, and
the Fire Baptized Holiness Association provided a matrix of overlapping groups and
influences from which the Church of God movement emerged. The identification of this
polycentric beginning was also helpful transitioning focus toward the memory and history
records of the early history. This early history not only recorded the past of the
movement, but essentially constructed different origins along with different branches of
the movement. By focusing on the social history of women like Rebecca Barr, Clyde
Cotton, and Flora Bower instead of primarily on the role of men who later constituted the
bulk of the written denominational history texts, this dissertation was able to show
various geographies and roots to beginnings of the Church of God movement.
Taking seriously the embodied lived religion and social history of the early
movement has opened a new way of interpreting the project of denominational history
for the largest branch of the Church of God movement, the Church of God (Cleveland).
Looking closely at Charles Conn’s history this dissertation has shown that Conn not only
sought to distance the Church of God from her step-sister the Church of God of
Prophecy, but also to create a new identity for the movement. Conn’s history employed
the pathological view of Pentecostals and white Appalachians as a starting point and
new racial myth so that he could chronologically depict the group as a white Protestant
denomination in 1954. Understanding the vague and fiction-like prose of Conn’s
treatment of the early Appalachian history as more than color writing but literally race
making is helpful in two ways for this project. First it allowed for an indirect illustration of
the historic othering of poor whites in Southern Appalachia in race, in class, and in
religion. They were not proper white Protestants but they were suitable ancestors of a
mythic past and Conn employed that past to depict his present and hopeful future for the
denomination he was helping lead. Second Conn’s history allows the historian to
observe the religious construction of a white Protestant identity. From footnotes, linear
chronology, removal of visual history, and recasting the list of protagonists to almost
exclusively white males Conn was able to redirect the reader away from what Cannon
called “peculiar doctrine” and more to familiar features of white Protestantism. The
Church of God (Cleveland) enacted a new identity through their denominational history
that no longer confronted Protestantism with Spirit filled bodies but instead sought to
exemplify a Spirit filled branch of “legitimate Protestantism.”
The Church of God movement’s formation of identity and construction of race
through its later history was not the utopian example of egalitarianism. In reality the
schisms that led to the formation of subsequent branches and denominations are
insights into the struggles to maintain the claims of a Spirit filled body. Yet this history of
religious race construction has provided a historical example in which poor white and
black peoples in the Southeast United States were able to phenomenologically
constitute alternate identities outside those given to them by the larger society through
their lived religion. In this way understanding the early Church of God movement as not
white and not Protestant, even though they were predominately phenotypically white and
propositionally similar to Protestantism, raises larger questions about religion and race.
Notably that social reform and social construction of identity was not only a top-down
“Progressive Era” movement but also a grassroots and religious construction of peoples
socially marginalized such as the members of the early Church of God movement. They
were not flat, forced, and subaltern in their worldviews. They were Spirit filled bodies
living beyond their time and restoring the world to its sanctified origins. They were living
out their alternate racial, gendered, and classed identities as they lived out their religion.
Highlighting that they were not part of the normative white Protestant understanding of
religion in this way is not a demeaning historical act of marginalization but rather an
intentional attempt to listen to the actions, lives, and bodies of these people.
In turn the highlighting of these alternate identities and the ways in which the
early Church of God sought to live and enact their Spirit filled bodies, has also provided
the opportunity to excavate the layers of external marginalization. By reorienting the
historiographical viewpoint of the historian to record and be atuned to the construction of
these alternate identities this history has then also sought to highlight the role of latent
and explicit marginalization of the Church of God and Pentecostals under the label of
“primitive.” When one stops looking for a group as marginal then the question arises
where does the margin come from in the first place? Studying the pathologization of
poor whites in Appalachia and white Pentecostals in the early Church of God this
dissertation has sought to make explicit the ethnocentricism in the continual use of the
lens of “primitive” to describe the Church of God. Tracing the continual use of
psychological characterizations of embodied religion to eugenic and racial essentialist
views, the goal has been to highlight that implicit in the view of Pentecostals as
“primitive” is that there is a “normative” form of religion and race in American religious
history. Deep within the strata of this word “primitive” are over a century of academic
approaches to classifying and ordering humanity and religion with an evolutionary
chronology in mind. Appalachian whites in the early Church of God provide historical
examples of contrast to these characterizations when the historian is willing to adjust
their metrics and structures of recording these histories. By taking seriously the claims of
the Church of God adherents’ Spirit filled bodies, one is able to see creative counters to
larger cultural forms of racism and race construction that the early Church of God
creatively, not pragmatically, confronted. The initial theories of cognitive and emotive
pathology that were used during early twentieth century to academically justify
marginalization of these group are subtly continued in their explicit academic
characterization as “primitive.”
In an exploratory attempt to take seriously the “form” of history that the Church of
God movement used this dissertation also focused on the visual and material history of
the Church of God of Prophecy. By highlighting the creative historical construction and
recording of a film and a biblical theme park the visual chapter sought to incorporate an
audio-visual “text” as an alternate form of history. Instead of bracketing this creative
approach to recording history as “folk religion” or supplementary to written histories, this
dissertation has sought to analyze this film as a restorationist approach to history. In
addition this dissertation has sought to employ material culture studies to take seriously
the claims that airplanes could embody a continued restoration of Spirit filled bodies.
Taking a closer look at the consequences of this visual history, notably the presence of
women and people of color in a visual testament of the origins and identity of the Church
of God movement has also necessitated the inclusion of a video as central aspect of this
dissertation’s “text” and not just an appendix. Yet the form and task of this dissertation
has also highlighted the weaknesses of such a visual history on its own and precipitated
the written “script” which contextualized and interpreted the visual and material elements
of this film.
In the end this project has sought to look closely as well as think broadly about
the microhistory of the Church of God movement. The Church of God movement today
is an ongoing, living example of Pentecostalism in the United States and around the
world. The orientation to the history of this movement and its two largest branches,
Church of God (Cleveland) and Church of God of Prophecy, has wrought a constructive
illustration of the construction of race in religion and American religious history. The
questions of race, class, and gender provided a way for the author initially to approach
this project looking to recover voices and reconstruct the early history of this movement.
Yet throughout the research it became apparent that Conn’s history, the visual history,
and the early primary sources were doing more than telling differing histories. They
were constructing identities. This dissertation has been an interdisciplinary exercise of
recording not only these different histories but also looking at the broader consequences
of the identities that Pentecostals in the Church of God movement created both in the
lived religion of their Spirit filled bodies and in the practice of recording their histories. At
the same time it has sought to challenge the reader to think critically about the form and
residual patterns of American religious history. Footnotes, linear chronology, airplanes,
films, and a biblical theme park may seem unlikely conversation partners in
historiography of American religion but in this project they have brought to light both the
creative construction of lived religion identities and the implicit rubrics for white
Chapter Two Chart Camp Creek, Christian Union 1900/1 Piney Grove Tennessee Christian Union 1897 Coker Creek, Tennessee 1886 Barney Creek Gristmill R.G. Richard Green Spurling
J.R. Graves Landmarkism
Church of God History
Overlapping sources for early
North Carolina expels
Iowa Holiness Association
Mary Curry Henck
Frederick W. Henck d. 1889
1880s East Tennessee Holiness
East Tennessee Holiness
Fire Baptized Holiness
E. Milton McNabb
FBHA in Mountains
Bradley County, Tennessee)
FBHA Beniah, Tennessee (Dare,
in 1890s in Camp Creek,
in the B
Holiness Church at Camp Creek
Spurling, and Bryants found
1902 Frank Porter, R.G.
in Camp Creek
lead Holiness and FBHA group
1890s W.F. and Nettie Bryant
Plains, and Turtletown,
North Carolina Epperson, Tellico
“The Way” 1904
Church of God (Holiness)
John P. Brooks “Divine Church”
Southwest Holiness Association
Daniel S. Warner
Church of God (Anderson,
Churches of God in North
of God Evangel”
1910 “Evening Light and Church
School and orphanage1899 to
Quaker. Mt. Zion Industrial
missionary, and independent
Society colporteur, Methodist
Tomlinson, American Bible
J.B. Mitchell and A.J.
and Missionary Training
Nora Chambers, Altamount Bible
Healing Home Atlanta. Atlanta
Clyde Cotton, Hephzibah
Association, Hephzibah Home
Flora E. Bower, Union Mission
Chapter Three Photos
Unidentified Tent Revival ca.1910. Scanned from Pete Bryant Private Collection. Five women
surround W.F. Bryant under a Tent with makeshift plank platform and pulpits, portable pump
organ, and saw dust tent floor. It is possible that Flora E. Bower and Clyde Cotton are two of the
woman pictured here.
This photo on the right highlights the characteristic role of Maria Atkinson in her leadership of the
Church of God in Arizona and Mexico. Here she is positioned higher up than the local pastor of
this congregation symbolizing her leadership role over him. In other photos she is typically sitting
in the front center wearing white and visible as the leader of prominence. Both of these photos
were found in Conn’s personal research files with correspondence between himself and Atkinson
about her ministry.
Here one is able to see the only visual included in the 1955 first edition of Conn’s history located
on the inside title page. On the left emerging from the silhouette of the mountains is a sketch of
R.G. Spurling as a caricature of a pioneer. Footsteps move this isolated pioneer towards a globe
on the right.
Photos of Fields of the Wood
Photo 1: Ten Commandments
Photo 2: Arise and Shine Marker
ARCHIVES & MUSEUMS
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