- Historic Sites
Jones Vs. Jones
In Toledo a civic crusade matched the popular mayor against a famed evangelist—both with the same name
April 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 3
In 1885, the Georgia preacher was asked to conduct a revival meeting for the Methodist churches of Nashville, Tennessee. Jones made such a sensational success of it that he abandoned pastoral work for evangelism. His handsome face, fiery rhetoric, and missionary zeal soon made him the most popular revivalist in the South. A slim, dark, forthright man, his deep-set eyes flashed indignation at one moment and twinkled with amusement the next. Unlike his plump, benign, walrus-mustached counterpart in Toledo, however, the evangelist did not enjoy good health and suffered often from stomach trouble and spells of exhaustion. Yet his passion for preaching drove him to constant activity. If Sam M. Jones could claim that his oil-pumping invention was advancing America’s material progress, Sam P. Jones could fairly have claimed two innovations in urban revival techniques that were, in their own way, equally as important. Not only was Jones the first evangelist in America to make revival meetings as entertaining and applause-conscious as the theater, but he was also the first one to turn revival campaigns into civic-reform crusades.
Early in his career Jones began to tell his revival audiences, “Fun is the next best thing to religion.” “When I get up to preach,” he said, “I just knock out the bung and let nature cut her capers.” Newspaper reporters noted with surprise that Jones had his audience howling in (its of irrepressible laughter more often than he had them in tears or terror. “AVc have been clamoring for forty years for a learned ministry,” he would say, “and we have got it today and the church is deader than it ever has been in history. Half of the literary preachers in this town arc A.D.’s, Ph.D.’s, D.D.’s, LL.D.’s, and A.S.S.’s.” He often parodied the old hymn “Shall Jesus Bear the dross Alone” to scold the hypocrites who came to church twice a year at Christmas and Easter, and then only to show off their new clothes. “The way you sing it,” he told these lip-service Christians, “is
Shall Jesus bear the cross alone, And all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for everyone, And an Easter bonnet for me.”
It is not surprising that during the summer months, Evangelist Jones made a handsome income lecturing on the lyceum and Chautauqua circuits where he competed successfully with such platform artists as Mark Twain, Josh Billings, and Artemus Ward. By 1899 he had become as striking a testimonial to the American myth of success as his entrepreneurial namesake in Toledo; his earnings from lecturing and revivals averaged thirty thousand dollars a year, a large sum in those income-tax-free years.
Strangely enough, businessman Sam M. Jones himself undcnvcnt a religious conversion in these same years, but of a very different nature. Shortly after he moved to Toledo in 1892, he came under the influence of the Reverend George D. Herron, a Congregational minister from Grinnell, fowa, whose (laming oratory and burning interest in social problems made him one of the most controversial and influential religious leaders in the Midwest. Herron, one of the first of America’s social gospelcrs, disagreed vigorously with the accepted Protestant ethic of the Gilded Age which taught that poverty, crime, and most other social problems were due to lack of character, will power, or integrity among the lower classes. Before he heard Herron, the self-made sucker-rod magnate would have heartily endorsed this viewpoint. He would have agreed, before 1802, with the new social Darwinian philosophy preached by men like Herbert Spencer. The evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest, they said, gave scientific endorsement to the ethic of rugged individualism that Evangelist Jones espoused in these words: “God projected this world on the roothog-or-d!c-poor principle, if the hog, or man cither, don’t root, let him die.”
But after he had heard the social gospel of George Herron, the whole outlook of the rich young manufacturer was permanently altered. Herron preached that the heart of the gospel Jesus taught was the ideal of social justice—it was nothing less than the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth: Except the state he horn again, except it be delivered from pagan doctrines of law and government, from commercial and polite conceptions of its functions … it cannot sec the divine social kingdom. … The supremacy of the law of selfinterest is the conclusion of Herbert Spencer’s materialistic philosophy. It is [lie principle upon which Cain slew his brother. … the law of self-interest is the eternal falsehood which mothers all social and private woes; for sin is pure individualism—the assertion of self against God and humanity. …
Herron’s views were re-enforced in Jones’s mind by his experience with the great depression of i8gg when he saw able-bodied men in Toledo literally begging for work to keep their families from starving. Forsaking his belief in rugged individualism and the laissez faire system based upon it, he became, like Herron, a Christian socialist.