“Seen and Read of Men”: Biblical Text and the Living Epistles of Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement
Abstract

Abstract:

This article seeks to redress certain historiographical oversights in the study of Father Divine’s Peace Mission movement by turning away from exclusive consideration of Divine’s own theological agenda and toward the very tactile devotional culture of his diverse followers. Recent scholarship has rightly pointed out the influences of New Thought on Divine’s theologies of materialization and on his reconceptualization of cosmic dramas of personal and corporate salvation, developments that can be seen in the theological sensibilities of his followers as well. Yet, the Peace Mission’s “living epistles” also had deep histories, whether personal or familial, in Protestant and Catholic traditions that were not simply discarded when they turned to Father Divine. Lastly, much of the current scholarship on Father Divine and the Peace Mission has been limited to the highly charged Harlem decade of the 1930s. Drawing on the rich material archive of subsequent decades, this article looks primarily at the Peace Mission’s activities of the 1940s and 1950s, thus yielding insight into the changing racial dynamics of the movement as well as its ongoing relationship with postwar American cultures.