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Interview with: Charles Allen
Interviewed by: Louis J. Marchiafava
Date: August 27, 1975
LM: 00:14 August 27, 1975, interview with Dr. Charles Allen. Dr. Allen, I’d like to begin by asking you questions concerning your early career. Was there ever any doubt that you would become a minister in the Methodist Church?
CA: No. My father was a minister. We grew up in Georgia. He served, in my early life, rural churches. And I would go, as a little boy beginning at five, six years old, with him to his rural churches. And even at that age I felt like I wanted to be a minister. When I was 19 years old, I joined the Methodist Conference and have been a pastor ever since—since I was 19 years old.
LM: Did your father encourage you along this line?
CA: Yes, but he didn’t push me. It wasn’t his decision. After I decided, he helped me and encouraged where he could, but he didn’t try to push me. Preachers are very sensitive about trying to push their own children into the ministry.
LM: You were a minister for quite a while in Atlanta, Georgia.
CA: I came to Houston in 1960. Up until then, I was a minister in Atlanta. I began in 1934 as a minister, and I was in Atlanta 12 years at the Grace Methodist Church.
LM: What led to your coming here?
CA: The minister of this church was Dr. Pope, and he was elected a bishop. And this church was vacant, and they asked me to come. Of course I was very delighted to come. Now this is the largest Methodist Church in the world, and personally, I think it’s the greatest pulpit in the Methodist Church. I was very happy to come. It was a substantial opportunity.
LM: Both in Atlanta and here in Houston, after you took control of the church, the membership increased considerably. What do you attribute this to?
CA: 02:50 You know, that’s a hard question because this is all I’ve ever done all my life, and I work at it and we have a good program. We rarely have many members join the church that we don’t contact. And we push and we work at it; we try to sell it. But my business always has been to try to get people to come to church. And if you get them to come to church, then you’ll have new members and they’ll support the church financially. I’ve been fortunate both in Atlanta and here to be able Sunday after Sunday to have the church full. In addition to that, we are on television. I had the first church service ever televised in the United States. In Atlanta I was on television every Sunday, and I’ve been on television every Sunday in Houston. And also we’re on radio every Sunday. That gives you a lot of exposure. In addition to that, I write books. My books have sold very substantially. And I write for the local newspaper. I wrote for the paper in Atlanta, and then I write for the Houston Chronicle, so I’m before a lot of people in my books and newspaper and radio and television, and that gives you exposure, you see. And they come, and when people visit the church, we contact them if they’re not members of the local church and that accounts for it.
I2: What was the process by which the members of this congregation went about selecting a minister when the minister that was here was elected a bishop?
CA: Actually, in the Methodist Church we have a bishop, and he has the absolute power and authority to appoint whoever he would care to appoint. But we also have a committee in the church called a Pastor Parish Relations Committee, and the bishop usually works with that committee. And in this particular case, this committee looked around and got recommendations, and they visited in Atlanta in my church and talked to me. I’m sure they visited other ministers. And the committee asked the bishop to send me to this church.
I2: Is this typical of the way when a congregation needs a new minister that they go about securing one—that the congregation approaches the bishop and makes known its will?
CA: Not the congregation. In the Baptist Church, for example, the congregation would vote. In the Methodist Church the congregation as a church would never vote. But this is a committee of nine men, and the bishop doesn’t have to work with them. Typically, it seems that the larger the church is, the more influence the committee has, but that’s not always true.
I2: Perhaps I should rephrase the question altogether because I was raised in the Presbyterian Church, and so my questions, sir, are reflecting my own personal experience. To approach it a different way, would you explain to us the way that the Methodist Church is organized and the relationship between the formal organization—the bishops, the ministers—and the congregation.
CA: 07:17 In the Methodist Church the bishop is over a conference or maybe in some instances two conferences, and he has absolute power to move any minister in that conference and send him to any church. He does not have to advise with anybody. Now, he does not have the power to send a minister to another conference without his permission. Actually, the discipline states that a bishop shall advise with the minister before he moves him, but in practical ways, though, it just simply means he’ll just tell him he’s going to move. But no bishop uses that power because he wants the goodwill of the minister and the goodwill of the congregation. And in the Methodist Church no minister would ever be moved if he wanted to stay and if the church wanted to keep him. He would never be moved. But frequently a minister may say to a church—and I hate to tell you this—“I want to stay,” but then he’ll say to the bishop, “If you can give me a better church, I’d like to move.” (interviewer laughs) But of course now we have 50 bishops in the Methodist Church, active bishops, and they operate differently. Some of them are more heavy-handed than others.
I2: What is the overall unifying structure of the bishops? You have 50 bishops.
CA: We have a General Conference which meets once every four years. And the General Conference is a delegated body. There are about 1,200 delegates.
I2: Who selects these delegates?
CA: Each conference elects the delegates. And in the Texas Conference we elect about—there’s an equal number of ministers and laymen. In the Texas Conference we have 20 delegates—10 ministers and 10 laymen.
I2: In the conference itself, who selects the members of the conference?
CA: The ministers are all members of the conference, and then each church selects a lay delegate equal to the number of ministers.
I2: Then in the church itself, what is the relationship between the minister and the congregation? You mentioned there was a committee that went and was looking at potential ministers to come here. How is the organization of this church structured?
CA: 10:18 We have an administrative board which really is the lawmaking—they have the power and the authority in the church. But the larger the church is, the more that’s delegated to the staff—the minister and the professional staff, but we are responsible to the administrative board.
I2: How is the administrative board selected?
CA: The administrative board has a nominating committee which is elected in the administrative board. And when there are vacancies, I think we have one member of the administrative board per each 30 members of the church, and this nominating committee nominates new members of the board. The pastor of the church is the chairman of that committee.
I2: What are the duties specifically of the pastor of the church?
CA: Of course the pastor of the church is the general administrator of the church. I have about 30 people on my staff, full-time people. They all work for me. As pastor, I am responsible to the administrative board. I have a finance committee, and all of the financial things I will talk over with this finance committee which meets once a month. Our budget in this church is a little more than a million dollars a year. We have an outside auditor who audits our books once a month and makes the report to the financial committee. But it’s my job to see that we get the money, and that’s my responsibility. I run a low-key program. A lot of churches have where every member canvasses. They go to see people. We don’t do that. Once a year I just write the people one letter and enclose a pledge card, and that’s all we do. But the minister of the church, in the Methodist Church he has much more power than in a Congregational Church. For example, I decide who could join the church. The congregation doesn’t vote on it. I would decide, for example, who could meet in the church. I am in charge of the church, appointed here by the conference.
I2: As you noted with the bishop, the bishop has more power than he actually uses. I assume this is true for the minister with regard to his church—that he has more power than he actually uses—because if there’s going to be harmony, you cannot run roughshod—
CA: Well, the people who really in the long run have the power are the people that pay the money. And if you offend all your people, you’ll close up. It’s my job to get along with the people to the best of my ability.
I2: 13:53 Would you then describe for us the way that you go about getting along with the people, not only making them happy but making more people want to come and be a member of your church.
CA: In this particular church, you see, we have 11,000 members, and they are scattered all over this entire area. Many of our members live 30 miles away, so obviously we can’t visit them all or I can’t visit them personally. I can’t even know them all personally. My first job is to from the pulpit give an impression of concern and interest in the people, and I try to do that. And then we have a newspaper that we send every week into all our homes. And then we have laypeople who call and contact and try to keep up with members of the church. If a member is in the hospital and we know it, we go to see them. As soon as we finish here, I’m going to see all the members we have in two hospitals here in the city. We go to see them. If somebody dies, we of course conduct the funeral. We have an average of four funerals a week. Not all those are members of the church. Many of these are people who are not members of a local church but they are familiar with our church, and we always are available. We have an average of four weddings a week. Another thing, I have it understood in our office here any time anybody hears of somebody that’s unhappy, let me know. I contact them. I call them on the phone and I very frequently go to see them. If you want a visit from me, just let me know you’re unhappy and I’ll be there.
LM: What seems to be the major cause of cases where you do find some unhappiness?
CA: We haven’t had very much. When I first came, pretty soon after I came, we received some black people into the church. And I was the first Methodist preacher in the Texas Conference to receive a black member. I happen to believe that the church is for everybody, and I’m not going to put up any barriers. And when a black family—a man and his wife and their baby—came and wanted to unite with this church, I immediately received them. I didn’t have to ask anybody, you see. We don’t vote on it. Then he wanted to sing in the choir and that’s fine. He was qualified, and he sang in the choir. We had some ripple over that. That’s one area. But I went to see the people. A few people left the church on that account. But I always take the position, you see, you do what you feel is right. And I knew it was right to open the church to whoever wanted to come. Now we have 30 or 40 black members and there’s no problem at all. But that created quite a ripple. Occasionally, like we’ve just been through a building program and we’ve spent nearly $3 million on this property—we just rebuilt a building. People get upset about the color of the carpet. We just put in a new carpet. It’s a light color, and some of the people didn’t like that. A carpet. People get upset over trifling things many times. But then sometimes we’ve had somebody in the hospital and we didn’t know they were there and then they get upset. One source of great tension has been some of the social issues and programs to which we contribute money, particularly through the National Council of Churches. Anybody can be unhappy, but I am very fortunate we haven’t had too much of it. I would contact anybody. My position is to love people and win people and hold people and not to drive them out.
I2: 18:58 You say you have 11,000 members. Your church will not hold 11,000, I assume.
CA: We have 2,500 or so each Sunday.
I2: How much is your use of television and radio a part of your ministry to your church per se, and how much is it your reaching out to all of the citizens of Houston?
CA: I think it’s both. A large number of our members do listen to us on television, and then a large number of our members first got interested by listening. I’m in my 16th year in this church now. Every downtown Methodist Church I know of—not only Methodist but any other denomination just right here in Houston—at one time there was a dozen churches in the downtown area, Protestant mainline churches. Now there are only two left. First Baptist is moving out soon. The only two left is Christ Church Episcopal and this church. All the downtown churches all over America have gone down in membership except this church. We’ve received more members in the last 15 years since I’ve been here than any other Methodist Church in the world.
I2: But yours is not the only church—you are not the only minister who uses the media as a way of reaching people. Why have you had the success where others seemingly have not just by this movement of churches out of the downtown area?
CA: I can’t answer that question. Twenty-eight years ago, I moved to a downtown church in Atlanta, Georgia, from a small town. I don’t use any special attractions whatsoever. I’ve always just used our regular program. I guess that just enough people listen to me. In a downtown church, the pastor of the church has more to do with the church than maybe he should have. By that I mean the church goes up or down according to the popularity of the pastor more than it should.
I2: You said you began using television and radio when you were in Atlanta.
I2: 21:43 When was this?
I2: How much had it been used before you started this?
CA: As far as I can find out, they had never televised a regular church service until I did it.
I2: Why did you decide to use television? Had you used radio before television?
CA: Yes, yes. But I went to the television station and asked them to let me try. They didn’t think it would work, but I felt that it would work and it proved out.
I2: How is the financing of your ministry on television and on radio—
CA: In all my years they’ve given it to us. The TV stations give us the time. We pay a small out-of-pocket expense that they have, and of course we pay for the telephone line, but we do not buy the time. Certain evangelists and other religious programs do that, but we do not. They give us the time.
I2: As far as the decision on the part of the television station—like you said, when you first approached the station in Atlanta, they were skeptical—are they concerned whether there’s going to be enough people watching it to justify their going through this? What is their decision?
CA: I couldn’t tell you. We have a large audience. According to their figures, we have more people on television than attend every church in this city put together.
I2: I can easily believe that.
CA: But we’re not the only church on television, you see. I think there are five or six local churches on Sunday morning. Some of them pay for the time, but we do not pay; they give it to us. And we make no appeal for money from the television audience. It’s not a big amount.
LM: It’s been said that your preaching style, one of directness and simplicity, is thought to be responsible for your popularity on television as a minister. Was this style developed naturally or did you consciously try to develop a style?
CA: 24:22 No. I think it’s my natural style. There’s a little story. When I was in seminary, there was a minister came that probably had more influence on me than anything. A minister came to speak at our seminary. I don’t remember his name, but I just remember this experience. He was an outstanding minister. He told about when he went out to his first church. It was a small, poor, rural church. He knew the people, and he determined that he would never use a word that he felt everybody wouldn’t know. And that has been my work. I have worked hard. It’s not my business to get you to agree with me, but it’s my business to try to see that you understand me, what I say. And this is what I have worked to do, to try to preach to the average person, that they would understand me. The thing that pleases me is that the television station says I have the largest black audience in the city.
I2: Really? That’s very interesting.
LM: Yes, it is.
CA: Anywhere I go—at the airport, any restaurant—anywhere there are black people, they know me. I have tremendous recognition in Houston among the black people, and I feel it’s because they understand me. I of course talk slow, with a Southern brogue, and I get laughed at about that in the North, but I think maybe that’s why it is. They understand what I say.
LM: Perhaps it was your stand you took earlier too during the integration crisis.
CA: Well, yeah, but I don’t think that’s— My books, that’s the reason. I’ll modestly say to you, my books outsell the books of any minister in America year after year, and I feel that’s the reason. It’s simplicity. They sell real well—300,000 or 400,000 a year, which is a large amount.
I2: Yes, it is. Over many years that’s—
CA: I have one book that sold over a million, and a number of them have sold a quarter of a million.
LM: What was the name of the one that sold a million?
CA: God’s Psychiatry. I wrote that book 20 years ago, and it sells 20,000 to 30,000 a year. I think that’s one reason. People just understand what I say.
LM: 27:26 Do you have any idea of the social strata of your congregation?
CA: Yes, sir. I grew up in what I call county seat towns, which I like. In a county seat town, you have the president of the bank and the man who sweeps out the bank. And that’s what this church is. This church is nothing but a big county seat town church. Of course this is the oldest church in the city of Houston, the oldest congregation, but it’s always been the largest church in Houston. There are more Baptists in Houston than there are Methodists, but they are not in one church. We have some of the wealthiest people in the city—always have had—and we have some of the poorer people, but we do not have the poorest people. I think that’s a fault in our church. We do not have the poorest people, but we have poorer. But for the most part, we have the middle class people of the city, which is true of most any other church except in a neighborhood church. Now, you go to certain neighborhood churches and everybody in it is from one economic level. But that’s not true of this church. I’ve stood many times in the pulpit and I’ve looked out and seen some of the wealthiest men in this city standing by some men who work at very humble jobs to take up the offering. But it is a cross section of the city.
LM: Do you think being a center city church has something to do with this?
CA: Yes. Yes, I think it has a lot to do with it. Some of our wealthiest members are members who have been here for many, many years. Of course there was a time when this was the only Methodist Church in Houston. This particular church at one time was located where the Chronicle building now stands, across from the Rice Hotel. And I have the records of the church. They moved here, and the church was badly split over the issue. “They are moving so far out of town, nobody will ever come.” (laughter) But it’s always been downtown and it will always be downtown.
LM: What was the date that the church moved?
CA: 1910 it moved.
LM: How far back do your records go?
CA: They go back to the beginning of the church.
I2: Which was when?
CA: 30:23 I don’t have the date, but it was the same date that Houston started. It was 1839 or something.
LM: ’37 or something like that. ’36-’37.
CA: This church was organized the same year that this city began. Actually, First Methodist, First Presbyterian and First Baptist were all organized pretty much the same year, and I think each one of us claim to be the first.
LM: Primarily what do these records consist of? Births, deaths, things like that?
CA: Yes. And then somebody wrote a book on the history of the church, Dr. Howard Grimes, and he did a very good job of bringing it all together in a book.
I2: You mentioned earlier that among the questions that have caused dissatisfaction were the social agencies that the church contributed money to, including the National Council of Churches. What are the organizations that your church belongs to?
CA: We pretty much are part of the Methodist Church. You see, the Methodist Church has a different structure from other churches. This property, for example, doesn’t belong to this local congregation. It belongs to the Methodist Church. They have the authority. For example, suppose this congregation decided they would like to withdraw from the Methodist Church and become an independent church. They could do that, but they couldn’t take this building.
I2: You said that recently you had extensive renovation of this building.
I2: Where did the money come from for the renovation?
CA: It came from the local people. But there’s a trust clause in the deed. The local congregation holds the building in trust for the Methodist Church.
I2: And that’s true of all Methodist churches?
CA: All Methodist churches—all of them.
I2: 32:57 So then is the membership of this congregation in the National Council of Churches a reflection of the decision of the Methodist Church to belong—
CA: Yes, sir.
I2: —rather than the decision of the congregation here?
CA: Well, in the National Council, local congregations do not belong to the National Council. Denominations belong, and the Methodist Church contributes substantially to the National Council.
I2: So the difference with the Methodist Church than perhaps with some others is that where you have a great deal of decision making power in a congregation in other churches—they could decide not to contribute to that, I suppose—in the Methodist Church the congregation doesn’t have that option?
CA: Yes, we do in our particular case. We have the option to contribute or not to contribute. We do not contribute as a church, but many of our members as individuals contribute because they are in sympathy with their principles and ideals. I myself feel that the National Council has been an issue greatly overexaggerated. Ninety-five percent of the work they do is absolutely noncontroversial in service to people around the world. It’s just a small, very vocal part of the political action and social action, but it’s calmed down considerably now. We have within the Methodist Church all types of people, and the Methodist Church is an interesting church. If you were to take only the black people in the Methodist Church and put them as one church, it would be the second largest black congregation in America. If you took just the Orientals in the Methodist Church and set them apart, it would be the largest Oriental church in America. If you took just the Indians in the Methodist Church and set them apart, it would be the largest Indian church. If you took the Latin Americans who are Methodist, it would be the second largest group. The Catholics would be first, and we would be second. The Methodist Church, more than any other denomination, has embraced the minorities. I guess in that case it’s more like the Democrats.
LM: With that regard, do you support any foreign missions?
CA: Yes, sir. We have missionaries in 50 countries in the world. This church gives 15 to 20 percent of all its funds to causes outside the local congregation.
I2: 36:19 How is this done? What is the procedure for deciding what causes you’re going to give money to?
CA: For the most part, the conferences ask for it. In the church nationally, they make up a budget at the General Conference and then they pass it out among the conferences and we are asked for an amount based on membership and other factors. And then the conference has a program. We add it together and we call that world service. We are asked for a certain amount, and we are asked for more than anybody.
I2: Does this church have any programs of its own dealing just with Houston?
CA: No, sir. We work through what we call the Houston Board of Missions, and we contribute about $20,000 a year—
[end of OH 001_D1] 37:32
CA: [beginning of OH 001_D2] 00:10 —to that program. Then our women, they have other projects. We have what we call the Wesley Community House and other projects. But we work through the Houston Board of Missions rather than trying to go out on our own. Now, substantial additional services, many of our people give individually. For example, not too long ago, two of our members each gave $2 million to the Methodist Hospital. Right now one of our members, they’re building a new building out there that will be named for one of the members of this church. But he now has given $3 million. Like schools, many of our people give very generously to various schools and various causes. That’s one of the largest ways of giving. People give individually, substantially, and that doesn’t come through the church treasury.
LM: In 1963, you inaugurated a unique mental health project here at First Methodist.
CA: We have a man in the church named Dr. Roger Buckman who started a program what he called Discovery Groups. He would have 12 to 15 people in these groups. He’s a member of this church, and he started it here and I gave all the support and encouragement. And since then, this movement has spread all over the country.
LM: Is it still active here?
CA: Yes. We have these groups going on all the time. He now has it on computer and works it that way. We think it’s a very fine program. About 12 to 15 people meet 12 weeks in a group therapy session under that general direction. We have groups going all the time.
LM: 02:46 In 1968, Mayor Welch asked you to head a committee to draw up a code of ethics for city officials.
LM: Could you tell us something about that, the outcome?
CA: He asked me to be the chairman. We had some very outstanding men, including the head of Vinson & Elkins, and Mr. Binion, who was head of Butler & Binion, and some other very capable men—a federal judge. We all worked together and drew up a code of ethics, and we gave it to the mayor. He appointed us, and we gave it to the mayor, and I’ve never heard any more about it since. (interviewer laughs)
LM: What were some of the main points?
CA: Our main thrust was that every employee of the city should reveal all the sources of his or her income and that there not be a hidden income and also reveal their financial status from time to time. Our main thrust was that nobody would use their position in the city for their own enhancement or illegally or wrongfully.
LM: But no word was ever—
CA: No, sir. They never did anything with it. I don’t know why they asked us to do it. Now, Mayor Hofheinz called me when he was elected and he got our plan, and they came up with another plan which I now understand the council adopted, but I’m not sure. But I didn’t do much on that committee. I had some of the best people in the city, and they did it.
LM: I’d like to turn our attention now to some theological questions. Taken together, your sermons and other writings represent a sizeable body of religious thought. Is there a unifying set of principles uniting all your works throughout? Is there some central theory that you have?
CA: 05:20 I guess every minister has certain emphases. I have emphasized as best I could—for example, I emphasized the presence of Christ rather than the second coming of Christ. I try to emphasize the kingdom of God here on earth as opposed to heaven and hell, though I believe in eternity. I have been all across the years more concerned with the daily problems and daily concerns of people. But when I started in the ministry, the great heroes of the young ministers were the great preachers of the church like Fosdick and Sockman and Buttrick and those people. And then later on, Norman Vincent Peale came on the scene after the Second World War, and I think he influenced more than any other minister. He influenced me a lot. He’s a good friend. I’ve preached in his church many times. Then Martin Luther King came on the scene, and there came a great emphasis on social action. I go around now and I speak to a lot of ministers’ groups. I’m going to Lubbock in a couple of weeks, and I’ll be speaking to a thousand ministers in Lubbock. I was not long ago in Hollywood, California, and spoke to 1,800. I speak to a lot of ministers’ groups now. The thing I’m emphasizing and the thing I’m hearing them say is more and more there is a trend toward preaching from the Bible. There is more interest in the Bible today than any time in the last 50 years.
LM: Why is that?
CA: I don’t know. But people seem to be turning back to the Bible. Witness the sale of this Living Bible. It sold another nine million copies in the last three years. I think it’s a tragedy. The Living Bible is a very poor effort, and I say that and people resent it, but I do not think it’s a good translation. The New English Bible is far superior. But people are buying Bibles, and the preachers that are getting the hearing today are the preachers that are preaching on the Bible.
I2: What difference has this made in your own congregation in terms of your own work as a pastor?
CA: I think I’ve always done that. I go back and look at my earlier books and, for the most part, they are based on the Bible. I went through the period of the Martin Luther King years, and I had problems because I was not as strong on social action as some of the young ministers. I believe in it, but I also believe in the organized, established church. We went through a period where many young ministers were almost antagonistic toward the church. They felt it was wrong to spend money on the church building, and I think it’s important.
I2: You indicate that now there is a movement away from the social action and towards emphasis of the Bible. What about the ministers who were so strong towards social action in the 1960s? Where are they now, do you think?
CA: 09:15 Well, I’ll tell you. One of them happened to be a black man, but right in the city of Houston he was riding high. He had a big audience, and he was invited and talking about social action. Tuesday of this week, that very man—now, he attacked me and he felt I wasn’t doing what I should do—Tuesday of this very week he was here in this office asking me if I’d help him just to find something to eat. I gave him $30 to buy some food. But he’s out of a job. And that whole just militant social action has gone somewhat the way of the hippies and that sort of thing. You don’t hear it as much. But this is true all through history. We go in cycles. We don’t seem to do things in order. We go to extremes. Now we are moving toward an extreme in the old revival gospel fundamentalist religion, and that’s true in every denomination. And in the Methodist Church, we have a substantial body of people who are moving toward the extreme, evangelical, fundamental position.
I2: Do you see that in your own congregation?
CA: No, sir, not as much. We see it some.
LM: Among the young primarily?
CA: Not the young as much as the young adults, young married couples. But we don’t have many. But we are having what they call the charismatic groups—not in this church—speaking in tongues and that type of thing. But it’s not just the Methodist Church; it’s even the Episcopal Church.
I2: I think the Charismatic Movement affects even the Roman Catholic Church.
LM: How do you view this movement from a religious standpoint or a theological standpoint?
CA: I think they’re extreme. I’m sympathetic with it to a point. I wrote a book published last year—and it’s had an extremely good sell—on the Holy Spirit. Suddenly everybody got talking about the Holy Spirit, and I’ve never given much thought to it and so I just said, “Well, what does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit?” And I wrote a small book, not a large book, but it’s had wide circulation. But I don’t personally feel the necessity of speaking in tongues, but there are those who do.
I2: 12:15 What is your assessment of those who do, of this phenomenon of speaking in tongues?
CA: My position is that a Christian may speak in tongues but it’s not required. For example, I’m sympathetic. When Oral Roberts joined the Methodist Church, he wasn’t accepted too well. And I called him and asked him to come here and preach in this church, and he did come and he did preach. And after I invited him, then he’s been invited all over the Methodist Church. But I would gladly have Oral Roberts any time, and he speaks in tongues and he’s representative of that group. I’m not. I’m more just sort of a plain vanilla middle of the road type, you see. But that group would pretty much support me. They buy my books. I’m more conservative theologically. I think I’m liberal socially and conservative theologically.
LM: That’s unusual.
I2: Do people who are attracted by the Charismatic Movement, do they tend to gravitate into churches that support this movement, or do they tend to stay in the congregations that they may well have already been a part of?
CA: Of course they tend to get together. Birds of a feather, you know. But I don’t think really in the Methodist Church it’s that big a movement. We have some but not a great deal and not a great deal of tongue speaking, comparatively. I don’t think it would represent one percent of the Methodist Church. I don’t think it would. In this particular church, we have almost none of it.
I2: Do you think that the Charismatic Movement has resulted in people leaving the Methodist Church altogether?
CA: I don’t know. I would not be surprised, but I don’t know. I don’t know anybody that’s left this church at all. I’m not opposed to it. The people I have problems with are the people who just quit. This is our problem. I had dinner the other night with the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and he just celebrated his 30th anniversary. And I asked him, I said, “What’s the difference today and 30 years ago when you went to Dallas?” He said, “When I went to Dallas 30 years ago, 65 percent of the people were active churchgoing people. Today in Dallas it’s 45 percent.” In my opinion, in Houston it would be less than that. I would think to say 40 percent of the people in Houston are active, regular churchgoing people. So that means there’s 60 percent. And in any church, I don’t care what size church—and it’s true in this church—a fourth of the people in the church quit. They don’t come, they don’t contribute, they don’t do anything. So that means in this church there are 2,600 or 2,700 people. Their names are on the roll, but they are not active in the church. Those are the people that I worry about. I don’t worry about somebody getting excited about their religion. I don’t worry about that. It’s those who just quit.
LM: 16:30 Do you have any insights into why this is happening?
CA: No, sir, but that’s true of any church. You can take a church of 100 members or 10,000. It’s almost true that you can divide almost to a third of very active and supporting, a third of so-so and a third don’t do anything. And that’s just true of any church I ever knew in any denomination. I guess that’s just the name of the game.
LM: In an address at Texas A&M in 1970, you observed that we are not a nation of atheists but we are becoming a nation of practical atheists.
CA: Yes, sir.
LM: What did you mean by that?
CA: I was on a program not long ago with Madeline Murray O’Hare and I said to her, “I admire you.” And she said, “Why do you admire me?” I said, “Well, you say you believe in God and you live like it. But a lot of our people who are in the church say they believe in God but they don’t live like it. And at least you are sincere.” That’s what I told her. But the people in America—90 percent or more—will intellectually say they believe in God, but more and more people believe that God doesn’t make any difference. They don’t pray. They don’t think God has anything to do with this world or with their lives. Intellectually, they claim to believe in God but practically, God doesn’t exist for them. They don’t feel God has any claim on the way they live, and more and more we are having a society that says, “The moral laws don’t apply to me,” and we are seeing that more and more. I believe God not only made the world; he made the laws by which it operates—the law of gravity, for example. We have to obey or we’re going to kill ourselves. God made the laws by which people operate and the laws of what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m saying that more and more people are saying, “I’ll make my own laws and I’ll do as I please.” I think that’s what’s happening.
LM: What are the prospects for organized religion and for religious institutions if this continues to grow?
CA: 19:17 I think the same thing is happening in America that’s happening in other countries—in Great Britain, for example, and in Europe. The organized church represents a very small minority of people, and I personally feel that in this nation in the last 40 years, it’s been a decline, especially in the last 15, 20 years. I attribute a lot of that decline from the rise of the social issues. Generally, people in a nation are socially conservative. And when the church becomes socially active and if you’ll study in America, the churches that are making great progress are the churches who emphasize the spiritual and the Bible but do not emphasize the social application. The Charismatic Movement has almost no social application of their gospel. And when you stand up and start talking about race relations and things like that, you’re going to alienate a lot of people because they’re socially conservative. But then you go back and read the history, and we have times of up and down, and I’m hopeful that we might see a turn and people will become more interested in the church.
LM: What might stimulate this change back towards interest in the church?
CA: That’s hard to say. We’ve had periods of what we call revival, and nobody can really explain why a revival happens. The Methodist Church, for example, was begun by John Wesley. He didn’t intend it. Martin Luther didn’t intend the Protestant Reformation. It’s just all the conditions seemed right. I think there will be a movement back to the church. I’m hoping, but I don’t really see it. I think there are fewer people. Now, there’s another whole area. America was a rural nation, and up until ten years ago, a majority of the people in America lived in the rural areas. Now a majority live in the cities, and in the cities people become impersonal. We have these big apartment developments, and people don’t know the people that live four inches from them. I go into many homes in Houston and I ask people, “Who are your next door neighbors?” and they don’t know. They can’t tell you the name of their next door neighbors. Cities become impersonal. The church used to be the center of the social life of the community. And in big cities that’s not true. In these big apartment complexes, people hide. They have no responsibility in the community. That’s one thing that happens in this church. I’ve had people join this church and say to me, “I’m tired of a small community church. They call on me, everybody knows me. I just want to come to church, and I can get lost in a big church.” And I have many people who attend but they don’t want to participate. They don’t want to be called on. They don’t want to do anything.
I2: Do such people tend to support the church financially?
CA: 23:22 Yes, very often. I had a man three years ago—I’ll never forget him. He wanted to join this church. He said, “I don’t want you to call on me, but I’ll give a thousand dollars a month.” And we don’t have many people that give a thousand dollars a month, but that’s all he wanted to do. We had a man join the church. He was extremely active in the smaller church in Houston. Then he moved away and he came back. He’s the general counsel of one of the largest oil firms and a very liberal contributor—oh, $500 a month, I’d guess—and he joined this church. And I asked him why and he said he just didn’t have time to be active but he liked to attend church. And if he joins a small community church, they call on him, you see. But I think big cities become impersonal. In a small town there are social pressures. A person that doesn’t go to church is sort of looked upon with disfavor. In a big city nobody is looking upon you at all. In big apartment houses, who knows whether you go or don’t go? That’s part of our problem. Cities are impersonal.
I2: How much does your approach using television and radio tend to counteract this lack of social personalization that you see in the cities?
CA: I don’t know. Of course a lot of the people we have on television, I guess it’s a cross section because we have a lot of old people. I just don’t know. Last Sunday I mentioned a poem, and I think I had 92 requests for it. A couple, three or four months ago I mentioned that if anybody would like to receive our church paper, if they’d write me I’d send it to them. I think we’ve had 1,200 requests for the church paper. They say we have about 200,000 on television, but I don’t know that they know. I’m hopeful there will be a turn back to the church. Of course this goes back to another point. In our seminaries we went through a period where the boys were taught that the great thing is social action. And now they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to operate a church. We had seminary professors even speaking negatively about the local church. I made a statement one day in a seminary that for me the kingdom of God was at the corner of Main and Clay in Houston, Texas. Of course what I meant was that that’s my job, but they were very antagonistic about it.
I2: They took it literally, I take it. How has the seminary changed? What was it when you were—
CA: When I went to seminary in the ‘30s, the seminary was very supportive of the local church, and most of the seminary professors had been pastors in local churches. They have developed sort of a snobbishness among the seminary faculty. They’ll deny this. But the idea was if you are tops, if you are the very best, then you have what it takes to be a member of seminary faculty. If you are second class, then you go take a church and be the pastor of a church. Some of them still believe that. But we have many seminary professors who have never been pastors of a church. The overwhelming majority of the seminary men are very supportive of the church. Just a few of them are antagonistic.
I2: 28:16 The movement that you’re seeing now towards emphasis of the Bible, how has this affected the seminary and the tendency there towards social action?
CA: I just don’t feel I can answer. I don’t know that. But I do know probably the minister that’s influencing more ministers than anybody in the world is a Scotch preacher named Barclay. Barclay’s books are on the Bible—sermons from the Bible—and his books are selling to ministers today more than any other minister in the world. Barclay is the man that I think is setting the tone, and ministers are reading Barclay. As I go around, I just more and more see this. I think the people respond to the Bible too—the preacher that preaches from the Bible.
I2: In the 1960s when social action was the great emphasis, who was having the most effect upon ministers then?
CA: Martin Luther King. In my opinion, at one time Martin Luther King was the most influential preacher in the world. I never knew him personally. I heard him on television. I lived in Atlanta where he lived, but I never knew him. I knew his father. But this whole area, he was the champion of the whole thing and the bursting forth of the freedom of the black race. I personally have no quarrel with that. I’m very sympathetic with it. I feel very deeply and strongly about it.
I2: When did this begin to change? How would you date the movement away from social action and towards greater emphasis upon the Bible?
CA: I think it began before Martin Luther King died. Nobody runs forever. Right after the Second World War is when Norman Vincent Peale came into power. There’s a man in Boston named Rabbi Liebman who wrote a book entitled Peace of Mind. That book sold over a million copies. That triggered a movement, and Norman Vincent Peale became the chief exponent of that idea, and he became the most popular preacher in America. His book, The Power of Positive Thinking, sold two or three million copies, and he was popular and everything. Many of us, including myself, we used a lot of his approach. And that’s the period of the greatest growth of the church we’ve ever known in the history of America. From about 1945 to 1955, the church grew bigger, faster. We had bigger crowds in church than ever before. Then Martin Luther King came on the scene as the leader of this movement, and then you began to see the decline in church attendance and the interest in the church. Many people resented it. Multitudes of people are very prejudiced, have great racial prejudice, and they resented the church. I think that triggered the decline in interest and attendance in the church more than anything else. We went through that movement. I don’t think you have near the support now for that as you once had, but I think we’ve broken through a lot of barriers. For example, right here in Houston you see in the Texas Conference we united with the black Methodist Conference. We have in our church a bishop and then we have a district superintendent. The bishop felt he needed to have one black district superintendent. And everybody agreed to it, but they wanted him to appoint that black man in some other district. This church happens to be about a third of the strength of the district called the Houston North District. I went to the bishop and said, “We would be glad to have the black district superintendent,” who happened to be Dr. W.B. Randolph, a minister in this city. And so he appointed him. After I said that, the others went along. They couldn’t help it. But I said to him, “We would be delighted to have the black district superintendent.” And he came and he preached in this church and was accepted. That was sort of breaking the ice. But there’s not the need to crusade as it did. I have some feelings about it. I have a black man and a white girl who came right here to see me and talk to me about getting married, and I just told them, I said, “You have a legal right to get married and a moral right, but I think you’re going to have a lot of problems, and I’m not going to marry you.” But I said, “One of our other ministers down the hall, he’ll marry you.” And he did. He took them right down in our church and married them. I didn’t object to him doing it, but I didn’t think they ought to get married, and I guess that goes back to my old prejudice. But I just felt they were going to have a lot of problems.
I2: 34:52 I think that’s the thing about prejudices is that we all have them, but it’s much better to know where they are and be open about it because it’s when you lie to yourself that you have the most trouble.
CA: In the church, we don’t have any problem. We have black men on our administrative board. One of our Sunday school classes last Christmas had a Christmas party in the home of one of our black members. I was one of the first ministers to ever invite Barbara Jordan. Barbara Jordan came to this church and taught a class, and this was a long time ago, long before she—
I2: Can you remember approximately what time this was?
CA: 35:42 This was in the early ‘60s. You see, Barbara is not over 40—I think about 40.
I2: Something like that—late 30s.
CA: Yeah. We invited her to come here and teach a class in our Sunday school and speak, and this was even before I think she went to the legislature. She and I are real good friends. I told her the other day I’d support her for President. She may be. She may end up.
I2: She’s quite a person, for sure.
LM: Do you have any more questions?
I2: No, I do not.
LM: If there are any comments that you’d like to make concerning areas which we didn’t ask you any questions on, feel free to do so now.
CA: No, but I want to say that I never talked to anybody that was less belligerent and more sympathetic than you two men.
I2: Thank you.
CA: So many times you talk to newspaper people and all and they try to trap you and cut you. Witness the First Lady of our land recently. (laughter)
LM: Yeah, she was cut.
CA: But you men have been a joy. I never feel like I’m an authority. I’m just a country preacher. I was born and I started out in a little country town of 200 people, and that’s what I am now and that’s all I intend to be.
LM: Maybe that’s the clue to your success. On behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives and Research Center, I want to thank you very much for a very interesting interview. It makes a fine contribution to our research project.
[end of OH 001_D2] 37:32