Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism

Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism

Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism

Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism


American evangelicalism has long walked hand in hand with modern consumer capitalism. Timothy Gloege shows us why, through an engaging story about God and big business at the Moody Bible Institute. Founded in Chicago by shoe-salesman-turned-revivalist Dwight Lyman Moody in 1889, the institute became a center of fundamentalism under the guidance of the innovative promoter and president of Quaker Oats, Henry Crowell. Gloege explores the framework for understanding humanity shared by these business and evangelical leaders, whose perspectives clearly differed from those underlying modern scientific theories. At the core of their "corporate evangelical" framework was a modern individualism understood primarily in terms of economic relations. Conservative evangelicalism and modern business grew symbiotically, transforming the ways that Americans worshipped, worked, and consumed. Gilded Age evangelicals initially understood themselves primarily as new "Christian workers"--employees of God guided by their divine contract, the Bible. But when these ideas were put to revolutionary ends by Populists, corporate evangelicals reimagined themselves as savvy religious consumers and reformulated their beliefs. Their consumer-oriented "orthodoxy" displaced traditional creeds and undermined denominational authority, forever altering the American religious landscape. Guaranteed pure of both liberal theology and Populist excesses, this was a new form of old-time religion not simply compatible with modern consumer capitalism but uniquely dependent on it.


The face of modern marketing in the early twentieth century belonged to an old-fashioned Quaker. Consumers across the United States could purchase Quaker pharmaceuticals, lace curtains, and men’s negligee shirts. They were wooed with ads wryly depicting “Quaker Maids” sailing the high seas atop bottles of rye whiskey. But all other efforts paled in comparison to the Quaker Oats Company. A sophisticated pioneer of promotion, it had spent millions of dollars since the mid-1880s to make its smiling Quaker trademark synonymous with breakfast food, guaranteed pure.

Members of the Society of Friends, the real Quakers, were not flattered by the attention. In 1916 they sought legal protection by a bill that outlawed using religious names “for the Purposes of Trade and Commerce.” The Federal Council of Churches (FCC), an ecumenical group representing most major Protestant denominations, also threw its support behind the measure. Together they argued that the commercial use of denominational names stole goodwill from their religious owners. Surely the country’s moral guardians deserved the same basic protections that secular businesses enjoyed.

Not surprisingly, the corporate attorneys for Quaker Oats vehemently disagreed. Legal precedents were clear that any word, sacred or not, could be used for commercial ends. Thus, they argued, the bill was an outrageous government overreach, confiscating a private asset—their thirty-year-old trademark—over the hurt feelings of a small sect. These business arguments held sway in the hearings that followed. “My sympathies are with the religious institution,” Representative John M. Nelson insisted only halfway through the proceedings, but “under the Constitution we can not take away property rights.” The measure died quietly in committee.

In Chicago, Henry Parsons Crowell celebrated the outcome. As the longstanding president of Quaker Oats and a major shareholder, the bill’s demise . . .

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