International Peace Mission movement

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International Peace Mission movement
Classification Utopian/Social change church movement
Leader "Mother Divine"
Region United States
Founder "Father Divine"
Origin
New York City
Separated from House Church movement of Samuel Morris / Father Jehovia

The International Peace Mission movement is a religious movement started by Father Divine, an African American who claimed to be God. Its heyday was in the great depression of the 1930s Its current leader is "Mother Divine".

The movement began in New York City.In 1942 the headquarters was relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Since the 21st century, membership has dwindled and there are currently few members worldwide.

Teachings and beliefs[edit]

The teachings of the movement are based on the following principles:

  • Father Divine is God
  • "Heaven" is a state of consciousness
  • Unity of Religions
  • Celibacy, Marriage to God
  • Children shall be raised by assigned guardian
  • Use of the USA flag and the English language worldwide
  • Prohibition of smoking, drinking, obscenity and receiving gifts
  • Public education
  • Abandoning racial barriers
  • Communal property ownership and donation of goods and services
  • Gender segregation

Organization and structure[edit]

Leadership[edit]

The current leader is "Mother Divine" (born Edna Rose Ritchings), following the death of Father Divine in 1965. The leader and her staff are not paid, their needs are supplied by the Peace Mission and its businesses.

Auxiliaries[edit]

There are three "auxiliaries" in the Peace Mission movement. The Rosebuds, for girls and young women. The Lily-buds for older, mature women and the Crusaders for males of all ages. Each auxiliary has specific duties, creeds and uniforms.

Publications[edit]

There were two publications of the International Peace Mission Movement: The Spoken Word (1934–1937) and the New Day (1936–1989). Both were available to members and the general public. These publications contained articles on issues of the day as well as world and local events.

Rituals[edit]

Church services[edit]

The services consist of singing Peace Mission hymns and songs from popular culture. The singing is followed by the playing of taped sermons by past or present leaders. Talks by visiting speakers, if present, follow. Readings of the King James Bible and/or a Peace Mission publication are conducted. Services conclude with member testimonials of the power of Father Divine.

Holy Communion services[edit]

The 'Holy Communion Service' is the signature ritual that symbolizes the Peace Mission. It symbolized the provision of food to those who could not afford it during the Great Depression. The origins of the 'holy banquet' are in the communal home meals served to Father Divine's followers before 1932. By the mid-1930s these communal meals had become well-attended banquets, feeding thousands of people. Often Father Divine would give impromptu speeches during the meal.

The Peace Mission viewed the banquets as the reinstatement of the 'Christian love feast' mentioned in the New Testament and the last supper that Jesus Christ attended before his crucifixion.

Divine Marriage Anniversary celebration[edit]

The April 29, 1946, interracial marriage of 70-year-old Father Divine to his 21-year-old Canadian-born secretary is called in Peace Mission theology "The Marriage of Christ to his Church" and the "fusion between heaven and Earth". It is celebrated each year in April as an "international, interracial, universal holiday", according to Peace Mission literature.

Every year since 1948, Peace Mission members gather to Father Divine's home or headquarters to celebrate a special Holy Communion Service for the Divine marriage anniversary celebration.

Communal socialism[edit]

Members of the Peace Mission were encourage to pool their individual resources together and invest in businesses, the profits of which were to be divided up and shared. During the 1930s, these properties and businesses were quit numerous. Peace Mission businesses included the Divine Lorraine and Divine Tracy Hotels, farmlands in upstate New York and garages.

History of the International Peace Mission movement[edit]

Beginnings[edit]

The Peace Mission grew out of the ministry of George Baker Jr ("Father Divine"). In 1906, Father Divine became acquainted with the ideas of Charles Fillmore and the New Thought Movement, a philosophy of positive thinking that would inform his later doctrines.

George Baker Jr attended a local store front Baptist Church, often preaching and teaching in the churches 'Sunday school', until 1907, when he became Samuel Morris follower. In Georgia, Father Divine got into conflicts with local ministers and was sentenced to 60 days on a chain gang. Upon his release, he attracted a following of mostly black women in Valdosta, Georgia. Several followers' husbands and local preachers had him arrested for lunacy and he was incarcerated in an insane asylum. He was later released and pronounced mentally sound in spite of his "maniacal" beliefs, and admonished to leave the state.

1914–1932: The Proto-Peace Mission Movement[edit]

In 1914, Father Divine traveled to Brooklyn, New York, with some followers and an all-black congregation. In 1919, he and his followers moved the commune to Sayville,Long Island,New York.[citation needed] In this period, his movement underwent sustained growth as he run the entire movement from his house commune. Father Divine held free weekly banquets and helped newcomers find jobs. He began attracting many white followers as well as black in the late 1920s. In the early 1930s, his neighbors brought charges of 'disturbing the peace' against Father Divine, having him and numerous followers arrested May 8, 1931.

1930s: Peace Mission Movement Zenith[edit]

Press coverage and notoriety increased dramatically for the Peace Mission after the arrest for 'disturbing the peace' ended in first conviction, then the death of the presiding judge and Father Divine's subsequent release. The impression that Justice Smith's death was an act of 'divine retribution' was perpetuated by the press, which failed to report Smith's prior heart problems and implied the death to be more sudden and unexpected than it was. The New York based media frenzy following the death[citation needed] made this event and its repercussions the single most famous moment of Father Divine's life. Articles on Father Divine propelled his popularity. By December, his followers began renting buildings in New York City for Father Divine to speak in. Soon, he often had several engagements on a single night. On December 20, he spoke to an estimated 10,000 in Harlem's Rockland Palace, a spacious former casino.[citation needed]

By May 1932, Peace Mission meetings were regularly held at the Rockland and throughout New York and New Jersey. Father Divine had supporters in Washington state, California and throughout the world. In this period of expansions, several Peace Mission branch communes were opened in New York and New Jersey. It was during this time that Father Divine's followers finally named the movement: "the International Peace Mission movement".

Father Divine moved to Harlem, New York, where he had accumulated significant following in the black community. Members, rather than Father Divine himself, held most deeds for the movement, but they contributed toward Father Divine's comfortable lifestyle. Purchasing several hotels, members could live and seek jobs inexpensively. The Peace Mission movement also opened several budget enterprises, including restaurants and clothing shops.

1930s: International expansion and alliance with the Communist Party USA[edit]

By 1934, Peace Mission branches had opened in Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington, and Peace Mission sponsored gatherings occurred in France, Switzerland, Canada, and Australia. Father Divine was increasingly called upon to offer political endorsements.

An alliance between the Peace Mission movement and the Communist Party USA began in early 1934. The Peace Mission Movement practiced a form of communal socialism in which profits from individual Peace Mission businesses were redistributed within the movement. Father Divine was impressed with the Communist Party's commitment to civil rights and an alliance was formed.

In spite of this alliance, the movement was largely apolitical until the Harlem Riot of 1935. Based on a rumor of police killing a black teenager, the Harlem Riot left four dead and caused over $1 million in property damage in Father Divine's neighborhood. Father Divine's outrage at this and other racial injustices fueled a keener interest in politics. In January 1936, the movement organized a convention to create political platforms incorporating the Doctrine of Father Divine. Among other things, the delegates opposed school segregation and many of Franklin Roosevelt's social programs, which they interpreted as "handouts". Other planks called for the nationalization and government control of the major banks and industries.

1930s and 1940s: Peace Mission Movement scandals[edit]

Reports of improper sexual conduct would slant much of the public perception of the Peace Mission throughout its stay in the public spotlight. Several highly publicized Peace Mission sex and other scandals became part of the public record on the Mission.

1940s: the death of Peninniah (Mother) Divine, the rise of Sweet Angel and the doctrine of reincarnation[edit]

Mrs Peninniah Divine, also called Mother Divine, had been married to Father Divine some 30 years at the time of her death. She died in seclusion amongst what was, at the time, the Peace Mission's farms and other rural upstate New York business collectively called the "Promised Land". She was buried in an unknown and unmarked grave. Peninniah Divine had been prominently active in the itinerant ministry of George Baker Jr from the Valdosta, Georgia days and was regularly covered in the Peace Mission press up till about 1940 or 1941 before coverage of her simply stopped and she disappeared from Peace Mission life.

Almost no one knew that Mother Divine had died until 70-year-old Father Divine's remarriage to his 21-year-old white Canadian secretary, Edna Rose Ritchings, also known as "Sweet Angel" in the movement, became public knowledge after her visa status came up for review.Father Divine claimed that his young secretary was his deceased wife returned.

Critics of the movement believed that the elderly and supposedly celibate Father Divine's apparently 'scandalous' marriage to his 21-year-old white secretary would destroy the movement. The Peace Mission response was the institutionalization of celebrating the wedding anniversary. Despite predictions by some in the press and others of the imminent collapse of the entire movement the marriage became the most important and celebrated event in the Peace Mission.

Reincarnation had not previously been an emphasized part of Father Divine's doctrine and did not become a regular part of his theology until around 1960. Followers at the time believed that Peninniah was an exceptional case and viewed her "return" as "Sweet Angel" as a special miracle of Father Divine. The doctrine of reincarnation is now an accepted and regular teaching of the Peace Mission.

1940s and the early 1950s: reorganization, Woodmont and the long decline of the Peace Mission movement[edit]

In this period and through 1942, Father Divine centralized the movement into a formal church. Although this reduced the number of outposts, it put the organization under firmer control in the northeast. Three formal churches were set up in 1941, the Circle Mission Church the Unity Mission Church and the Palace Mission Church. Although they all had the same constitution and doctrines, they were financially independent. This redundancy made the movement stronger against legal attacks.

The Peace Mission's political focus on anti-lynching measures became more resolved. By 1940, its followers had gathered 250,000 signatures in favor of an anti-lynching bill that Father Divine had written.

In 1953 the Movement acquired its signature parsonage Woodmont, a 72 acres (0.29 km2) hilltop estate in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. This French Gothic manor served as the home of Father Divine until his death in 1965.

1950s: the civil rights movement and the Peace Mission movement[edit]

In 1951 The Peace Mission advocated reparations be paid to the descendants of African slaves. It also advocated in favor of integrated neighborhoods. However, unlike its earlier joint meetings and public marches with the Communist Party USA during its zenith decade of the 1930s, it did not participate in the burgeoning American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

1950s: The Red Scare and Peace Mission anti-communism[edit]

By the 1950s,which included the beginnings of the modern US Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War between the USA and the USSR was at an all-time high. The Peace Mission Movement's depression era alliance with the radical left still rankled many. The Peace Mission response, starting around 1948/49, was to go on the anti-communist offensive, with Father Divine regularly lambasting in no uncertain terms 'communism' while praising the 'American way', even reversing some of his most pointed criticisms of the American system from the 1930s. This he would continue to do until his death in 1965.

1960-1990s: Sweet Angel Divine leads the Peace Mission[edit]

The first leader of the Peace Mission, Father Divine, died on September 6, 1965. He was succeeded at the helm of the movement by his widow, Mrs 'Sweet Angel' Divine (Edna Rose Ritchings aka 'Mother Divine').

Mother Divine continued to preside over the 'holy Communion Banquets' that are central to Peace Mission worship, and she continued to have her husbands taped and recorded messages played continuously at Peace Mission functions, in addition to distributing copies of his speeches in Peace Mission literature.

Over the decades, few new members have replaced the followers who pass away; thus the ability to sustain and maintain Peace Mission properties and publications has been severely degraded. The Peace Mission central newspaper, the New Day, first published in the movement's heyday year of 1936, ceased publication in 1989.

Early 21st century: current status[edit]

As of 2012 several once central and iconic Peace Mission properties of the 1940s and 1950s have been sold away from or lost to the movement including the Divine Tracy Hotel and the Divine Lorraine Hotel. The Circle Mission Church, Home and Training School, Inc at 764-772 Broad St in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the Peace Missions international headquarters. The original commune home in Sayville, Long Island, New York at 72 Macon street which was Father Divine's primary residence from 1919 to 1932, is acknowledged by the Peace Mission as its 'New York' headquarters and is used by the leader, her staff and the followers for special occasions. Father Divine's last residence and burial place is the monumental 73 acre Woodmont manor house and estate. It is the location of the Palace Mission Church and it is also the official residence of Mother Divine. The Peace Mission provides scheduled tours of both the manor home and Father Divine's nearby mausoleum called the 'Shrine To Life' to the interested public.

As of 2012 construction of a massive building to hold the vast printed and material archives of the Peace Mission, accumulated from a century's worth of Father and Mother Divine activity, was underway on the Woodmont estate.

Other personalities[edit]

Faithful Mary[edit]

Faithful Mary was a former alcoholic prostitute,who converted to the Peace Mission in Newark, New Jersey in 1932.[citation needed] On admission into the local Peace Mission extension she cleaned up and rapidly rose through the ranks. By 1935 she had responsibilities for Peace Mission extensions in Newark, Harlem as well as satellite settlements in the upstate New York Peace Mission's "Promised land" agricultural settlements. She was a part of Father Divine's 'inner circle'.

She began to quarrel with Father Divine and broke with him in 1937. She founded her Universal Light Church as a successor movement to the 'discredited' Peace Mission. She gathered a few followers, however her business ventures began to fail. By the end of 1938, Faithful Mary was begging Father Divine to take her back into 'the fold'. She was admitted back into the Peace Mission in 1939 before leaving the mission permanently in 1944.

Jesus Emmanuel[edit]

A self-proclaimed evangelist and prophet and former longtime Peace Mission member, Mr Emmanuel believed that Father Divine had been kidnapped by communists in 1946 (around the time Father Divine married a 21-year-old white secretary). He believed the current leader of the movement was an imposter and the real Father Divine was confined in a Long Island, New York mental institution.

Later a story appeared in the Baltimore Afro-American on Jan 2, 1965 in which-in a modification of his original claims-Prophet Emmanuel claimed to be the birth son and the last of 5 natural born children of Father Divine and his first wife Peniniah.As such he claimed that the Peace Mission leadership was his by right of descent.

He further claimed that the real Father Divine,whose birth name,according to Mr Emmanuel was Robert Gibson, had died of complications of asthma on December 21, 1950. He also claimed that the original Mother Divine was actually Pennuth Lou Harris of Fernandina, Florida and still alive in 1965. His claims seem to have made little if any impact on the workings of the Peace Mission movement.

Jim Jones[edit]

The Rev.Jim Jones was a self-proclaimed prophet and leader of the Peoples Temple who gained infamy after leading over 900 people,including several Peace Mission converts, to commit suicide in his jungle compound called Jonestown in late 1978.

In the mid-1950s Jim Jones was a young,fundamentalist faith healing and anti racist Christian minister when he began attending Peace Mission banquets. Jones met Father Divine several times and over the ensuing years the two discussed several issues of mutual concern.

Based on these contacts Rev.Jones let it be known openly to the Peace Mission staff that he would be Father Divine's successor and leader of the movement in the event of Father Divine's death. In preparation for that day, Jim Jones incorporated, whole cloth, entire blocks of Peace Mission phraseology, organizational structures, hymns, references, rationalizations and theology into his young and burgeoning Peoples Temple Church. Finally he and his wife became 'Father' and 'Mother' to his followers.Rev. Jones assisted by his 'co-workers' and 'Angels' oversaw an expanding inner city church base in 1970s Peoples Temple in San Francisco that also mimicked the earlier church base of the Peace Mission in 1930s Harlem.

Father Divine died in 1965. Immediately Jones called Mother Divine and offered her and the Peace Mission followers 'his protection' at his rural California communal compound. She rebuffed him. Finally in 1971, under the auspices of a 'joint worship service' with the Peace Mission, Jim Jones took the opportunity to proclaim that he was Father Divine returned. Mother Divine ordered Jim Jones out and told him to never return. She also forbade Peace Missions to tolerate Jones or any of his followers.

Tommy Garcia[edit]

The son of an Hispanic father and of a Greek mother, his mother converted to the Peace Mission in 1962 when Tommy was eight years old. Six months after his mother's conversion, Tommy was separated from his family inside the Divine Lorraine Hotel in Philadelphia. There Tommy met Father Divine and some believe he was 'virtually adopted'by Father and Mother Divine.

Three years after Father Divine's death, Tommy ran away from the Peace Mission at the age of 14. More recently, Tommy has written that he feels a sense of duty to the Peace Mission.[citation needed]

Bibliography[edit]

  • God Comes to America: Father Divine and the Peace Mission Movement, Kenneth E. Burnham, Boston: Lambeth Press, 1979 ISBN 0-931186-01-3
  • Father Divine and the Struggle for Racial Equality, Robert Weisbrot, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983 ISBN 0-7910-1122-4
  • God, Harlem U.S.A: the Father Divine story, Jill Watts, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992 ISBN 0-520-07455-6
  • Father Divine: Holy Husband,Sara Harris, Harriet Crittenden, Literary Licensing, LLC,October 15, 2011 ISBN 978-1258210502
  • The Peace Mission Movement,Mother Divine, New York: Anno Domini Father Divine Publications, 1982 ISBN 978-0960907816
  • Promised Land: Father Divine's Interracial Communities in Ulster County, New York, Carleton Mabee, Fleischmanns: Purple Mountain Press, 2008 ISBN 1-930098-93-6

External links[edit]