*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 10th of July 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Announcement: For the first time in the history of this show we will be having a guest host while I take off for a 20th anniversary vacation with my wife.
I first met Sam Leanza Ortiz when I was the chair of the history department at Concordia University in Irvine. She was looking for rigorous training in history and I hope we gave her something like that. When the department needed student help, she was asked to help out. She eventually was married to Patrick Ortiz (another former and favorite student of mine) and headed off to Baylor where she received her MA in History. Prior to leaving for Texas 1517 was looking for a publishing assistant and I recommended Sam. She has been a revelation in that job (as I knew she would be). So as I decided to take my first mini-break in the 3 years of this show I went, once again, to Sam knowing that she would teach and entertain and once again surpass my expectations. She will be your host from tomorrow until the 18th of July.
There are too many “trial(s) of the century” and they hardly ever are. But in this case, I might make an exception.
It was on this, the 10th of July in 1925 that the trial of John Thomas Scopes began. In teaching evolution, he was accused of breaking the Butler Act which forbade anyone to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”.
Dayton Tennessee would be the focal point in America for the next 11 days as a cavalcade of media, vendors, and carnivalesque acts descended on the courthouse in Eastern Tenn.
[If you’ve seen “Inherit the Wind”- a play loosely based on these events you might have images in your mind of this case playing out before the judge inside the courthouse. IN fact, the judge moved the trial outside for fear that the large crowds might cause the building to buckle and collapse.]
You might also not know that the entire case was broadcast live on WGN in Chicago. The television station paid 1,000 dollars for a live feed. Unfortunately, the ability to record did not yet exist.
The card was between William Jennings Bryan, a now-aged but still popular hero for the “common man” and Clarence Darrow, a hotshot lawyer who had become famous with previous sensational murder cases and other so-called “Trial(s) of the Century”.
Even though Bryan won the case he would be seen as, and portrayed as, a rube and fundamentalist. If you heard yesterday’s show you know this was not the case at all. Bryan is one of the more fascinating and often progressive figures in American politics and history. And while he was a devout Christian and could be labeled a fundamentalist in the historical sense, he may have been opposed to the teaching of evolution for reasons you don’t always hear.
Bryan believed that the idea of the survival of the fittest was anathema to the teachings of Jesus. As a popular politician, he argued against the coastal and urban centers amassing wealth and power while the men and women in the middle and the bottom were being squeezed out. His concern was also aided by his pacifism. You may not know that he was the Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson and resigned as Wilson led the country towards World War I.
The case went to the Jury after Darrow and Bryan put each other on the stand (!) and the Jury ruled in Bryan’s favor against Scopes. Scopes was fined $100 but that fee was overturned on a technicality. The anti-evolution law would remain in place for over 60 years, but public opinion judged Bryan the loser. 5 days later he laid down to never wake up again.
A trial that can actually be considered the “trial of the century”, a testy battle between Fundamentalists and Modernists, and another chapter in the story of Religion and Politics in America began on this, the 10th of July in 1925.
The last word for today comes from the beginning of the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of July 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by “the sound engineer of the century!” Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan “me voy de vacaciones en Mexico” van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.