William Bell Riley And Fundamentalist Anti-Semitism

2/6/16, by Clement Pulaski

                  William Bell Riley

Today it is commonly held that Evangelical Christianity is inherently pro-Jewish. This opinion is shared by Evangelicals themselves, who boast of their pro-Jewish sentiment, and by nationalist Catholics and neo-pagans, who see it is a strong argument against Evangelical Christianity. While contemporary Evangelicals certainly are guilty of the philo-Semitic heresy, one does not need to venture very far into the past to see that this was not always the case. Even up until the 1930s, some of the most prominent Evangelical leaders were fully aware of the Jewish problem and spoke about it openly. (This puts the Evangelical shift to philo-Semitism in the post-WWII era, which is the same period during which Catholics and mainline Protestants officially changed their attitude towards the Jews as well.)

In this article, I will focus on one such leader, William Bell Riley (1861-1947). Riley was a Baptist pastor from Minneapolis who was the leader of the “fundamentalist” movement of the early 20th century. The fundamentalist movement was the conservative Christian reaction to the spread of Darwinism and modernism in American culture. According to William Vance Trollinger Jr., author of God's Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism (1990, The University of Wisconsin Press.), Riley was “...the dominant figure in American fundamentalism in the first half of the twentieth century. More than any other individual, it was Riley who, in the decade after World War I, marshaled the fundamentalist forces into crusades designed to purify both American Protestantism and American culture in general”(4). “Riley was the founder and leading spokesperson of the World's Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA), the first organization that attempted to unite conservative Christians of all denominations in an international association. An indefatigable polemicist, he was one of the most active and effective debaters among American antievolutionists.” (33)

To the surprise and dismay of polite society, today's conservative Evangelicals share many of same the ideas promoted by the fundamentalists (creationism, Biblical inerrancy, etc.), especially the central idea that God will not continue to bless America as long as Christianity is being driven from public life. However, unlike today's Evangelicals, Riley and his contemporaries were not blind to the central reason why Christianity was under attack: the influence of organized Jewry. Trollinger explains, “In the 1930s and 1940s Riley transferred much of his intellectual energies from his failed fundamentalist crusade to the active promotion of an anti-Semitic, conspiratorial interpretation of national and international events” (62-63). “According to Riley, behind the scenes of world events there operated an international Jewish-Communist conspiracy...These plotters sought to manipulate affairs in order to bring wealth and power to themselves and chaos and poverty to the Gentile masses…Riley argues that the Jewish cabal had as its ultimate goal 'the establishment of a single government...whose place and power will be made secure by a reign of terror that will put to the most torturous death any and every opponent; the plan being to exalt a few of Jewish blood to honors and untold opulence, and retain them there at the expense of the world's millions'” (72). As part of his efforts, Riley heavily promoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and supported the work of the leading patriots of his day, such as William Dudley Pelley and Elizabeth Dilling. Interestingly, Riley's anti-Semitism was completely in line with his strong anti-evolutionist convictions, which led him to be highly critical of National Socialist Germany: “In 1941 Riley published the pamphlet Hitlerism; or, The Philosophy of Evolution in Action, in which he described Hitler as the “BEAST-MAN” who was putting into practice Darwin's doctrine that 'might makes right'...In this regard, it is noteworthy that in Hitlerism Riley did not even mention Hitler's persecution of the Jews. Put more baldly, there is no indication here or elsewhere that Riley ceased his public attacks on the Jews because he had undergone an intellectual or moral transformation.” (79).

To the liberal Trollinger, Riley's shift to a greater concern about the Jewish problem cannot be based on any legitimate observation or experience. In the liberal mind, the Jews are completely blameless, so the roots of anti-Semitism must be sought by psycho-analyzing the anti-Semitic individual. Trollinger (page 69) settles on the theory that Riley retreated into anti-Semitism because of his own personal failures. The truth, however, is found in Riley's address The Jew and Communism, which was delivered in October of 1936. In this address Riley gives an account of how he came to hold his anti-Semitic (or as he preferred to say, anti-Jewish) convictions. Riley explains how in his own experience the enemies of Christianity and traditional Americanism have always turned out to be disproportionately Jewish. He also recounts how his shift towards an anti-Jewish position went against his prior theological convictions. As a committed premillennialist, Riley believed that the Jews have not been completely cast off by God and that they still have an important role to play in the End Times. Before reaching his anti-Jewish position, Riley even spent time with organizations that attempted to evangelize the Jews. While I disagree with premillennialism (and hold it to a large degree responsible for the growth of “Christian” Zionism), it is to Riley's credit that he did not let his premillennialism blind him to what the Jews are currently doing to us.

In closing, I present the entire text of Riley's address The Jew and Communism. I pray that it will show Evangelical Christians, even premillennialists, that there is nothing in their faith that prevents them from recognizing the evil that the Jew has brought upon us.

The Jew and Communism
October 1936

(The following text is transcribed from the original scans available at the Riley collection at the University of Northwestern).

For three successive Sunday nights I have been giving a brief dissertation on Communism, the first of these - “Shivering at the Sight of a Silver Shirt,” the second - “The Red Shirt of Russia and a Shirtless Russia”, the third - “Is There Danger to America in Communism?”, and now tonight,- “What Has the Jew to do with Communism?”
A Paper entitled “Anti-Semitism in America”, a Jewish defender says:-
“Until the last few years it has been the Fundamentalists and Premillennialists who have been noted for teaching kindness to the Jews and for persistently promoting the preaching of the Gospel of the love of Christ to the Jews.”
This is absolutely true! I have been a member of the boards of the two Jewish Missions of this city; I was for years on the Board of Councilors of a New York Mission. As a Fundamentalist and a Premillenialist I accord to the Jews not only a great place in past history, but also a major place in prophecy, or history to come. But I also agree with another statement to be found in that same Jewish Defense Paper, namely,
“The Word of God offers no quarter to individual Jews who may be criminals. There is no warrant for dealing gently with an offender against the peace of society, because he happens to be a Jew.”
“Anti-Semitism” is a sadly misapplied term. If it means anything, it means “opposition to Abyssianians, Arabians, Palestinians, Phenicians, Syrians, and the countries of the Euphrates and the Tigris; and everybody knows there is no such opposition. The term adopted covers entirely too much, and in some cases is intended as a cloak against all conceivable crimes.
For instance Guilford and Liggett were brutally and cowardly murdered. They were murdered in the same way and in all probability by the same man (Jewish gangster Kid Cann), and in each instance by a shotgun. But, when two people, witnesses to the second murder, testified as to the man they saw do the deed, it is very poor taste to cry “Anti-Semitism” and try, thereby, to prejudice the public against the justice that should have been meted out to a liquor vendor Jew!
The same principle applies when Jews are found leading Communistic meetings,- as in Chicago heading Communistic parades,- as in Minneapolis, directing Communistic banditry,- as in China, and murderous revolutions,- as in Russia.
To be sure, all Jews are not to be held responsible for even the attitude of the majority of them; but when a large proportion of people make no revolt against such leadership they must endure the reputation thus created. There are doubtless many Jews in Minneapolis, as there are in other parts of America, who are loyal to our form of government, and all such will have no objection to what I am about to say. I am happy to say that one of the finest defenses of the American Constitution that I have seen in print was recently issued from the pen of Josiah E. Brill, Jewish attorney of this city. I would advise your reading of the same; it is a classic!
But I am expressing in this article my own experience and observation with the members of this race. I disclaim all prejudice. There is no grounds upon which a Christian could have a mere prejudice against a Jew. We adopt his Sacred Book as our own; we give to him credit for having provided the Christian's Saviour through a Jewish Mother, so there could be no religious prejudice. There could hardly be a race prejudice since the Jews are a white race, and the question of color-difference does not come in. Socially, the Gentiles have always offered to the Jew far more attention than he is willing to accept; and politically we have given to the Jew in America every right accorded to native-born Americans.
Why, then, has he become unpopular in this country? It is my profound conviction he has nobody to blame for it but himself. In this connection I rehearse my own experience and observation in the matter.-
My first unfortunate dealing with the Jew began 25 or 30 years ago when, as a member of a committee, we tried to find a common basis on which great portions of God's Word could be read in the public schools, and we found the leaders of this race our opponents at every step.
My second experience came in connection with the 28 debates that I held in different parts of America on the subject of Evolution. Scarcely one of these occurred within the vicinity of a University, that there were not University students present who tried to heckle the opponent of Evolution and who hung about after the debate was over for personal disputations in defense of Atheism; and we shortly discovered that, in the overwhelming majority, they were young Jews.
My third observation was that whenever there is a Communist parade, or a Communist meeting, the Jew is present out of all proportion to his numbers in America.
My fourth observation was that the Jewish secret organizations of the country,- when you can get at their objectives,- are too often in line with Communism; and there are few Jews who do not belong to one or more of these organizations.
To illustrate: let me give you a couple of passages from a local organization operated under a national one with headquarters at 1225 Broadway, New York, and known as THE A.B.C. OF THE PIONEER WOMEN'S ORGANIZATION.
A dinner of Jewish women was held in Minneapolis and when they left the tables, one of them inadvertently left behind the tract that I hold in my hand on “What is the Pioneer Women's Organization?”- in which it states very clearly that, in America it “participates in socialistic activities through the ballot, through support of striking workingmen, through cooperative undertakings, etc.”
Another quotation from this same tract it:-
“The Pioneer Women's Organization's affiliation with the Second Socialist International, reaffirms our solidarity with the laboring masses of the world.”
Doubtless this tract was printed before the 4th International was born, showing its Russian leanings.
Still further: The Gentile is hardly to blame for calling attention to the fact that the present American Administration under Mr. Roosevelt, - now almost uniformly conceded to be “pink” to say the least, with a strong tendency to deep “red” - is to such an extent Jew in council, that leading Jewish magazines have boasted the large number of their people now in places of power under Roosevelt appointment.
Again,- It was not “Anti-Semitism” that led Disraeli, the greatest Jew that the English world ever knew, to write:- “The influence of the Jews may be traced to the last outbreak of destruction in Europe. An insurrection takes place against tradition and aristocracy, against religion and property, and in the secret societies that form provincial governments, and men of the Jewish race are found to be at the head of every one of them.” (See “The Life of Lord Bentick” pp. 497 and 498.)
It was not Gentile prejudice that led Dr. Oscar Levy of London, that brilliant Jew, to say:-
“We have erred, my friends; we have most grievously erred...We who have posed as the saviors of the world; we, who have even boasted of having given it 'the' Savior, we are today nothing else but the world's seducers, its destroyers, its incendiaries, its executioners.”
It may be easy enough to condemn Sergius Paulus as guilty of forgery since he is dead and not able to defend himself, but who will answer Dr. Munzer, the Jew, and who will deny the power that was formerly exercised in Prussia by Walther Rathenau; in Germany by Balin, Schwabach, Simon and others; and by the Rothschilds as the Kaiser's adviser; the Mounds', Sassoons', and Isaacs' influence in England? the Brandies, the Warburgs and Klein with Barnard M. Baruch and Felix Frankfurter in America?
Some time ago in a Jewish Convention, resolutions were passed warning young Jewish students against their too vocal expressions favoring Communism; that was a step in the right direction.
But if the Israelites in America are to recover the comfortable status that they have occupied in America for a hundred years or more, they can accomplish it in only one way,- by seeing to it that the multitudinous representatives of their nation who now engage in the business of liquor selling, who now are found too often in charge of sporting places with spotted records, who now crowd the halls of Red Communists and head street parades of the same, and who now appear before School Boards to condemn young Gentiles who are loyal to American form of government, and who object to the distribution of loyalist literature, and who who take so conspicuous a part in the administration of a government that tends to government control and ownership of all things,- and consequently a possible Russian administration in America in which the soft word “liquidation” would displace the harsh but more meaningful word “murder” - cease these things, and then Anti-Semitisim, so-called, will soon sleep the sleep of natural death.
In other words, if the Jew has become unpopular in America, a country that has received him with open arms, he has nobody but himself to blame for that circumstance, and he alone can remove that sentiment.

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