The Kingdom of Father Divine

Hadley Cantril
Princeton University
Muzafer Sherif
Ankara, Turkey



Whether whispered, spoken, sung or shouted hysterically, these words are believed by hundreds, even thousands, of people. They may be heard almost any afternoon or evening at the main kingdom of heaven, housed in an ordinary brick structure forming part of a crowded street in the center of New York's Harlem. During the past few years the street has been more crowded than ever, for now Father Divine's cars and busses with their placards of " Peace," " We thank you, Father," and " Father Divine's peace mission " are lined along the curbing. Nearby laundries, cafeterias, and small shops, otherwise like most of their kind, display signs of " Peace," " Special attention given to FATHER DIVINE children. I thank you." On Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings moving crowds fill the sidewalk in front of kingdom headquarters. Sooner or later most people are inside.[1]

The doors of the kingdom are always open. In the small corridor leading to the upstairs assembly hall we face a brightly colored sign: "The relaxation of your conscious mentalities is but the reconception of God's omniscience." The hall itself is filled with believers, sitting on simple wooden benches. Most of them are negroes, with a sprinkling of whites. White visitors are easily recognized. They are given seats or ushered to the Platform at the hunt of the hall.


The room is filled with crude banners. High overhead are stretched in silver letters "Father Divine is Dean of the Universe." The followers (or "children," as they call themselves) are singing the verse:

Father Divine is the captain
Coming around the bend
And the steering wheel's in his hand.

The song has five verses. Singing is accompanied by a small brass band. No one officially leads the " children."' It is unnecessary. A few already know the song, and the rest soon catch the simple rhythm. The crescendo increases with each verse. At the end of this song, a large, middle-aged colored woman testifies how Father cured her bad knee, which specialists had been unable to help. Some listen, others close their eyes and moan. Shorts of " Isn't it wonderful! " " He's so sweet! " and " We thank you, Father! " are frequent. One or two hysterical negroes walk around dazed and shouting, occasionally falling. The testimony ends with the first line of another song, sung with great feeling by the testifier. It is immediately picked up by others. The band catches the tune. Soon all are singing:

One million blessings,
Blessings flowing free,
Blessings flowing free,
There are so many blessings,
Blessings flowing free for you.

As the song continues (substituting " billion " and " trillion " for " million "), some begin to sway; shouting becomes more frequent, a white man jumps up and down praising Father, the rhythm is emphasized by the clapping of the children. Still no one is leading them. This song ended, there is another testimonial. A man castigates himself for his former sins. He was an adulterer. He had stolen food and money. He had been a drunkard. Someone told him about Father. He came to hear him and was immediately cured of his evil ways. He intersperses his testimony with " I do thank you, Father. You are so wonderful." Other children confirm his belief. They listen intently to his confession. He talks for about ten minutes, exhausting him-

( 149) -self with the vitality of his speech. He sits down, wipes his face, puts his head on his knees. Someone begins to sing:

Now don't let me say it, unless I mean it.
Oh! Don't let me say it, unless I mean it.
For I know it will manifest just as I've seen it,
Since you are here, Sweet Father.

It has eleven verses and a chorus. The last verse is sung loudly, with clapping and many outbursts, some of the children tap dancing, some crying, some laughing.

This spontaneous flow of songs and testimonials continues for hours on end. There is perfect freedom to do what one wants to sing, shout, cry, sway, jump, meditate, testify, or dance. Frequently the eyes turn to the many banners on the wall where home-made signs tell us: 

Father Divine is God Almighty. The same one that John said, "There would come one greater yet and I will baptize you with the holy ghost and fire."

Out of one people Father Divine made all men, therefore races, colors, creeds, distinction, divisions, nationalities, groups, segregation, nicknames, classes, and all such abominations must come to an end. All these things are of the flesh and no flesh shall glorify itself in the presence of the almighty Father Divine. Man's day is done. God alone shall reign. This is his day of reign. Thank you Father.

Our justice and truth is called in the expression of the Father. Peace.

Peace, peace, peace! Father Divine is the wonderful counsellor, Prince of Peace. At his name all war shall cease.

We turn to our colored neighbor and ask him when Father Divine is coming. He looks at us blissfully and says, " He's here." " Where? " He points at random: " He's there, there, everywhere. He's in your heart." Another follower notices our dilemma and advises us to go downstairs to the banquet table. Father speaks there, if he speaks at all. Many have already gone down. It is about 11 P.M.

The banquet hall is filled. A large horseshoe table takes up most of the space, and around it are seated about a hundred children. Another hundred or more are standing in the crowded spaces nearby. There is one conspicuously vacant place at the head of the table, near which sit several well-dressed negroes and one white. We are told they are Angels. They seem more self-possessed, more patient, more intelligently alert than the rest.

(150) On the table in front of the Angels are great platters of turkey, chicken, cold cuts, fruit and bread. The air is close and sticky.

This room, too, is lined with banners, proclaiming such sentiments as:

Father Divine is the only redemption of man.
Father Divine is God and a little child shall lead them.

In general the group downstairs is more orderly, more unified than it was upstairs. Still there is no leader present. Yet here is a self-contained microcosm, bound together by ? common set of norms.


The testimonials which continue show that within the microcosm basic needs are satisfied. Children who live outside the kingdom also tell how Father has provided for them. One woman says, " I thank you, Father Divine, God almighty, for what you have done for us since coming in contact with the Peace Mission. Thank you, Father. My brother was ill and suffering pain and covered with sores. In two weeks' time he was able to work without pain or sores. Truly there is nothing to do but to thank you, Father." Another ends her testimonial in song: 

Father I thank thee, Father I thank thee,
Father I thank thee, for what You've done for me.

The testimony of Life Dove—a pretty young negress—is received enthusiastically: " People have been talking about God for many years, but today, a God whom you can't see or never have any personal contact with just doesn't fill the bill. A promise of some home far beyond the clouds, with milk and honey flowing freely, really isn't what it takes to keep going down here, on terra firma. If God can't take care of me here and now, then how can I know or even believe He'll do so very much after I'm dead and gone . . . . Now, all in all. I ask you, what more of a (iced do yin want, than one who'll give you shelter, food to eat, clothes to wear and freedom from sickness, worry and fear.' Now isn't that wonderful! " [2]

( 151)

In return for the benefits they receive, supposedly everything the children have is Father's-their money, their services, their thought, their love. Those who come to live in one of the numerous kingdoms give Father their property, their insurance, their extra clothes, their savings-everything. Most of those who live outside the kingdoms give him something after providing minimum needs for themselves.

Even more important for the unity of the microcosm is the common " positive attitude " Father has inculcated in them. They are told constantly " to visualize Him, so they can realize Him, so they can materialize Him." " If you concentrate your thoughts and your energy and your mentality in the Positive direction you must produce and receive the results of the POSITIVENESS, which will be SUCCESS and PROSPERITY and HARMONY, where the negative direction will cause the result to be the expression of negation with all of its expressions and from all of its angles. You see, that is the Mystery." [3]

The effect of the positive attitude—constantly thinking of Father and thanking him—is to cause the thought to enter " the sub-conscious mentality so that your very sub-consciousness got it, then and there, you had it. Now isn't that wonderful? As you had it, so you have it. By this, you can speak the Words into `tangibilization' or outer expression `visibilated' and cause mankind to observe that which you have been thinking. This is a beautiful thought, is it not-the great Universal Brotherhood of man and the conscious recognition of the FATHERHOOD of GOD, and the realization of the PRESENCE of both it and them-of both HIM or HE and them."[4]

To protect the "positive attitude" and to make it easier to cultivate, Father has strictly forbidden his children to have any direct outer contact with possible sources of " negative attitudes " —those which would shift concentration from him to something else. The children are forbidden to read any newspapers or magazines except those published by Father. They must read only the books Father or his Angels recommend. They must listen to no radio programs except when Father broadcasts. They are not allowed to attend moving picture shows. Their senses, as well as their services and thoughts, are Father's.


The unity of the microcosm is further preserved and emphasized by the almost complete break most of the children in the kingdom have made with the outer world. For one thing, all dates appearing in any publications are followed by the letters ADFD—Anno Domim Father Divine, although some of the followers interpret the letters more simply as " Always Divine Father Divine." The new frame of reference is further established by the rebirth of the follower. Since he is " reborn " when he enters the kingdom, his age is reckoned from that date. He gives up, furthermore, his former name and identity, receiving another name by revelation and thereby severing a whole host of past associations, personal and social values. The new name is a " kingdom " name which fits the pattern of the new world: Quiet Devotion, Glorious Illumination, Crystal Star, Job Patience, Celestial Virgin, Fineness Fidelity, Flying Angel, Rolling Stone, Quiet Love, Wonderful Devotion.

With the disappearance of the old identity goes all thought of race, color, or vocation. " All God's children are equal." " In God's sight there is no difference in color." No one is allowed to use the words " black," " white," or " negro " in the kingdom. One speaks of " A person of the darker (or lighter) complexion."

A new vocabulary has been created to express the wonderfulness of Father. Father sets the pace in coining words and phrases; the children imitate him. Another extract from one of Father's messages shows some typical " kingdom " words. " It is a privilege to realize GOD as INFINITE, EVER-PRESENT and OMNIPOTENT, and yet INCARNATABLE and REPRODUCIBLE and RE-PERSONIFIABLE, as HE has been PERSONIFIED. GOD would not be OMNIPOTENT, the same today, yesterday and forever, if HE were not REINCARNATABLE. GOD would not be the same today, yesterday and forever, if HE were not RE-PERSONIFIABLE. Now isn't that wonderful? " (" Truly wonderful! " assert the children.)

Parents who join the kingdom are separated as man and wife. They generally leave their children behind in the outer world to fend for themselves. More frequently a single parent (usually the mother) enters the kingdom, forgetting and giving up completely children and spouse. Worldly habits such as smoking and drinking are taboo. There is no co-habitation in the king-

(153) -doms. The general positive attitude is sufficiently dynamic to overcome these specific, worldly behavior patterns. All signs of bodily afflictions, such as glasses, trusses, or crutches are thrown away. Ailments are forgotten. No medical or dental attention is allowed.

The isolation achieved by the follower when he breaks thus from the outer world in his change of name, his reckoning of time, his contacts, his habits, his thoughts, and his close personal associations, makes it possible for him to form a new frame of reference very similar to that of the other children around him. The deliberate cultivation of the "positive attitude" keeps the children psychologically united. During the meetings they are kept overtly together by the simple words of the songs, the simple melodies of their particular variety of spirituals, and, above all, by the simple rhythms which instill the behavioral accompaniments of clapping and swaying and often !cad to a more exaggerated physical activity.


But within the boundaries of this small world are still found differences and conflicts characteristic of any group of people. An observer will notice the differential enthusiasms of the followers: a few are hysterical, many are excited, some are calm and deliberate. Inquiry reveals that there are differential sacrifices: though most of the children give all they possess and earn, some withhold a small portion, while others keep their material things to themselves. The testimonials, too, reflect varying degrees of enthusiasm and sacrifice. Father's rewards are meted out unequally because of his realization that different children have different values for his purposes. One finds within the kingdoms individuals seemingly possessing no more personality traits in common than one would expect from any group of similar size chosen at random. A high degree of intelligence is displayed by some of the followers; a few are obviously below the average. In short, we may hazard the guess that within the microcosm the psychologist would probably find an almost normal distribution curve for any measurable trait or capacity.

Rivalries and schisms develop in heaven as they do elsewhere. Jealousy is often shown by those who are not so close to Father as some others. An Angel sitting at the right hand of God is

(154) envied by all. Father's alleged sexual intrigues with certain Angels create friction among those intimately acquainted with the machinations of the kingdoms. More obvious rivalries and potential schisms develop in some of the meetings when a controversy ensues over the interpretation of Father's words. One follower may preach Father's gospel in a way which is inconsistent with the meaning another follower has derived. If a quarrel seems imminent, an Angel will intervene and point out, " Father wants only praise. Preaching is His exclusive right," or, " It is Spirit that makes you praise Father this way or that way." Hereupon the controversy stops; all seem satisfied with the explanation and the Angel sings, " Father writes on the wall," temporarily dissolving dissension.

To avoid sectarianism within the kingdoms, Father teaches his children to tell all their secrets to him alone. His chief Angels spread the doctrine of peace and serve as spies. For example, a possible rupture in the Los Angeles kingdom was prevented by Faithful Mary (" Angel No. I"), who went from New York as Father's personal missionary. To these western brethren she explained: " Father says when you write something about his works and criticize, you are trying to knock him and he will expose you. Because whenever you have anything you want God to know personally, you will tell God alone. You may know when you are writing up something and putting it in the paper you want every one to know about it. Now if you loved Father, in the mortal consciousness, and you had a sister who got pregnant, or broke a leg, as we called it in the South, don't you know you would not have it established in the paper, because you wouldn't want any one to know it?” [5]

Father is well aware of the dangers of controversy, against which he warns his children. They must align themselves with " cosmic forces " or the cosmic forces will destroy them. " God will express dissatisfaction, or dissatisfaction in what you are doing, if you will reflect or manifest dissatisfaction. Now, isn't that Wonderful-for the reaction of your thoughts arid :actions may be manifested in the atmospheric conditions of the weather. It is indeed Wonderful! This has been the experience of all Religions. The Cosmic Forces of Nature through the Ages,

(155) worked according to the conscious mentality of the people. When their minds were antagonistic and conflicting one with the other, the atmospheric conditions would be exhibited from that angle of expression. Now isn't that Wonderful! "[6]

The cosmic forces are all on Father's side. He can turn them against dissenters, who thus are caused to sicken and to die. " If man works inharmonious to Me we believe the Cosmic Forces of Nature will destroy him."[7] These mysterious forces are the causes of wars, floods, tornadoes, race riots, storms, pain, and disease. They can be brought under the control of the individual to work for his personal satisfaction and happiness only when there is " harmony in his conscious mentality."


Father's children, then, are likely to quarrel individually or in groups during his absence. The "cosmic forces " may tend to catapult some of them away from the kingdom's center of gravity. But as the time for Father's appearance approaches, all differences dissolve. The developing crescendo of the songs in the banquet hall downstairs and the general increase in excitement indicate that personal identity is being submerged in a common value. All thoughts are centered on Father. All eyes are searching for a concrete focal point-found in the empty chair at the head of the table. The songs themselves reflect the intense need for the symbol of this common feeling:

Father, I love you, Father I do.
Father, I love you, Father I do.
Father, I trust you, Father I do.
Father, I trust you, Father I do.
Father, I need you, Father I do.
Father, I need you, Father I do.

Father arrives. His entrance is greeted with an uproar. He is an unusually short, well-dressed negro about 6o years old, though he looks younger. He sits down. Dishes of hot food are brought him which he blesses by starting on their way around tic large table. Sometimes Father pours coffee. All the while there is more singing, interspersed with more testimonials. Father seems unmoved by all of this turmoil. He pays abso-

(156) -lutely no attention to the praises heaped upon him. The most glowing testimonial fails to excite him. He knows that it is unnecessary to respond to each song or testimonial. He knows that he is already the idol of the people, a symbol already created by their intense feeling. And since the idol is strong in the minds of the children, it needs no support from the outside. He eats and chats with his neighbor though he may somewhat nervously drink many glasses of water while undergoing this bombardment of adoration. Those at the table eat heartily as Father has told them to do. When one person finishes his meal, another takes his place. After an hour or so of eating, most of the children are happily replete.

Now that Father has satisfied their hunger, the followers appear blissfully content. Satiety has further dulled all critical processes. The unity of their attitudes, their full stomachs, and their fatigue make them more suggestible than ever. Their testimonials and songs show that all ego identities have broken down. They are one with God.

Father rises to speak. His opening words sustain the identity in the n-rinds of the children. " Peace, everyone." " Peace, Father," shout the children. " Here you are and there I am, there I sit and here you stand, and yet I sit and stand as well as sit in the midst of the children of men. As you are so am I and as you may be, so am I that you might be partakers of the Nature and the Characteristics of Christ."[8] Or " Here we all are again, just the way we should be, just as I am. When I say, `Here we all are again,' it means nothing less than the consciousness of the Allness of God in the likeness of man, and the nothingness of man, where such a recognition stands. Now isn't that wonderful? A place wherein you can stand, where all the Allness of God and the nothingness of matter will be a reality to you."[9]

For several minutes he directly sustains their belief that he is God and that they are part of him: " Oh, it is a privilege to live in the Land of the Living, where God Himself according to the Scripture, shall be with us, and shall be your God and you shall be His People, for the Mouth of Spirit is Speaking. ()h, it is a privilege to realize, every positive spoken word can and will be materialized if you will allow such to be, by the sacrifice of your

(157) life for that which you have spoken."" There is no doubt in the minds of the children that they are face to face with God."[10] We believe every word you say, Father," they shout from time to time. Father reassures them in their belief, explaining that " by your intuition you know it is true."

The message may last an hour. The delivery of the message, like the testimonials and the singing, is dramatic. But Father's exit, like his entrance, is business-like, in spite of the praises which follow him to his car outside or to his office on the top floor of heaven.

Father's mysterious movements add to his divinity. He has a private airplane to speed him through the heavens. One never knows when or where he will appear. The statement that he was never born, but was “combusted” in Harlem about 1900 is generally known to the children.[11] His letters, which they read in their papers and magazines, are the letters of no ordinary individual. All of them have the same ending: " This leaves ME as I hope you are and all who are concerned may also be, Well. Healthy, Joyful, Peaceful, Lively, Loving, Successful, Prosperous and Happy in Spirit, Body and Mind, and in every organ, muscle, sinew, vein and bone and even in every atom, fibre and cell of MY Bodily Form." At the 1936 International Righteous Government Convention it was moved and passed that " Father Divine is God." There were no dissenting votes .[12]

Since he is God, all are under his power—city, state and federal officials, kings, premiers, and popes. His publications reproduce his letters to Mayor LaGuardia, President Roosevelt, the Pope, Gandhi and other celebrities. Occasionally city or state officials come to speak at his meetings, but Father, as would be expected, always steals the show. If Divine has not yet demonstrated his control of individuals outside his microcosm, at least those within it are acting under his direction. Before the 1936 presidential election Father repeated in sermon after sermon that his followers should not vote until he had told them how to vote. " Hold your HANDS. I say, STAY your HANDS, until you find the man that will stand for RIGHTEOUSNESS, TRUTH and JUSTICE for ` He that waits upon the Lord shall renew his

(158) strength.' Now isn't that wonderful! Now I know you are enthusiastic, and filled with the spirit of Politics for RIGHTEOUSNESS, yet I believe every one of you will HOLD YOUR HAND; will STAY your HAND, until you get the Command."[13] "Yes Father," cry the children. "Since," as Father said, " not one of the major parties, officially and nationally, or conventionally, has come to me and accepted of my righteous government platform, we must stay our hands."[14] His command-repeated hundreds of times-was apparently effective, for the Harlem polls were virtually deserted on election day.[15]


The world that Reverend Divine has created, the world in which he is God, the world in which his commands are obeyed is essentially a microcosm within a larger world organization. It has its own standards, its own norms. Yet even in the moments of greatest frenzy, in the geographical center of the Kingdom of God, the realities of the outside world may be seen to intrude. One notices that the testimonials of white children are listened to more attentively than those of the negroes. When a white visitor enters, or wants to pass in the crowd, children of the darker complexion politely make way for him. The class consciousness and servility of the negro have become so ingrained that they pervade a heaven where one of the strongest tenets is that there shall be no thought of race or color.

Because of the glaring discrepancies between the beliefs and standards of the kingdom and those of the harsher world outside, it would be expected that a follower's exit from the former world and his entrance into the latter would be fraught with difficulties. Most of the children spend their week days working in a society where Father Divine is not God, where there are rigid differentiations regarding color, race, and class. What happens when the devout follower leaves the kingdom on Sunday night?

Father is aware of the possible difficulties arising from the fact that he demands all of a follower's love and thought and also commands him to do his work well. " Do your job conscientiously but think constantly of me." Both of these tasks can

(159) be accomplished simultaneously, says Father, "if you don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing." Those who have menial or routine jobs are apparently quite able to think about one thing while doing another. The discrepancies between the two world orders are not seen by the more ignorant believers. But anyone in a responsible position requiring concentration and intelligence finds it almost impossible to visualize Father and at the same time to perform efficiently. Happy Star, a trusted housekeeper in a family to which she is devoted, was completely unable to reconcile the two duties successfully. She reported, " It drove me almost crazy to try to plan a dinner for the family and guests and at the same time relax my conscious mentality. And sometimes when Mr. X. (head of the house) would ask me something, I would say `Peace. Thank you, Father.' This embarrassed me to death. I did not know what to do. I tried to resist Father's hypnotic powers and kicked myself for going to the kingdom and giving up my salary. But I kept going."

A responsible butler reported that he found it difficult to be alert in his duties and at the same time to think always of Father. Furthermore, his teeth were aching, his eyes were bad, and he was constantly constipated. Since Father had forbidden any medical or dental attention as well as the use of drugs, and since the butler was giving Father all of his monthly wages, he could do nothing to remedy his condition. And yet, though he became skeptical of the movement, he did not leave for several years.

Why is it difficult for intelligent children to escape Father's influence? They all give the same answer-fear. Father is all-powerful. He has told them that the cosmic forces are on his side, that he has power of life and death. Several incidents have served to strengthen this belief. In June, 1932, judge Smith sentenced Father to jail. Three days later the judge died. When asked about this Father said, " I hated to do it." Will Rogers made some unfavorable remarks about Father in a radio broadcast His airplane crash .soon followed. Huey Long refused to see one of Father's Peace Mission delegations. A few days later he was assassinated.[16]

This fear of Father pervades the kingdom. Blessed Life, who finally left heaven, had been one of Father's chief Angels until

( 160) Father got all his money. Then he was gradually moved from the head to the foot of the table. Soon he had a very menial position in the kingdom, and Father no longer paid attention to him. He grew skeptical. Sores developed on his legs. He was not able to speak to his wife when they met at the meetings. Why could he not talk to her as to any other sister? He was lonesome and desperately unhappy. The bed-mate, with whom Blessed Life had been sleeping for weeks, died of tuberculosis. His wife finally communicated with him secretly, helped him overcome his fear, and the two escaped. But many in the kingdoms have no outside connections, no money, no job, and remain in agony.

This condition may partially account for some of the psychopaths taken from the kingdoms to the Bellevue Hospital.. It certainly accounts for the fact that one is likely to remain a follower even with rapidly growing doubts. The only people who remain happy are the poor and the ignorant who have lost nothing by the transfer of allegiance.


Some of the more courageous and intelligent children do leave the kingdoms. For them adjustment is difficult. Happy Star finally left but admitted later that it was eighteen months before she realized that no harm would come to her. Although a conservative, refined Negress she said it was hard to " hold myself in " when she was no longer under Father's spell. She wanted to do in excess all that Father had forbidden-smoke, drink, have sexual relations with her husband. Mrs. Y. is also a backslider. For Father she had given up her small savings, her family, her friends, her reputation as a reliable cook. When she left the kingdom she had nothing to depend on. Her husband would not take her back. Penniless and worried, she realized that she had "been a fool" and didn't know where to turn next. She must make a new life for herself. She does not like to talk about her days in the kingdom. She is filled with her hatred of Father, " not for what he did to me," she says, " but for what he is doing to all the poor souls in there now.'

These cases could be multiplied. They all illustrate the complete incompatibility of Father's microcosm and the world of reality. One collapses when the other is entered. Compromise is impossible. Behind this fact lies the explanation of Father

(161) Divine's following. His children are people who want to escape the world of reality, where their needs are not satisfied, and enter into a new world, where they will have material and psychological comfort.

Here are some typical biographical snatches gathered at random from conversations with children in the kingdom: [17]  

Mrs. A. (negress about 35). "I'm happy now, but while I was down yonder in Alabama, I was bowled with trouble. My children give me so much trouble, I just liked to worry myself to death, but since I been living in this consciousness, I know that Father is God, and he takes care of his own. They wan't my children no how; they was God's all the time, so I've give them up mentally, cause I know God will take care of them. Two boys and a girl. The boys by my first husband and the girl by my last. Them boys was all the time getting in trouble, and the white folks is so mean down there, 'til it kept me worried. But they ain't like that in the kingdom. It's just wonderful. Everybody is the same. . . I didn't know about Father down there, that is not 'til I come to New York, but he caused me to come here to him. One day I just pitched down everything, and left, and I got work and a woman on the job told me about Father and 1 came and been coming ever since. I don't worry about nothing now. Thank you, Father."

Mrs. I. (negress about 40). "1 made up my mind that I was going to New York, where I could see God in the flesh. I told Jim that I was going to leave California. He didn't want to come, so I left him. He wan't no good nohow, but I had been living with him along time. We was supposed to be married by the laws of the world, but according to God's law we was living in adultery . . . . No, I don't miss him none. He wan't nothing but a worry all the time. When we left Florida with our whitefolks, I had to do most everything, then when I got sick, he acted like he was mad cause I had to stop working. Men don't mean you no good in this world, and the sooner you find that out the better off you are. Put your trust in God, and he will give you everything, or else he removes it from your consciousness."

Many of the songs suggest past or present troubles:

Father's going to save this soul of mine:
Yes, He is, I know He is.
Father's going to heal this body of mine:
Yes, He is, I know He is.
Father's going to feed me all the time:
Yes, He is, I know He is.

Others express conscious gratitude for the escape:

I have found Heaven, Heaven at last.
I leave behind me all of my past.
I come to rest on his sacred breast.
I thank you Father.



1. Escape from material hardships. It is not difficult to see why Father Divine should flourish in Harlem, famous for its congestion, poverty, high rents and general squalor. " In many tenements basic sanitary facilities are unknown. Open fireplaces are used to heat congested railroad flats. In 1931 the death rate from tuberculosis was three times as high in Harlem as in New York City as a whole. The infant mortality rate in central Harlem was the highest for any district in Manhattan. Other diseases were disproportionately high. The National Urban League reported in 1932 that in a single block in Harlem 70% of the tenants were jobless, 18% were ill, 33% were receiving either public or private aid and 6o% were behind in their rent. There were practically no recreation facilities for the children, except on the streets. In 50 cases picked up at random only one was found to have contact with organized recreation. In three years the ownership of Harlem real estate by negroes had decreased from 35% of the total to 5% of the total."[18]

Bewildered and hopeless souls living under these conditions readily surrender to a god who literally provides them what they have always craved-food, shelter, peace, security. They are anxious to believe and to follow a God who says, " I am lifting you, and all humanity out of the ruts, the mirks, and mires, out of human superstition, out of lacks, warts and all human limitations, out of all the depressions and off of the welfares and other public charities into the reality of God's PRESENCE, where there is a FULL and a PLENTY for all of His Children."[19]

When they compare their days in the kingdom with their days outside, the contrast appears heavenly indeed. Father encourages the children to believe that heaven is on this earth, not on another one. " Men have used Religion to keep you in poverty! They used Religion to bind you in Slavery! But I have come to break their bands and set the prisoner free . . . . All that they have surmised and all that they have striven to get you to visualize, I have brought down from the sky. We are not studying about a God in a sky. We are talking about a God here anal now, a God that has been Personified and Materialized, a God that will free you from the oppressions of the oppressors and free you from the segregations of the segregators . . . ."[20] To the poor,

( 163) the oppressed, and the segregated these words are an answer to life-long prayers and needs, momentarily bringing the individual's level of accomplishment and performance up to his level of aspiration.

2. Meaning provided. The provision of a certain material comfort, the promise of security, prosperity, and health, are explanation enough for the faith of many followers. One finds in the kingdoms, however, some children who even before coming to him have had material comforts, security, health, and comparative- freedom. The desires Father satisfies in them are somewhat less elemental but none the less real. For one thing, Father gives meaning to the environment in which they live. Complexity, confusion, hopelessness, and purposelessness are changed into simple understanding, peace, happiness, and a faith in the abstract principles embodied in the person of Father. A middle-aged white fisherman from the coast of Oregon, Humble by name, has crossed the continent several times to spend a few days in the main kingdom. He already had food, shelter, security, the material comforts of the middle class. But the state of the world had troubled him. He could make nothing out of changing economic and social conditions. Somehow he heard of Father. Now he says, " As you study this movement more and get to know Father better, you will become convinced, as I am, that Father has the only solution for all political, economic, and social problems of the present day. I believe Father is God in the same sense that I would call a man who knew the laws of mathematics and was able to control mathematical formulas and equations, a mathematician. Father knows the laws of the universe and is able to control cosmic forces,-something that only God can do. Therefore, Father must be God." For Humble and many others of his class, Father provides an escape from a tortuous mental confusion caused by complex, conflicting circumstances. He gives meaning to the individual life and to the world. It is perhaps largely for this reason that one finds in the movement so many " joiners "-people, many of them whites, who have been Baptists, Holy Rollers, Christian Scientists, and Theosophists before coming to Father. Their search for a solution to the meaning of life leads them from one formula to another.


3. Status raised. Even more important in explaining the adherence of many middle-class followers, especially negroes, is the fact that in Father's movement they are given a status which they have always craved and which has always been denied them in spite of their comparatively large bank accounts. A well-paid, healthy cook of the darker complexion related how Mother Divine[21] called for her with her big car and chauffeur and how Father called for her husband with his Rolls Royce and chauffeur. " We felt like we were big shots," the wife confessed. Their status was raised from that of servant to that of their employer or anyone else who might ride behind a chauffeur. They were, furthermore, riding with God and the wife of God.

The Reverend M. J. Divine is sincere and aggressive in his fight for negro equality. His "righteous government " platform demands legislation. in every state " making it a crime to discriminate in any public place against any individual on account of race, creed, or color, abolishing all segregated neighborhoods in Cities and Towns, making it a crime for landlords or hotels to refuse tenants on such grounds; abolishing all segregated schools and colleges, and all segregated areas in Churches, Theatres, public conveyances, and other public places." It further demands " legislation making it a crime for any newspaper, magazine, or other publication to use segregated or slang words referring to race, creed, or color."[22]

This elevation of social status, even if temporary, is a sufficient reason for many people to follow Father's movement. For where else can the servile negro or the outcast white so easily find a real democracy? Who else is so openly fighting for negro equality? Only the Communists, for whom Father directed his followers to vote in 1932 but from whom he has now severed all relations.

Father encourages self-respect by familiar devices. He makes good use of prestige suggestion. For example, in the World Herald we read: "FRENCH COUNTESS VISITS FATHER DIVINE. Joining the ever increasing list of celebrities and

(165) important figures from every walk of life that have visited FATHER DIVINE since HE has made HIS Head-quarters in New York, is the ` Comtesse Roberte de Quelen.' The tall stately, blond Countess, on an extended vacation from her Chateu Historique de Surville in Montereau, France, was one of FATHER DIVINE'S guests, Monday night. Finally overcome by the Wonderful SPIRIT of FATHER, and the beautiful singing and enthusiastic testimonies of the Angels, plus the sumptuous banquet, the Countess arose and literally beaming, said ` I love this place, and I love you all!"[23] Such words from foreign, white nobility obviously enhance the egos of followers with circumscribed environments and limited opportunities.

The impression of universality is maintained in sermons, publications, and slogans. On the back cover of every Spoken Word (a semi-weekly publication) the Kingdom Peace Missions are listed. We find that there are 13 in Harlem, 25 throughout the rest of New York state, 90 others scattered over the United States, and 22 in other parts of the world, including Australia, British West Indies, Canada and Switzerland. Significantly enough, at the end of the list we read, " Because of the unknown number of FATHER DIVINE connections throughout the world, the above is but a partial list for reference." A banner in the banquet hall assures the children-" 20,000,000 people can't be wrong. We thank you Father." In a parade held in January, 1936, a large banner informed spectators that there were 22,000,000 people in the movement. By September of that year the number had increased to 31,000,000. The actual number of the following is almost impossible to ascertain. Estimates range from 3,000 to 25,000.

Whatever the exact membership of the group may be, there is no doubt that the norms of the kingdom are accepted by thousands of individuals. An official investigation of the movement, ordered by a New Jersey judge, summarized as follows the reasons for its growth: [24]

1. Search for economic security.
2. Desire to escape from the realties of life and impoverished conditions.
3. Search for social status.
4. Instinctive search for God and assurance of a life hereafter.


The first three of these conclusions are similar to those outlined above as basic causes for the movement's appeal. The Committee's fourth conclusion, however, will not withstand psychological scrutiny. It would be more accurate to substitute for the phrase " instinctive search for God " the idea that individuals are constantly seeking to give meaning to their environment, and that when a meaning rooted in the realities of the world cannot be found, the individual either creates and reifies for himself a symbol that will satisfactorily resolve his conflicts or accepts from his culture some pre-established symbol around which to relate his environment meaningfully.[25] The last phrase of the Committee's conclusions—" assurance of a life hereafter "—does not seem to square with actual facts. Father Divine, as we have seen, preaches that the Kingdom of Heaven is on this earth, not beyond it, and that those who completely align themselves with cosmic forces will have everlasting life.


This interpretation of the cult allows it to serve merely as one example of a great variety of escape mechanisms now observable among individuals of various nations, colors, and classes who seek an easy resolution of their own mental conflicts-some closure from free-floating, incomplete meanings. Father Divine's movement is similar, serves the same psychological function as Theosophy, Buchmanism, the Townsend Plan, Nazism, and other such mass movements." It differs only in content, and in the particular conditions that have created the confusion and suffering from which the followers seek an escape. An observer of the Oxford Group, for example, confirms this impression with his statement: "They (the Buchmanites) seem to have been struggling with the complexities of life rather than with any distortion of their own souls. They are relieved to transfer to God this struggle with a complex civilization. The more complete the surrender to God, the more complete the

( 167) escape from worry and fear. In this escape, lies the great attraction of the Oxford Groups."[27]

Dr. Buchman, in turn, advocates Fascism, another variation of the same theme. "The world needs the dictatorship of the living God . . . . Human problems aren't economic. They're moral . . . . They could be solved within a God-controlled democracy, or perhaps I should say a theocracy, and they could be solved. through a God-controlled Fascist dictatorship . . . . I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler."[28]


the Nazis sustain a similar fiction that " there is something mystical, inexpressible, almost incomprehensible, which this unique man (Hitler) possesses, and he who cannot feel it instinctively will not be able to grasp it at all. We love Adolf Hitler, because we believe deeply and unswervingly that God has sent him to us to save Germany."[29]

The disparities between any microcosm and the larger world macrocosm become more acute as the discrepancies increase between basic and derived needs satisfied in the two worlds. We have already noted the collapse of Father Divine's microcosm when a follower reenters the world of reality. The same phenomenon is apparent when one observes the disillusionment of a former Buchmanite, Townsendite, Theosophist, Christian Scientist, or Nazi. Frictions between microcosm and macrocosm will continue until one of two things occurs. Either the microcosms themselves must be patterned to fit the needs of an individual living in our modern world, or the conditions in the larger macrocosm must be changed to provide the satisfactions and meanings now artificially derived in the microcosms.


  1. More complete biographical accounts of the Reverend M. J. Divine and both historical and descriptive accounts of his movement may he found in R. A. Parker, The Incredible Messiah (Boston: Little, Brown, 1937); John Hosher, God in a Rolls Royce (New York: Hillman-Curl, 1936); and S. McKelway and A. J. Liebling, Who is this King of Glory? New Yorker, June 13, 20, and 27, 1936.
  2. The Spoken Word, August 18, 1936, 21. This is a semi-weekly publication of the Peace Mission. Weekly magazines are The World-Herald and The New Day.. The kingdom's newspaper, The New York News, is published each Saturday.
  3. Hosher, op. cit., 167 f
  4. The New Day, July 9, 1936, 4 f.
  5. Hosher, op. cit., 153 f.
  6. The Spoken Word, August 11, 1936, 5.
  7. Hosher, op. cit., 121.
  8. The Spoken Word, August 11, 1936, 17.
  9. Ibid., May 30, 1936, 17.
  10. Ibid. July 7, 1936, 17.
  11. Hosher, op. cit., 259.
  12. Ibid., 238.
  13. he Spoken Word, June 20, 1936, 5.
  14. New York Times, November 4, 1936.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Hosher, op. cit., 177.
  17. The writers are indebted to bliss Esther V. Brown a colored student who mixed freely with the "children" in the kingdom and gathered many case histories.
  18. Hosher, op. cit., 88 f. See also, Parker, op. cit., 34-59.
  19. The Spoken Word, August 28, 1936, 29.
  20. Hosher, op. cit., 233.
  21. Mother Divine occasionally appeared with Father as his wife, although she was generally kept in the background. She recently died in a charity hospital, apparently forsaken by Divine, who will not admit that sickness and death can come to a real follower.
  22. The Spoken Word, June 20, 1936. 11 ff.
  23. The World-Herald, January 7, 1937. Italics ours.
  24. Committee report to the Honorable Richard Hartshorne, Judge, Court of Common Pleas, Essex County Court House, Newark, N. J., December 1t, 1933, 35.
  25. Cf. C. K. Ogden, Bentham's Theory of Fictions. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1932; H. Vaihinger, The Philosophy of "As If," New York: Harourt Brace, 1925; T. W. Arnold, Symbols of Government, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1935.
  26. For an account of several recent movements, see L. Whiteman and S. L. Lewis, Glory Roads, New York: Crowell, 1936; also C W. Ferguson, Fifty Million Brothers, New York: Farrar 8c Rinehart, 1937.
  27. Hugh O'Connor, The Oxford Groups, New York Times Wagazine, July r8, 1936.
  28. New York World Telegram, August 26, 1936.
  29. Quotation from a speech by Hermann Goring, reported in F. L. Schuman, The Nazi Dictatorship, New York: Knopf, 1935, 122.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2