50 Years Ago – Bishop who made our pamphlet his Bible

In 1920 William Montgomery Brown, Bishop of Arkansas, published a book called Communism and Christianism. It was caused by his reading the Socialist Party of Great Britain pamphlet Socialism and Religion; not only did it quote our pamphlet extensively, but offered prizes for essays based upon it.

As Socialism and Religion “took apart” Christianity, what happened to Bishop Brown? He was tried by a court of the Protestant Episcopal Church to which he belonged, and expelled for heresy. He described himself thereafter as “Episcopus in partibus Bolshevikium et Infidelium”, and published more books — My Heresy and The Bankruptcy of Christian Supernaturalism.

Promising as his case might sound, unfortunately the Bishop understood little of what he had read. He was carried away by the Russian Revolution; though his book was largely about “Marxism and Darwinism”, he had no idea of either. He joined the Rationalist Press Association, but fought against his expulsion from the Church. In fact he never gave up Christianity. His claim was that Jesus (for whom he continued to use a capital H: “Him”, etc.) was dedicated “to the truth and to the proletariat”.

The Labour and Communist press in America was bitter towards the Church over Bishop Brown’s expulsion. That is in character: they supported religion, or said it was ‘‘a private affair”. The Socialist Party’s only regret was at its work being borrowed for a muddled and sterile non-purpose. We thought the Bishop was a blithering idiot.

(from 70th anniversary issue of Socialist Standard, June 1974)

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