A Fort Worth, Texas preacher named J. Frank Norris shot an unarmed critic to death in a church office, leading to a sensational murder trial.
In fact, Hankins makes the point that, though some today see the Scopes Trial as the end of fundamentalism's influence in the decade, "someone forgot to tell" McPherson and Norris. And he devotes an entire chapter to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy that divided mainline Protestant denominations in the 1920s, with a particularly close look at the liberal preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick's famous sermon "Shall The Fundamentalists Win."
Black preachers like Daddy Grace and Father Divine were attracting thousands of followers. They, according to Hankins, "became jazzmen preachers in an age of religious ferment." And the great white hope of Protestant America, William Jennings Bryan, having lost three presidential elections as the Democratic nominee, had become the nation’s foremost spokesman for traditional Christian religion and values. He had the hopes and prayers of millions with him as he stepped into a Dayton, Tennessee courtroom in the sweltering heat of the summer of 1925 to go toe to toe with the era’s most famous “infidel,” Clarence Darrow.
And by the time the decade was beginning to turn a corner toward its end, the nation elected Herbert Hoover, someone who brought the most impressive resume ever to the White House. His election was, in many ways as Barry Hankins brings out, about religion and values. His opponent was New York Governor Al Smith — a man not only for the repeal of Prohibition — but also a Roman Catholic. Hankins suggests that the 1928 election was "a microcosm of the central elements of the culture wars of our own time."
In fact, reading through Jesus and Gin, it’s hard to miss some interesting parallels to what happened decades later — in 1980, to be exact, as groups like the Moral Majority organized to help elect Ronald Reagan.
Jesus and Gin is a serious book about a fascinating period — but it’s also a lot of fun.