Jul 14, 2013

'He beat out a cadence with his fist'


A Detroit News Tribune illustration of Billy Sunday's preaching, published Oct. 29, 1916. Sunday preached in Detroit from September to November, that year, in part advocating for prohibition, which was on the ballot. 

A description of one of his Detroit sermons, from historian Larry D. Engelmann:
He appeared on the platform high above the sea of clean shining faces like a wispy cross between a businessman and an angel. Attired in a light gray suit and white shoes, a white negligee shirt of the finest linen and a white silk tie to match, Sunday feinted, walked and ran, crouched and jumped, from one end of the stage to the other, sweating from his gyrations until he was wet as a rag held under a pump. 
By his actions he kept the audience transfixed, hanging upon his every word and movement. He jumped on a chair; down on the floor again. He beat out a cadence with his fist upon the platform in order to emphasize a series of points; on top of the pulpit, he tore off his coat and collar and threw them to the stage .... 
Wild-eyed at the climax of his address, like an addict going cold turkey, Sunday told his God to help old Detroit. Throw your arms around her. Go into her barber shops, Lord, into the hotels, factories, and saloons. Help the man in the street, the floater, and drunkard. The devil has him almost out. He's on the ropes and groggy, Lord. One more stiff uppercut will finish him. Help him, Lord, to square his shoulders, raise his dukes and cry, Yes, Lord, I'll come when Bill gives the call.
The texts of some of Sunday's sermons can be read at biblebelievers.com. There is also video of his preaching from a period later in his life. The energy and style are still there, though.

The statewide ban on sale of alcohol passed in 1916. It was the first in nation. In 1933, Michigan also became the first state to ratify the twenty-first amendment to the Constitution, which overturned federal prohibition.