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The doctrine of Father Divine is the teachings of the late Father Divine (d. 1965) and his religious movement, the International Peace Mission movement. The most obvious teaching of Father Divine is his claim to be God, but his doctrine constituted a larger coherent system of thought.
Father Divine preached of his divinity from even before he was known as "Father Divine" in the late 1910s. His doctrine taught that his life fulfilled all Biblical prophecies about the second coming, regarding himself as Jesus Christ reborn. Father Divine also lectured that Christ existed in "every joint" of his follower's bodies, and that he was "God's light" incarnated to show how to establish heaven on earth and show the way of eternal life. For example:
- Condescendingly I came as an existing Spirit unembodied, until condescendingly inputting MYSELF in a Bodily form in the likeness of men I came, that I might speak to them in their own language, coming to a country that is supposed to be the Country of the Free, where mankind is privileged to serve GOD according to the dictates of his own conscience...establishing the Kingdom of GOD in the midst of them; that they might become to be living epistles as individuals, seen and read of men, and verifying what has long been said:
- "The tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and God Himself shall be with them, and shall be their God, and they shall be his people."
- – quoted in Peace Mission Movement p. 62, Mrs. S. A. Divine, 1985 and God, Harlem, U.S.A. p. 178, Jill Watts, 1992.
Father Divine's definition of God became quite celebrated at the time because of its unusual use of language: "God is not only personified and materialized. He is repersonified and rematerialized. He rematerialized and He rematerialates. He rematerialates and He is rematerializatable. He repersonificates and He repersonifitizes."
Father Divine can be considered part of the New Thought Movement; indeed, many of his white followers came from this tradition.
Father Divine was particularly concerned with the downtrodden of society, including but not limited to Blacks. He was opposed to people accepting welfare.
Scholars disagree about whether Father Divine, an African American, was a civil rights activist, but he certainly advocated some progressive changes to race relations. For example, because he believed that every human was accorded equal rights, he believed that all members of lynch mobs ought to be tried and convicted as murderers. Father Divine's anti-lynching campaigns resonated in the black ghettos where his congregations lived, and he got over a quarter million people to sign his anti-lynching proposals.
Father advocated that followers think of themselves as simply Americans. He believed that America was the birthplace of the "Kingdom of God", which would ultimately encompass truths of all religious principles, promoting equality and brotherhood. The Movement was supportive of the United States Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights as inspired documents, believing that they outlined a more ideal life.
Toward this life, followers of Father Divine owned and managed property collectively. The movement strove to alleviate poverty by feeding the poor and through education in written English, which the Movement believed was the "universal language."
Father Divine established an "International Modesty Code" which forbids smoking, drinking, and profanity. Additionally, it forbade tips, bribes, receiving presents, and "undue mixing of the sexes," along with women wearing slacks or short skirts and men wearing short-sleeves.
Although Father Divine himself was married, the movement discouraged marriage, along with any excessive mingling of the sexes. In the "Heavens" and other living spaces the Movement maintained, separate areas existed for men and women.
Thrift and Business Practices
Father Divine advocated a number of economic practices, which his followers abided by. He opposed life insurance (which converts were to cancel), welfare, social security, and credit. Thus, the Movement advocated economic self-sufficiency. His insistence that his followers refuse welfare not related to employment was estimated to have saved New York City $2 million during the Depression.
Business owners in the Movement named their ventures to show affiliation with Father Divine, and obeyed all of these practices. They dealt only in cash, refusing credit in any of its forms. Each was to sell below competitor's prices while refusing any sorts of tips or gratuities. Finally, they refrained from trade in alcohol or tobacco.
- God, Harlem U.S.A: the Father Divine story, Jill Watts, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992 ISBN 0-520-07455-6 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- www.peacemission.info - website about Father Divine's International Peace Mission movement
- The Father Divine Project — A Database Documentary