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Subject: Bio: Robert Roger Brown s/o William Murray Brown and Mary Elizabeth Brown
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005 00:48:04 EDT


Brown, R. R. (19 Oct. 1885-20 Feb. 1964), pastor and radio evangelist, was
born Robert Roger Brown in Dagus Falls, Pennsylvania, the son of Scottish
immigrants William Murray Brown, a miner, and Mary Elizabeth Rogers. One of
fourteen children, he was raised as a Presbyterian but had little interest in
religion until he was converted at the age of eighteen during a revival in a
Presbyterian church. At a subsequent meeting at a local nondenominational
church, Brown encountered a representative of A. B. Simpson's Christian and
Missionary Alliance (CMA), an association of ministers and churches founded in 1881
to promote greater missionary activity both in the United States and abroad.
Impressed by the movement's organization, dedication to missions, and
nonpartisan tone, he decided to train for the ministry in the CMA. In 1906 he
entered Alliance College at Nyack, New York, earning a B.A. in 1910. After serving
as an interim pastor for a Baptist church on Long Island, Brown was ordained
on 19 August 1911. He then accepted the pastorate of an Alliance church in
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and during his nine years there became friends with
leading CMA figures, such as Simpson, E. D. Whiteside, and Paul Rader. Soon
after his arrival at the church, Brown met and, in 1912, married a member of
his congregation, Mary Edith Swihart; the couple had three children. In 1920,
at the invitation of new Alliance president Paul Rader, Brown moved to
Chicago and became the district superintendent for seven midwestern states. After
establishing a new CMA congregation in Chicago, he went on the road,
conducting a series of revivals in his new territory. In July 1922 Brown went to
Omaha, where he erected a temporary tabernacle for what he thought would be a
short evangelistic campaign. The meetings were so successful, however, that he
decided to make the tabernacle a permanent congregation, the Gospel
Tabernacle, and relocated his base of operations to Omaha. In April 1923 Brown was
asked by officials at local radio station WOAW (later WOW) to conduct a service
for the station's first Sunday on the air. He was asked to return the
following week but agreed only at the urging of a local Congregational pastor, who
said he had been praying that God would "get an advantage" over the air. Though
hesitant in the beginning, Brown continued to broadcast his "World Radio
Chapel" program over WOAW/WOW for the next forty-one years, becoming a
fundamentalist broadcasting fixture in the Plains states with one of the
longest-running religious broadcasts of its time. Especially in the early years, Brown
had a tendency to attack the microphone--literally shouting out his
sermons--but he always acted as if he were addressing the individual. The effectiveness
of his style is evident in a letter sent by one repentant listener who wrote
that he was lying on his couch smoking a pipe when he heard Brown say, "You
mossback, ungrateful creature of God! If you would think of what God's done
for you, you'd take that pipe out of your mouth and get down on your knees and
give thanks to God," whereupon, convinced that Brown could see him, he
claimed to have jumped up. Brown's broadcast differed in three major ways from
those of most fundamentalist radio preachers of that period. First, aside from
an occasional foray into dispensational prophetic speculation, he rarely
strayed from an individualist, evangelistic appeal and thereby avoided the stigma
of intolerance that marked some fundamentalist preachers, such as the
controversial "Fighting Bob" Shuller of Los Angeles. Largely for this reason, his
radio ministry made Brown something of a civic institution; as a result, his
broadcasts, unlike most others of his ilk, received free air time, and thus he
did not need to solicit funds to sustain the ministry. The third
distinguishing feature was Brown's strategy of dubbing his program the "World Radio
Congregation" and issuing official certificates of membership to interested
listeners. At the peak of his popularity in the mid-1930s, Brown's World Radio
Congregation boasted as many as 200,000 "members" in the Plains and Midwest.
Despite the success of this concept, however, Brown did not see it as a new
ecclesiastical vision but rather as a publicity strategy, which he used only in
the 1920s and 1930s, dropping it once the novelty had outlived its usefulness.
Brown's broadcast ministry afforded him great visibility, and in his later
years he was a prominent figure at Alliance conventions, where he developed the
"Preacher's Chorus" and orchestrated the missionary rally that closed each
meeting. He was made a member of the CMA Board of Managers in 1925 and held
the position until 1960. In 1933 he founded the Bible and Missionary Conference
Center at Okoboji Lakes, Iowa, an important ecumenical gathering spot for
midwestern fundamentalists as well as an Alliance campground. He also made
several well-publicized world missionary tours, and his Omaha congregation was
directly responsible for raising more than $1 million for Alliance missions.
After several months of failing health, Brown died in Omaha. His congregation
continued the radio broadcast--renamed "The Radio Chapel Service"--over a
small network of about a dozen stations until 1977. He was elected to the
National Religious Broadcasters' Hall of Fame posthumously in 1976. R. R. Brown's
efforts in early fundamentalist radio, along with those of evangelists Aimee
Semple McPherson and Paul Rader, showed skeptical fundamentalists that radio
could be an effective tool for evangelization. Brown's World Radio Congregation
gained him his greatest notoriety, but his limited use of the strategy is
suggestive of the primary importance that fundamentalists placed on traditional
notions of local church polity and congregational life. Brown's broadcasts
and his Omaha congregation served primarily as rallying points for the CMA
and--more importantly--for fundamentalist activity in general in the Midwest and
Plains states after 1925, during the post-Scopes trial period of
retrenchment and institution-building that insured fundamentalism's post-World War II
reemergence.

Bibliography

There is no collection of R. R. Brown Papers; such materials as exist are
largely in the possession of family members and the Christ Community Church
(formerly the Omaha Gospel Tabernacle) in Omaha, Neb. A small amount of material
on Brown is in the archives of the Christian and Missionary Alliance at
Alliance headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. Brown's personal style lent
itself to the pulpit and the radio ministry, and as a result he did not leave a
prolific written legacy. Now-hard-to-find pamphlets from his radio sermons,
such as, "Did Jesus Know Our Times? Dictatorship" (1933), typify the sorts of
things he sent to his listeners. Brown did occasionally pen devotional
articles and sermons for Alliance organs; representative of them is "Intellectualism
vs. The Illuminated Mind," Alliance Weekly, 9 Oct. 1957, pp. 3-4. There has
been no attempt at a scholarly examination of Brown's life and career, but
his involvement with the CMA is covered succinctly in an obituary tribute by
William F. Smalley, "Dr. R. R. Brown: His Contribution to the Christian and
Missionary Alliance," Alliance Weekly, 1 Apr. 1964, pp. 6-7, 13. Brown also
receives some attention in Robert L. Niklaus, John S. Sawin, and Samuel J.
Stoesz's general history of the CMA, All for Jesus (1986). Brown's radio work is
examined somewhat by Dennis Voskuil in "The Power of the Air: Evangelicals and
the Rise of Religious Broadcasting," in American Evangelicals and the Mass
Media, ed. Quentin J. Schultze (1990), and by Mark Ward, Sr., in Air of
Salvation: The Story of Christian Broadcasting (1994).

Larry Eskridge

Citation:
Larry Eskridge. "Brown, R. R.";
_http://www.anb.org/articles/08/08-00193.html_ (http://www.anb.org/articles/08/08-00193.html) ; American National
Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of
Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
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