What The Encyclopedia of American Religions Reveals

The Mount of the House of the Lord

The Mount of the House of the Lord




Editor's Note: The Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, California, publishes the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN REL IGIONS. In the fourth edition, there was printed the following forthright article on FATHER DIVINE'S Peace Mission Movement. It is reproduced here verbatim, except for the correction of a few minor mistakes---corrections which will appear in the fifth edition, soon to be published.
In contrast to what some sources have printed, this article presents an accurate, though brief, picture of the Peace Mission Movement. We are grateful for the intelligent manner in which the Movement is portrayed in certain articles.


The Peace Mission Movement was founded as an organization in the early twentieth century by the Rev. Major J. Divine, better known as Father Divine. He was one of the most colorful and controversial leaders of a new religious movement in American history. By his own choosing, and in accord with his own religious conviction, Father Divine's life and activity are veiled in obscurity until just prior to 1919 in Brooklyn, New York, where he was known to be preaching about Jesus Christ and the coming of the kingdom of God.

From his own writings and the testimonies of those who knew him, it is believed that Father Divine left Brooklyn and went south just after the Jim Crow Law was passed in Grover Cleveland's administration. While in the South, was in the hands of 32 lynch mobs because of his stand for brotherhood, eternal life, and salvation being free and without the payment of money. The first Mother Divine and others were witnesses of his treatment in the hands of lynch mobs. In the name of the Rev. Major J. Divine, he married Mother Peninnah Divine on June 6, 1882.

Father Divine appeared as an itinerant preacher on the east coast of the United States who found fellowship with others who were preaching that the Christ could be manifested as God in man. Samuel Morris, known as Father Jehovah and John Hickerson, known by his followers as Bishop St. John the Divine, were two of these. Because of jealous rivalry, it is believed, Hickerson fabricated the story that Father Divine's name was really George Baker. Hickerson also is responsible for other biographical misinformation.


Seclusion on Long Island

To remove himself from the turmoil, Father Divine went into seclusion in the little Long Island fishing village of Sayville, New York. It was here that his residence became known as "The Rescue Home for the Poor Only." He attracted those in need of food, clothing, shelter, and employment, as well as seekers who were drawn by the demonstration at the Sayville residence of "supernatural" abundance in the midst of seeming scarcity. Father Divine's work commanded more and more attention, and ever greater numbers flocked to Sayville to banquet with him, listen to his sermons, and receive healing's of mind, body, and spirit, all gratis to everyone who came.

The influx of numbers of people into the town disturbed the residents. Their hostility led to a court case against Father Divine in 1931, the events of which created worldwide publicity. Although the local county court convicted Father Divine, fined him, and sent him to jail for 30 days, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York later condemned the proceedings as erroneous and prejudicial.

The vindication notwithstanding, Father Divine chose to move his headquarters to Harlem in 1933, where he could direct his activity to the masses, especially the b---- people who had gathered there after World War 1. While gaining a large following from the Harlem public, he experienced continual harassment from the authorities, so that in 1942 he moved again, this time to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Peace Mission Movement is primarily of a religious nature, but its tenets have strong social, economic, and patriotic ramifications. Its members believe in the principles of Americanism, brotherhood, Christianity, democracy and Judaism, and that all true religions are synonymous. Members believe that Father Divine fulfills the scriptural promise of the Second Coming of Christ, is the personification of God in a bodily form, and that heaven is a state of consciousness. This state is being materialized, in as much as the members believe that America is the birthplace of the kingdom of God on earth, which will be realized when everyone lives the Life of Christ.


Holy Communion Served Daily

Father Divine founded the churches under the Peace Mission Movement which were incorporated in 1940 and 1941. Mother Divine, with the recognition of Father Divine's Ever Presence, became the Spiritual Head in 1965. There are no ministers and there is no prescribed ritual in the church services. Those in attendance are free to testify, sing, read scripture and the Words of Father Divine or Mother Divine, or offer praise to God as they are led to do from any inner prompting. Services feature congregational singing. The only sacrament is Holy Communion, served daily as a full course meal to which all are welcome. There are also two holidays: April 29, which is the celebration of Father Divine's marriage to His Spotless Bride (Mother Divine) to bring about the universal brotherhood of man and the propagation of virtue, honesty, and truth; and September 10-12, which is the consecration and dedication of Woodmont to universalize the Woodmont Estate as a symbol of the highest spiritual state of consciousness. The mission stands for the absolute fatherhood and motherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. Its members believe that a person is a person-not a specified race, color, nationality, or religion, and they live integrated together as brothers and sisters in the family of God and as members only of the human race. They avoid all reference to color or race.

Members of the mission live communally in the churches and affiliated sorority and fraternity houses. They are strictly celibate men and women living in separate houses and on separate floors of the larger facilities. They observe Father Divine's International Modest Code which states: "No smoking, No drinking, No obscenity, No vulgarity, No profanity, No undue mixing of sexes, and No receiving of gifts, presents tips or bribes." It is understood to include abstinence from all drugs.

The Peace Mission Movement was most active in the post depression era when Father Divine preached peace, health, happiness and abundance, and demonstrated that his teachings were practical as he provided food and shelter for all those in need at no cost to them. To others in dire circumstances, but who had a poverty level income or less, Father Divine offered 15 cent meals and one dollar per week shelter, so that they could hold up their heads with a sense of individual worth and independence, since they were able to pay for their sustenance. The same Abundance was manifested in the churches and extensions in various countries as well as those in the United States, where elaborate banquets are the custom

After Father Divine's passing, his wife, Sweet Angel, known to members as Mother Divine, assumed leadership of the movement. She had married Father Divine in 1946, and currently resides at Woodmont. The movement has a long history of being integrated, as was the marriage.

In 1992 the movement reported that it owned and operated two hotels in Philadelphia. Branches existed in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Central America and Nigeria.