“[O]ne journalist remarked that Sunday preached for over two and a half hours on the evils of card playing and dancing with hardly a reference to religious doctrine at all, basing his argument ‘from beginning to end on the effect of such things upon the public morals.’” Frank, Less Than Conquerors: How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century
That seems credible enough, because, in Sunday’s words:
I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot, and I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist. I’ll butt it as long as I’ve got a head. I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old and fistless and footless and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to perdition!
Today we’ll consider excerpts from his sermon Theater, Cards and Dance.
In my opinion the theater is of such doubtful character that it has been relegated to the class of forbidden amusements.
…If you want obscenity you will find it in the theater. If you want to see character destroyed, you will find that both behind and before the footlights. Your show has to be tainted in order to gather in the coin. The capacity for amusing people along decent lines seems to have gone by. That may sound foolish, but you let somebody go out on the road with a Shakespearean play and that somebody will go into bankruptcy while the musical show and the burlesque show and the leg show are playing to full houses across the street and the people are drinking in from them gutterish ideas and filthy lines and obscene songs.
…You will find the theater trafficking in love–why, that is the basis of the average play–and yet they call it “art.” You will find divorce smeared all over the stage, and adultery even lurking in the flies. Why, there are shows where they have beds right in the middle of the stage, and carryings on which, if they happened in your own homes, would probably result in your receiving a visit from the police.
I haven’t darkened the door of a theater since I was converted twenty-nine years ago, except perhaps, to preach. …
If you have any cards in your home, you had better throw them in the furnace when you get back there or else throw your Bibles in the furnace. The two won’t mix. Oh, you need not gasp! I am handing it to you straight! There is no use having Bibles around your house if you are going to make a joke of His Word by playing bridge.
There is not a man in Omaha who believes more in amusements than I do. But I believe that they should be recreative and harmless.
…What games do I play? Well, I play baseball and lawn tennis, although I think that that is a girl’s game and I don’t like it- -and I play golf and checkers and chess. Somebody says: “What is the difference between a game of cards and a game of checkers?” Well, just as much difference as there is between Heaven and Hell. Ever since the day that cards were invented to satisfy the whims of an idiotic king they have been the tools of the gambler.
…When I talk to you about card playing in your home, I am trying to pound through your head that every pack of cards is but another steppingstone to Hell. I think the old painted hag or the broken down roue, hanging around the tables at Monte Carlo, or a down-and-out card shark bucking a crooked game in a gambling joint at three o’clock in the morning a sight more respectable than the church people or the professed Christian who permits card playing in his home.
…Now, I am not trying to cram anything down your throats. I am appealing to your sense of reason and decency, and if you are not man or woman enough to listen, I guess God Almighty doesn’t need you.
Somebody says to me: “Mr. Sunday, are you going to include the square dance?” They all look alike to me. It does not take very long to cut the corners off. There was a time in America when the stately cotillion seemed to satisfy America, but it is too slow for the hot blood of the twentieth century. They must have something that will chase hurdles through their veins.
…My wife and I have been at the bedside of a girl who was dying in a house of ill fame. She said the reason of her downfall had been the dance, which she began when fifteen years old. She used to attend Sunday School. When we asked her if she had any message for the girls, she cried, “Tell the girls and warn them to let the dance alone.”
…The dancing Christian never was a soul winner. The dance is simply a hugging match set to music. The dance is a sexual love feast. This crusade against the dance is for everybody, not merely for the preacher or the old man or woman who couldn’t dance if they wanted to, but for everybody interested in morals, whether in the church or out of the church. I am preaching a sermon that Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant, infidel or Christian, if he wants better morals, can stand on my side.
…Most men don’t care a rap for the dance; it is the hug that they are after.. . . I want to tell you I don’t believe that there are many people who can go on the ballroom floor and dance with a pretty girl hugged to his breast and look upon her charms under the influence of fascinating music, and then go out with prayer -meeting feelings.
…People say to me: “Well, didn’t they dance in the Bible?” Yes, they danced in the Bible, and they committed adultery, too; and they got punished. The dances of which their religion approved were never danced by both sexes. Men danced with men and women with women. I tell you, the dance nowadays is induced by the passions and seeds of passions. That is its only appeal.