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March 7, 2019

Remembering Reverend Randollph

In 1965, a Methodist pastor from Illinois, Charles Merrill Smith, wrote a book of satire entitled “How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious.” A bestseller, the book was apparently aimed—as the author stated in his introduction—at the “young preacher … [as] an inexhaustible source of counsel and inspiration in the days and years ahead.”
In fact, the book was needle-sharp satire that exposed the materialist, selfish, and racist attitudes that permeated and polluted our society. Smith’s message was that churches, sadly, are not immune to these influences.
Under the guise of providing practical advice for the ambitious cleric, the book described the best automobiles for the up and coming pastor by salary range, tips on selecting a suitable wife (“When choosing a wife, make every effort to locate one who has some money of her own.”), good and bad hymns for church services, etc.
And he addressed racism. Head on—in a way that would be difficult, I believe, to duplicate in our 2019 society.
He created a “Status Value Scale Index” that classified church members and assigned value points to each class. The Index, for example, allotted 10 points to a member of an “old, aristocratic family,” 7 points to a “Medical Doctor (successful specialist),” 1 point to a Chiropractor, etc. There were negative points for other categories: -1 points for hourly factory workers, -2 for outdoor day laborers, and then races. See the following excerpt, from the Doubleday & Company, Inc., hardcover edition of 1965, pg. 63.
In 1965, political correctness within the United States had not yet made its mark. And so, looking back from a vantage point more than 50 years in the future, it’s difficult to imagine a prestigious, modern-day publisher offering such content.
Yet, Charles Merrill Smith had an important message in the 1960’s that still holds value, as racist attitudes cling within our society.
Smith went on to write the Reverend Randollph series of pastor-as-detective stories. They were funny and are worth digging up for a light read. And he wrote other books of humor as well. None of them appear to remain in print. He died in 1986.

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