John R. Rice (1895-1980), fundamentalist evangelist and publisher, was born to a poor Baptist farming family near Gainesville, Texas. Despite his poverty, Rice was able to get himself through Baylor University with a degree in 1920. After beginning an education degree at the University of Chicago he dropped out to study for the ministry at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1926 he began a full-time evangelistic ministry and became known for his fiery pulpit rhetoric and no-compromise attitude on doctrinal issues. In 1927 he followed maverick Texan Baptist J. Frank Norris out of the Southern Baptist Convention, setting up decades of scathing criticism of Southern Baptist leaders, decisions, and institutions.
In 1934 Rice began The Sword of the Lord, a weekly newspaper which from headquarters in Dallas (1934-1940), Wheaton, Illinois (1940-1963) and Murfreesboro, Tennessee (1963- ), proved to be the lynchpin in providing a degree of unity to the fractious ranks of ultra-conservative fundamentalism for decades to come. Emphasizing Bible studies, sermons, and devotional readings in the service of “soul-winning,” the Sword was something of the national paper of record for fundamentalism and served as an important marketing center for fundamentalist books, curricula, and study aids as well as a reference guide to “safe,” “Bible-believing” churches, evangelists, schools, and campgrounds across the United States. No small part of its pages were Rice’s own endeavors including promotion for the hundreds of books and tracts he wrote as well as his annual Sword of the Lord “Conferences on Soul Winning and Revival.”
But the paper was also important in serving as a running guide to the divisions, doctrinal squabbles, and cultural battles within conservative Protestant ranks. Within its editorial content could be found attacks not only upon Catholics and certified theological liberals, but Pentecostals, “compromisers” like evangelical theologian E. J. Carnell, Billy Graham (after he cooperated with mainline churchmen in his 1957 New York Crusade), efforts to supplant the King James Version of the Bible, and any perceived drift from traditional evangelical mores against alcohol, tobacco, and worldly entertainments. In political matters Rice and the Sword were every bit as conservative, excoriating Communism, skeptical of the civil rights movement, and backing all of America’s wars. All of this came against the backdrop of Rice’s own endless activities, writing, meeting, and speaking. Shortly before his death in 1980 the Sword of the Lord was reaching over 300,000 homes every week.
For further reading, see Andrew Himes, The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family (Chiara, 2010); Viola Walden, John R. Rice: “The Captain of Our Team” (Sword of the Lord, 1990).